Choosing Convention: Schnitzler's Komtesse Mizzi and Hofmannsthal's Der Schwierige

by Lorelle Raihala
Choosing Convention: Schnitzler's Komtesse Mizzi and Hofmannsthal's Der Schwierige
Lorelle Raihala
The German Quarterly
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Choosing Convention: Schnitzler'sKomtesse Mizzi and Hofmannsthal's Der Schwierige

Because they spring from a common his- torical and cultural context and respond to the same kinds of existential problems, the works of Arthur Schnitzler and Hugo von Hofmannsthal invite comparison. This is certainly the case with the two comedies Komtesse Mizzi oder Der Familientag and Der Schwierige: each play treats a similar complex of themes within the same cultural framework. In fact, one could justifiably speak of Komtesse Mizzi, Schnitzler's ap- pealing and misleadingly lighthearted one- act comedy of 1907,l as a possible forerun- ner of Hofmannsthal's more complicated Der Schwierige (191812 Immediately obvi- ous is the depiction of an aristocratic world in the midst of slow decline. Modern ideas and new ways of living encroach on the old, established families Pazmandy and fin- wyl in the form of individuals like Baron Neuhoff and institutions like the Austrian Herrenhaus. Interestingly, both Hans Karl Biihl and Egon Fiirst Ravenstein are rather unwilling members of this parliamentary chamber; they feel uncomfortable and out ofplace there and prefer to take a more tacit role, not knowing how to bring their out- dated voices to expression in the unfamiliar democraticworld. Lurkingbeneath the sur- face of the two plays are other themes typi- cal of the intellectual climate of finde si&cle Vienna: the unreliability of language, the undermining of social convention and the subsequent "unsettledness" of the individ- ual, the coincidental character of personal-

ity, the irrational motivation of behavior, and the question of a standard for moral action. There are,of course, obvious differ- ences in the two. Where Schnitzler adroitly touches on these existential questions, Hof- mannsthal elaborates them and carries them out to a more determined conclusion. Where Komtesse Mizzi evokes Schnitzler's typical rationalistic, pessimistic, and real- istic approach with regard to the realities of cultural convention, Der Schwierige re- veals more of a mystical worldview. Accord- ingly, though both plays conclude on the happy note of reconciliation and impending marriage, the tone of each ending varies according to the view and approach of its author, and each leaves a different impres- sion as to the actual validity of the solution.

Both of the works reflect the authors' positive revaluation of the conventional moral codes of the previous generation. As did many cultural critics around the turn of the century, Schnitzler felt great tension between the moralisticvalues he had inher- ited from his father's generation and his own modern concern for the instinctual life as a fundamental impetus for human be- havior. In earlier works such as Anatol and Reigen, he concentrated on unmasking the powefi force of Eros at work in all echelons of human relationships: its compul- siveness, its means of satisfaction, its delu-

The German Quarterly 67.1 (Winter 1994) 3

sions, its affinity to Thanatos, andits power to dissolve all social hierarchy. In view of the growing fragmentation of society and the hostile polarization in the political scene in the late 1890s, however--ape- cially in the form of rising anti-Semitic movements4chnitzler's sympathy for the old moral world grew. He saw not only the hypocrisy and destructive effects of re- pressive Victorian morality, but also the positive side, if anachronistic character, of the traditional values. They provided sta- bility, standards, a framework for engage- ment in constructive work, and a certain ground for human sympathy. In the end, Schnitzler was caught between his appreciation for, and allegiance to, traditional moral values and his scientificview of mod- ern social and psychological reality which made those values inappli~able.~

This is, perhaps, the "feeling-tone" of Mizzi's world. The dynamic of the piece con- sists in a gradual unveiling of the under- current of Eros powering the various rela- tionships--on the surface, so apparently "propern-of the "family." Yet, ultimately, the piece suggests that these relationships and the erotic forces driving them can only come to openexpression and fruition within the framework of the conventional forms allowed them within society. Happiness is found in the end-Mizzi decides to marry her prince, after all-but it isa rather quiet, mature happiness which might also include a tinge of resignation and a bit of typical Schnitzlerian cynicism.

Hofinannsthal's view of his world and the potential of identity and individual ex- pression also involved an initial concentra- tion on alternate possibilities and a sub- sequent rethinking of conventional moral- ity. As he matured, he expressed more and more the desire to return to old values, to the securities of community and tradition. Unlike Schnitzler, Hofmannsthal was con- vinced that the conventional values of his father's generation were still a valid possi- bility and appropriate solution for the ills of modern society. Whereas his earlier works had centered around the individual isolated from society, he subsequently took up the cause of "full being" (volles Dasein), which he envisioned as a person actively integrated and engaged in the social com- munity. According to his view, social bonds provided the means to unfold into fullidentity and become anchored in meaningful life. Thisview is reflected in the solution at the end of Der Schwierige. With hisengagement to Helene, the indecisive, uncommit- ted, "difficult" Hans Karl is on his way, finally, to becoming grounded in the greater whole through a meaningful social bond.

While Hofmanns thal is generally recog- nized as the greater master oflanguage and artistic form, Schnitzler is renowned for his ingenious talent for objective, exact obser- vation and clear-sighted logic. Hofmannsthal's style in Der Schwierige, how- ever, strongly recalls Schnitzler's precise, finely tuned descriptions, as this characterization by Franz Norbert Mennemeier indicates:

Die Griffelfiihrung des Dichters bleibt

trotz der Subtilitiit des Themas und der

Hohe des Standorts bewundernswert ge-

nau. Der dramatische Kontur . . . hat eine

fast zeichenhaft trockene, scha&ugige

Eleganz. Auch die verborgene musikali-

sche Struktur der Komodie . . . weist sol-

che klaren, unberauschten Ziige, jenseits

Wagnerscher oder StrauTJscher Gefas-

exzesse, ad?

Though apparently so simple, objective, and direct, both comedies employ an engaging trick which draws the audience into the ac- tion asunderstanding observers, initiates of privileged information not available to, or perceived by, the characters in the play. The audience is called to see through the overt action and explicit conversation to the real meaning, the goings-on "beneath" the scenes. Both pieces play on two levels: the comic level of the basic plot and superficial conversation, and the personal-metaphysi- callevel hidden behind it. Complex personal histories, emotionally charged dramas, and fundamental problems of existence arecarellly packaged in a facade of cheerful banal- ity. Ironically, it is Baron Neuhoff, the insen- sitive, tactless outsider in Der Schwierige, who sums this up nicely:

NEUHOFF. . . In gewissen Augenblicken ge- wahrt man erst, wie doppelsinnig das Wort ist: es bezeichnet das Oberflach- lichste von der Welt und zugleich das tiefste Geheimnis des Daseins zwi- schen Mensch und Mensch. (359)

In his article about the "multiple layers of truthn in Komtesse Miz~i,~

Egon Schwarz describes the misleadingly trivial chatter of the various characters. He writes:

[Die] Personen konversieren so dahin, als hiitten sie nicht das Geringste zu sagen, als erschiipften sich ihre Interessen am Leben in der vordergriindigsten Alltiig- lichkeit. . . . Sehrbald erkennt jedoch der Leser, daJ3 diese Trivialitiit nicht Natur ist, sondern den Zweck hat zuverbergen, did3jede der Gestalten ihre profunden, OR schmerzlichen, ja beinahe tragischen Lebenserfahrungen gemacht hat . . .6

The dialogical delicacy which governs the world of Mkzi does not reflect a lack of sub- stance, but rather functions as a means of sparing the sensibility of the person ad- dressed by taking care not to throw the open spotlight on the other's secrets. When the gardener presents Graf Pazmandy with a bouquet, for example, he explains that the rosebushes had needed trimming and that he hopes his master might find some usefor the flowers; this is certainly more agreeable to the sensitive count than if he were to say: "Here are some roses for you to take to your mistress, Lolo." The gardener apparently understands the significance of the count's &reply that he has no usefor the flowers, for Graf Pazmandy continues: "Na, was schaun S' denn? Ich fahr' heut nicht in die Stadt, ich brauch' kein Bukett."

In Der Schwierige, the characters them- selves offer continuous comments on the art ofusmall talk," or "Konversation." Those ad- hering to the values of the older generation agree that tasteful conversation must never appear to have a self-seeking goal, but should rather remain subtle and re- served, open to the cues of the partner, "ab- sichtslos."To express the intimate realm of life in common language is considered indecent. Thisattitude would seem to render any form of polite communication empty and rather meaningless; yet, as Hans Karl remarks, it is precisely through "talk" that everything comes to be in the world (403). And there are in conversation plenty of subtle cues revealing the deeper substance of the banal gab-that is, if the listener remains open to reading them. It is neces- sarily in the act of communication, not somewhere outside it, where the means for understanding can be found.

The ability to engage in conversation without an ulterior motive, to remain at- tentive and open to the partner without at- tempting to manipulate, seems to be a fad- ing art in the society of Der Schwierige. Most of the characters do not understand the importance of receptive listening they want to "get something" out ofconversation. Neuhoff rattles on in egocentric monologue in hopes of overwhelming his listener with his words, and Edine demands that conver- sation lift her up beyond banality and transport her to more exalted levels of in- tellectuality. She is unwilling to recognize any deeper meaning behind superficial talk, and thus unable to penetrate the sur- face of that which is communicated. In the end, her conversation is shown to have the least substance of all. She does not care about real knowledge, but simply wants to surround herself with the air of edification; she is disastrously blind and insensitive and couches the most profound themes (e.g.: We stellensie sichdasNirwanavor?" [383f.l) in the most common tone. Hans Karl, on the other hand, values the simple communication of the clown Furlani, en- acted without words and without imposing any kind of manipulating aim or intent. Hans Karl is the character most critical of the possibilities of language and most inept at small talk, he disparages the chronic miscommunication at the social gatherings of his class as "ein unentwirrbarer Knauel vonMi13verstandnissenn(337)and remains silent a good part of the time-the most characteristic stage direction for him is "HansKarl schweigt." Of the possibilities of language, he says:

HANS-. . . DurchsReden kornmtjaalles auf der Welt zustande. Allerdings, es ist ein biRl lacherlich, wenn man sich einbil- det, durch wohlgesetzte Worter eine wed3 Gott wie grofie W~rkung auszuiiben, in einem Leben, wo doch schliefilich alles auf das Letzte, Unaussprechliche an- kommt. Das Reden basiert auf einer in- dezenten Selbstiiberschiitzung. (403)

Yet, in the end, he is the one who achieves a kind of realcommunication, over andbeyond superficial chatter, with Helene, and this occurs-up to a certain point-through lan

guage. One means of recognizing deeper, or true, "meaning" beneath the surface of con- versation is careful observation of the speaker's gestures. In both Komtesse Mizzi and Der Schwierige, actions are often more revealing than words; gestures give away the inner thoughts and even un- or subcon- scious feelings of the characters. For exam- ple, when Mizzi appears briefly on the bal- cony in the first scene at the Pazmandy villa, the audience realizes that she uses the garret as her painting studio. Then, Fiirst Ravenstein appears on the scene. When Mizzi's father admonishes him for making himself scarce since his last visit, he says "Ist's wirklich schon so lang?" and glances toward the balcony. Since he is a regular guest, he must also know that this is Mizzi's room, and thushis gesture reveals not only a nervous distraction in his con- versation with the count, but also an inter-

est in his friend's daughter. Shortly there- &r, the two men speak of getting old and marrying-and, once again, the prince's glance wanders to the balcony. At this point, the carell observer might well be able to discern the nature of his interest in Mizzi.

In another example, Hans Karl re- sponds to his sister's probing by denying anything more than a cousinly affection for Helene. At the same time, however, he opens a drawer and semhes in it absent- mindedly, a sign the audience recognizes, thanks to the servant Lukas, as an indica- tion that he is upset. When Crescence pre- dicts that Helene will marry Baron Neuhoff, Hans Karl quickly slams the drawer shut. His gestures betray his emotional agitation. Most of the characters in the plays are too involved in their own in- terests to read these nonverbal messages; they have their own agenda and often in- terpret things according to what they want to hear. Mizzi's father, consumed by his budding affair with Lolo eighteen years before, had failed to notice his young daugh- ter's predicament and did not question her sudden flight to a convent for a period of several months; eighteen years later, he still has no inkling that he is a grandfather. Likewise, Crescence, motherly eyes honing in on agood match for her son Stani, readily accepts Hans Karl's alleged disinterest in Helene.

In an article about the function of ges- tures in Der Schwkrige, Thomas Heine points out the contrast between the two ser- vants of Hans Karl.7 Vinzenz, the new ser- vant, is speech-oriented; he dominates the conversation and expects Lukas to tell him all he needs to know. Lukas, on the other hand, does not rely on verbal communica- tion, but rather on nonverbal messages. In this way, he knows how to react when there is a contradiction between words and ges- tures; he understands how best to cany out the real wishes of his enigmatic employer. Further, Vinzenz harbors self-seeking mo- tives, while Lukas remains objective and detached and, therefore, better able to concentrate on Hans Karl's real message. Helene is also a keen observer of those around her, and especially of Hans Karl. Thisis because she shares Lukas's attitude: she is not intent on using language to cany out a plan ofher own, but keeps herselfopen to her conversation partners. She explains her attitude to Neuhoff as follows:


Ich gebe miralle Miihe, den Grafen Biihl zu sehen, ohne daR er mich sieht. Aber ich tue es ohne Hintergedanken. . . . Ich denke nicht, dabei etwas wegzu- tragen, das mir niitzen konnte! (402)

Surprisingly, Antoinette also exhibits a sort of instinctual ability to see through 'schone Worte" to real meaning. Yet her in- terpretations are so direct, and her conclu- sions so emotionally charged, that her counterparts cannot accept them. Hans Karl in particular feels compelled to dismiss her conjectures as a whole, warding them off in self-defense. She has, for exam- ple, interpreted the implications of Hans Karl's letter from the war hospitalin a man- ner that he is not yet able or willing to rec- ognize. She understands the meaning ofhis words where he does not, as the following report fi-om her chambermaid shows:

HANS KARLAber so habeich mich doch gar nicht ausgedriickt. Das waren doch niemals meine Gedanken!


Aber das war der Sinn davon. . . . HANS KARLAber nichts von all diesen Wor- ten ist in dem Brief gestanden.

AGATHEAuf die Worte kommts nicht an. Aber den Sinn haben wir gut herausbe- kommen. . . . Ich habe gekiimpR ftir unsern Herrn Grafen, wie meine Frau Gd- fingesagthat: Agathe, du wirst es sehen, er will die Komtesse Altenwyl heiraten, und nur damwill er meine Ehe wieder zusammenleimen.(347)

The engagement scene climaxes in a mo- ment of genuine communication between Helene and Hans Karl, although, in the last instance,Hans Karl still needs Helene to interprethis own words and actions for him.

She responds to both his verbal and his nonverbal message: she realizes the implica- tions of what he has revealed to her in their previous conversation and understands why he has come back to her. And at this point, he is finally ripe for accepting her interpre- tation.

In her dissertation comparing Der Schwierige with Schnitzler's Das weite Land, Heike Sohnlein hds that social in- teraction is used to veil the existential prob- lems of the individual:

Bindungsudiahigkeit und Entfiwmdung bleiben unter der glatten Oberflache kon- ventionalisierter Interaktionsbeziehungen verborgen. Aus diesem Grunde vermag das Individuum auch in privater Interaktion hum die eigene Personlich- keit "einzubringenn oder beziehungsbezc- gene Dialoge zu firhren. Eine tragfahige Partnerbeziehungkann dadurchgar nicht entstehen. . . . Obwohl . . . kommdtives Handeln vorrangig im Rahmen gesell- schaftlicher Interaktion stattfindet, sind die dargestellten Konfliktstoffe nicht ge- sellschaftlich, sondern individuell bedingt . . . und haben im Dramenverlauf keine unmittelbar sichtbaren Konsequenzen fe die Gesellschaft. Dennoch reflektieren sie deren Scheinhaftigkeit adder Ebene pri- vaten Interagierens. Die Krise des Indivi- duums, die in gestarten interpersonellen Beziehungen und im Identitiitsverlust zum Ausdruck kommt, venveist so aufdie Fragwiirdigkeit gesellschaftlicher Hand- ~unjpmuster.'

This is, however, not quite the case. Social codes of behavior do not block communica- tion-though they are often cause for confu- sion and may lead to misinterpretation-but rather, they package deeper meaning and paididly intense emotion in forms which people canbear to relate and to hear. Failure of communication is not due to the insurmountable shortcomings of language and its social conventions, but to the self-interests of the listener blindinghim or her to the mes- sage of the other. The last words of Der Schwierige, Stani's explanation of the en-

gagement embrace, reflect the idea of how intimate personal relations are couched in, or analogous to, social codes of behavior:

STANI. . . Bitte, Mamu! nach meiner Idee gibt es zwei Kategorien von Demonstm- tionen. Die eine gehort insstriktestePrivatleben: dam rechne ich de Akte von mlichkeit zwischen Blutsvenvandten. Die andere hat sozusagen eine praktische und soziale Bedeutung: sie ist der panto- mimische Ausdruck fiir eine aukrge- wohnliche, gewissermal3en familiengeschichtliche Situation.. . . Undf~ diese gibt es seit tausend Jahren gewisse rich- tige und akzeptierte Formen. (439)

A primary concern pervading the fin de siecle intellectual climate was the problem of boundless relativity, the sense of "drifting"without reference to any kind of abso- lute reality by which one could evaluate the world, discern right from wrong, and defme the personality as a unique and purposeid being. The work of the philosopher and physiological experimenter Ernst Mach had had a great impact on the perception of the world and of the self. Mach professed that history had no bearing on the integrity of the personality, and that human percep- tions, and with them reality, changed in every moment according to the stimuli re- ceived and impressions experienced in the particular situation in which one happened to be at the time. This meant that all bor- ders were fluid, that there was no lasting, reliable framework by which to measure and understand the world. The impression- ist movement in art and Literature, and the life-style that went along with it, entailed a radical concentration on the moment. This left the individual ego floating aim- lessly, with no feeling of belonging in any kind of ultimate scheme of things. In the midst of all this unsettling relativity, there grew the longing for something which would last, for a sense of permanence and stability. Schnitzler and Hofmannsthal were by no means immune to this call for some kind of grounding in standards. Hans Karl, the typical impressionist, passively observing and reacting to the moment aris- ingbeforehim,expresses the looming sense of coincidence driving human relations and historic events:

HANSKARLAUes was geschieht, das macht der ZufLll. Es ist nicht zum Ausdenken, wie zuf%llig wir alle sind, und wie uns der Zuf'all zueinandexjagt und auseinander- jagt, und wie jeder mit jedem hausen kijnnte, wenn der Zufall es wollte. (393)

Fiust Ravenstein also expresses a sense of being pushed and pulled by uncontrollable circumstances. "Man wird," he says, reflect- ing on his affair with Mizzi eighteen years earlier, "manchmal in merkwiirdige Min hineingerissen . . . Und da hat man eben eines Tages einen siebzehnjahngen Sohn, mit dem man auf Reisen geht" (15).Thisfeeling of accidence and lack of direction preva- lent in finde sikle Vienna typically led to an attitude of indecisiveness and an unwilling- ness to commit; for, if there was no absolute, then there was, after all, no basis by which to know one was making the right decision. On the one hand, this was an instance of great freedom-freedom from st-rules, disagreeable responsibilities, and constrict- ingties, freedom to experiment, to taste from a whole palette of possibilities-but, on the other hand, it also led to a feeling of empty isolation and loneliness, as Graf Pazmandy realizes after his breakup with Lolo. What he had first experienced as relief turns quickly into a sad feeling ofloss and repeated widowerhood: "Jetzt kommt die Einsamkeit. Jetzt ist sie da" (12).For Mizzi, the loss of an absolute measure for behavior has led to withdrawal and refusal to commit; this has been her way of life for the eighteen years preceding the start of the "Familientag." As a young woman, she had been ready to give herself over completely to her passionate love for Furst Ravenstein. This love, she says, could have determined the course of

her life; she had trusted in it absolutely; and, because of it, she would have been ready to follow Ravenstein anywhere and live out her life beyond the bounds of her own culture, outside society, and void of any kind of ac- cepted societal role. But when fomd to give up this "absolute," disillusioned by the recognition that her lover could not live up to her "all or nothing" expectations, she reads with another extreme: she rejects all connec- tions to him and to their child and withdraws to a sphere outside of We," painting flowers and moving &om lover to lover, passing time within the confines of her father's idyllicvilla outside of town. In rejecting that which falls short of her standards, she excludes herself &om the possibility of fidfihent.

Apossible solution to this kind of empty life-style is foreshadowed by Lolo's decision to wed the coachman Wasner; she has cho- sen to give up her more frivolous life-style for the stability of marriage. She has, as Graf Pazmandy well understands, no de- sire to live out the rest ofher life as a retired ballerina and mistress of an aging count. Recognizing that she is "nicht mehr die Jiingste," and only too glad finally to enter into what she calls "geordnete Verhalt- nisse," Lolo Pallestri is ready to settle down to a private life of bourgeois comforts as Charlotte Langhuber. She announces her intention to step into the "holy state ofmat- rimony." Yet this "state" appears to be any- thing but holy to an audience aware of Ra- venstein's extramarital affair with Mizzi, the count's affair with Lolo-which, he ad- mits, would also have been adulterous had his "poor wife" not already been dead for two years-and Mizzi's casual message of greeting to her "professor'sn wife and chil- dren. On the surface, Lolo's decision to marry seems to spring from an under- standable yearning for convention and financial security, and this might definitely be part of it; however, the "real" reason for her decision is that she has fallen head over heels in love with her fiand. In this way, the ground is safely and unexpectedly laid for a happy marriage and a happy end.

Like Mizzi, Hans Karl, "der Schwierige," has also led the life of a drifter, living for, and reacting to, the moment, unwilling to commit. He knows this himself, as he re- minds his sister: "Du weitit, ich binde mich so ungern" (336). Crescence recognizes "dieses Unleidliche, SprunghaRe, Enb schlu1310sen in her brother and criticizes him for lacking the "Entschluti, die KraR, das Definitive" (336). Antoinette's description concurs with the others, as Stani reports:

QTANI . . . Sie sagt: du fierst nicht, weil du nicht genug Herz hast. . . . Ja, dir fehlt das Eigentliche. . . . Sie sagt: du hast das Handgelenkimmer geschrneidig, urn 10szulassen, das spiirt eine Frau, und wenn sie selbst im Be@ gewesen wh, sich indichzuverlieben, so verhindert das die Kristallisation.(354)

The solution suggested in both Komtesse Mizzi and Der Schruierige is a form of "con- scious" return to traditional social conven- tion. The main characters find stability in the end by deciding to enter into a commit- ment with another human being within the context of society. By joining their lives to- gether in a socially consecrated union, the two individuals anchor themselves in society and in life. This is, in a certain sense, for Schnitzler and, to a defkite degree, for Hof- mannsthal, a return to the old values which had been valid for previous generations. It is,however, not a blind, naive acceptance of inherited tradition, but rather a process of maturation which culminates, for Schnitz- ler, in the recognition of the best possibility, for Hofmannsthal, in the unequivocal reali- zation of "dm Notwendige." This is quite a switch from the portrayal of marriage in Reigen, where the conjugal relationship epitomizes the empty values and hypocrisy of bourgeois morality.

The resolution at the end of Komtesse Mizzi, however, still comes off as somewhat of a decision by default, made possible by time and circumstances, and this reflects Schnitzler's pessimism with regard to the prospect of an ultimate solution. Der Schwierige,on the other hand, reflects Hof- mannsthal's belief in a more lasting, more profound, more satisfying solution. Hans Karl's "salvation" is made possible through the insight into an absolute source of mean- ing-'das Notwendigem-which opens the way for a grounding in a higher source of life. "Das Notwendge" is the purpose and provides the guide for behavior in the midst of chaotic coincidence:

HANSKARL[to Antoinette] . . . Das ist eine heilige Wahrheit, die we8 ich-ich mulj sie her schon gewuljt haben, aber drau13en ist sie erst ganz deutlich fiir mich geworden: es gibt einen Zufd, der macht scheinbar alles mit uns, wie er will-aber mitten in dem Hierhin- und Dorthingeworfenwerden und der Stumptheit und Todesangst, da spiiren wir und wissen es auch, es gibt halt auch eine Notwendigkeit, die w&It uns von Augenblick zu Augenblick . ..Ohne die wike da draurjen kein Leben mehr gewe- sen, sondern nur ein tierisches Dahintau- meln. Und die gleiche Notwendigkeit gibes halt auch zwischen Mannern und Frauen-wo die ist, da ist ein Zueinandermiissen und Verzeihung und Versohnung und Beieinanderbleiben.


Upon witnessing this unself-conscious monologue fi-om Hans Karl, Antoinette draws the direct conclusion which gives us insight into what it allmeans in the practical sense:


.Alles was duredst, das heat ja garnichts anderes, als dalj du heiraten willst, dalj du dermtiichst die Helen hei- raten wirst. (395)

Though Hans Karlis not ready to accept this, he himself admits a short time later that he has found "die Hauptlinien" for his conver- sation with Helene during his talk with Antoinette.

In the process offinding one's way to this ultimate meaning, Hofmannsthal believed that the individual progressed through three stages of consciousness. The first was a kind of "pre-existence" characterized by an exhilarated, self-assured feeling of pos- sessing the world, an intoxicated sense of one's own possibilities, an unconscious, naive state of anticipation without experi- ence. Fiirst Ravenstein's newly adopted son, Philipp, andHansKarl's nephew Stani have yet to emerge from this stage of (un)consciousness. Fresh, energetic, and youthfully overconfident, they both over- estimate their own ability to unlock the secrets of the world:

PHILIPPLieber Papa, ich durchschau' die

ganze Geschichte. ~RSTNa? PHILIPPDieses Fdulein Lolo ist die nam

liche ?bchter des Grafen, also eine Schwe- ster der Komtesse, ihre Milchschwester. Fii~s~

Stiefschwester nennt man das. Aber nur weiter, Diplomat.

PHILIPPUnd sie lieben dichbeide, selbstver- stlindlich. Die Komtesse und die Ballett- tiinzerin. Und diese Heirat zwischen der Balletteuse und dem Wasner ist dein Werk. (33f.)

STANIIch versteh alles.

Ja, was, ich versteh ja nichts.

&ANI Alles, alles. Die ganze Sache ist mir klar. . . . Klarwie's Einmaleins. Die Antoinette in ihrer Venweinung hat einen Tratsch gemacht, sie hat aus dem Ge- spriich mit dem Onkel Kari entnommen, da13 ich fiir sie verloren bin. . . . [Slie hat sich dann an die Helen heranfaufiliert und hat einen solchen Mordstratsch ge- macht, da13die Helen mit ihrem fumo und ihrer pyramidalen Empfindlichkeit be- schlossen hat, auf mich zu verzichten, und wenn ihr das Herz brechen sollte.


The audience realizes, of course, that these deductions-though rationally possible- arehopelessly confused. Neither boy has the means yet to recognize real meaning in the world.

The next phase entails a disenchant- ment and a "falling into consciousness": it is a sudden recognition that existence re- quires experience and life, a kind of epiph- any or revelation triggered by a border situ- ation experience such as Hans Karl encountered "drau13enn in the war. At the point of his brush with death, Hans Karl received a glimpse into the essence of life; the metaphysical came flooding into the empirical world, and he recognized the "hohere Notwendigkeit":

HANS KARL [toHelene] Das war nur ein Mo- ment, drei13ig Sekunden sollen es gewe- sen sein, aber nach innen hat das ein anderes MalJ. Fiir mich wars eine ganze Lebenszeit, die ichgelebt hab, und in die- sem Stiick Leben, da waren Sie meine Frau. . . .[Dlaswar eine sehr subtile Lek- tion, die mir daeine hohere Macht erteilt hat. . . . Es hat mirin einem ausgewa- ten Augenblick ganz eingepsgt werden sollen, wie das Gliick ausschaut, das ich mir verscherzt habe. . . . Spaterim Feldspital, in den vielen ruhigen 'Ihgen und Nachten hab ich das alles mit einer un- beschreiblichen Klarheit und Reinheit erkennen kijnnen. (406f.)

The task with which Hans Karl's revelation burdens him, though he does not seem to realize this on his own, is to move to the next stage ofbeing: "existencen-that is, conscious existence within life, true connection with life, fbElhent. His recognition of the %ohere Notwendigkeit" does him no good as long as he does not act on it, take it up by engaging himself in life. He must now move fiom the isolated pose of an observer, which, as empty life, has actually been a kind of death, to the active participation of one who is meaningfdy involved. His vision is the revelation of the possibility of a place in life.

This requires, in Hofmannsthal's view of things, connection with another being;

the "Ich" needs to recognize, be open to, and connect itself to, a Wu" in order to find con- tinuance, in order to anchor itself in time. Thistakes place in the scene in which Hans Karl reveals his vision to Helene. During their conversation, these two unintention- ally slip into the realm of the eternal, into a kind of spontaneous, intimate union which Hofmannsthal deemed "allomatic." Normal inhibitions fall away, and the two are completely concentrated on one an- other, unaware of anything except their own communication, almost in a kind of trance. Yet Hans Karl's will is paralyzed. He reveals his vision to Helene, but claims he must tell her "adieu"; later, his feet com- pelhim back to her, but he isunable to make the final move. Helene is the one who finally acts, and, because she has been open and receptive to Hans Karl, she recognizes what must be done and acts with determination. At this point, her determination actually leads her to break with one form of social convention: in deciding to set out alone to find Hans Karl, she steps out of the passive role reserved for women in her society. When she sees him coming back after all, she lets her coat fall from her shoulders, symbolically shedding conventional re- strictions in favor of direct communication and deep personal connection. In doing so, she confidently draws Hans Karl into a life which provides the possibility of "Dauer"

and "I'reue."

Schnitzler's play also contains a key scene in which the mediating structures of social convention fall away and the two cen- tral characters encounter each other face to face. However, this instance lies well within the realm of the empirical world; it holds none of the "Hauch des Mystizismus" per- vading the encounter between Helene and Hans Karl. It is not so much a glimpse into the metaphysical source of life as a look back on past events and revelation of un-

expected connections. The social facade begins to fall as soon as Mizzi and Ravenstein are left alone together. As soon as her father is out of earshot, Mizzi reveals matter-of-factly that she is fUy informed about his affairand recent breakup with Lolo. Shortly thereafter, and with virtually no transition, the truth about her own for- mer affair comes out when Ravenstein an- nounces abruptly: "Unser Sohn hat matu- riert." Mizzi categorically resists the prince's attempt to reestablish such an in- timate connection between them, claiming she wants nothing to do with the boy; how- ever, when Ravenstein agrees to drop the subject, she immediately asks: "1st er wenigstens durchgekommen?" Soon, the details of Philipp's birth are recounted, and the pain surrounding them becomes evi- dent as the two discuss the decision to keep the affair a secret and give the child away. Still caught up in her old rigid standards, Mizzi accuses her former lover of cowardice. Ravenstein, the better balanced and more seasoned of the two, refers to the impossi- bility of confirming the validity of human actions-"[Wlir armen Sterblichen konnen ja nie wissen, wie der da droben iiber so eine Sache denkt" (21)-as well as to their responsibility to others, i.e., to Mizzi's father and his own wife. At this point, however, he is ready to account for his actions, to take on the responsibility of their "merkwiirdige Aff!&reV by revealing himself as Philipp's father and adopting their son. He expresses his continuing wish to make Mizzi his wife-not, he explains, out of a sense of ob- ligation, but because he really wants to marry her. But Mizzi isclosed to the possi- bility that he has changed, and waves him off, pointedly rejecting any mystical bond or intuitive connection with him or her son: "Stimme des Bluts? Es mu13 eine Fabel sein. Ich merke gar nichts, lieber Fiirst" (24).In this "moment of truth," there is no grand revelation (except to the audience) and no deep connection between Mizzi and hven- stein as with Helene and Hans Karl. In this case, the man is the one who speaks and

acts with determination and certainty; he asksMizzi to join him in marriage, but she is not open to his offer. Thiscomes later, not as the result of a sudden insight into her destiny, but as a gradual softening of resis- tance as Mizzi realizes the truth of her father's words: "Im Alter wiirdet ihr nicht schlecht zusammenpassen" (36).

In Der Schwierige, we can recognize Hofmannsthal's belief that form must be grounded in the "vital source," be it love, destiny, or higher necessity, and likewise, that the vital source must be channeled into life in the world through form-in this case, a commitment in the social "form" of mar- riage. Any other way will not work. An- toinette's marriage with Hechingen, for ex- ample, is empty form without vitality. Her marriage does not connect her to life, and so she yearns to escape from it, seeks the emotional satisfaction of love. Yet her at- tempts at love, pursued outside and in vio- lation of social convention, do not "ground" her in a profound partnership, but rather force her to exist for the moment, floating from one love affairto the next, dissatisfied.

A relationship founded in reason, like that which Stani envisions between him- self and Helene, can also never come to fruition, though Stani has the utmost con- fidence in his ability to execute such grand decisions. In the self-assured obliviousness of his preexistent view of the world, he de- cides to many Helene as the result of a conversation with his mother:

STANIJa, ich bin entschlossen, die Helen zu heiraten. Nicht heute und nicht morgen, aber in der allewchsten Zeit. Ich habe alles durchgedacht. Auf der Stiege von hier bis in den zweiten Stock hinauf.Wie ich zur Mamu in den zweiten Stock ge- kommen bin, war alles fix und fertig. .. . HANSKARLIch bewundere deinen Mut. . . . STANI. . . [nch liebe das Verniinftige und Definitive. Du, Onkel Kari, bist au fond,

verzeih, dal3 ich es heraussage, ein Idea-

list: deine Gedanken gehen auf das Ab

solute, auf das Vollkommene. Das ist ja

sehr elegant gedacht, aber unrealisier-

bar.. . .Ich habe die Sache dwhgedacht,

wie sie ist. (368'370)

Stani's idea of the value of permanence in marriage points in the right direction; but in the end, as in his misguided exegesis of the jumbled relationships around him, his conclusionsare based on a faulty initial as- sumption: he believes that love will grow as a result of the maniage, not that marriage must be grounded in love.

Baron Neuhoff sees the basis for a mar- riage as a matter of right and might; he claims that Helene must marry him because he has found and chosen her, that she willbe drawn to him by his strong wiU:

NEUHOFF. . . Sie werdenmichheiraten, weil Sie meinen Willen spiiren in einer willen- losen Welt. . . . Sie wurden gefimden, Helene Altenwyl, vom s&ksten Wden, auf dem weitesten Umweg, in der kraftlose- sten aller Welten. (3995)

These arrogant claims and bold demands present a stark contrast to Hans Karl's "Wdlenlosigkeit," just as Neuhoffs character as brazenupstart stands out glaringly from the genteel, old-world humility of the Altenwyls, a difference emphasized by the contrasting names. Helene does not feel compelled to concedeto NeuhofPs bold assertions. She re- futes his declaration that her world, the old values of traditional Viennese society and morality, has lost its power, saying: "Ich bin aus ihrund bin nicht kraftlos." In the end, it isonly aform ofself-afiirmation that Neuhoff wants from her. He calls on her to be his "Rettung,"his "Zusammenfassung,"his "Ermoglichung." But Helene replies that she wants nothing to do with a man who defines his life under those kinds of conditions. She pointsto the realsource ofsolidarity between two human persons: "Die Kraft, mit der ein Mensch einen hdt--die hat ihm wohl Gott gegeben" (401).

Helene and Hans Karl's relationship is

the only "right" one, based on something more than "Verliebtsein," and beyond mere reason, grounded in the insight into the %ohere Notwendigkeit," in a kind of mys- tical "Zusammengehorigkeit." Hofinanns- thal's concern with the problem of achieving afruitfulrelationship inthe life ofthe world is reflected in the conclusion of Der Schwierige: Hans Karl and Helene's love for each other is brought to consciousness and wiU be carried into a form in which it can be lived out in society. Hans Karl's for- mer pose of observer could only function at a distance from life itself; it was passive and disconnected from life. Engagement in life, on the other hand, demands the capacity to resolve, to ~, and this capacity implies commitment to the irrational, that "hohere Notwendigkeit" which one cannot come to understand through reason-for reason, which depends on perception, is relative- but which can only be realized in a sponta- neous understanding of the essence of the world which wells up from the depths of unconsciousness, a kind of mystical revela- tion like Hans Karl's vision of his marriage

with Helene. It is this instance alone in which resolution and willare grounded.

KomtesseMizzi also suggests that life is impossible without the context of conven- tion or society. Like Der Ruf des Lebens (1905), it reveals the cruelly repressive as- pect of conventional culture-Mizzi was, after all, forced to give up her lover and her child-but also the futility of the attempt to find satisfaction outside the world of con- vention in unconditional surrsnder to the instinct of love. Fiirst Ravenstein rejoins Mizzi's declaration of her earlier devotion with the realisticconjecture that the two of them would never have survived a life iso- lated from the context of society, and, from the vantage point of her present perspec- tive, she agrees. In the end, Mizzi's decision to go along on the trip to Ostende is the sign of an impending commitment to another person, and thus an integration back into life. Yet this decision suggests no new faith, just an illusionless recognition of, and rec- onciliation with, existing possibilities. Blind passion has been disillusioned, though signs of a quieter affection remain; vitality has faded, but it has also been tamed so that it can be lived out within the context of the real world.


Hofmannsthal and Schnitzler both faced the same problems and both treated the same themes. But Schnitzler ap- proaches the problem from a more scientific perspective, and his autumnal pessimism deprives his work of "tragic" power. Komtesse Mizzi ends on a note of quiet happi- ness, a mitigating of extremism and com- ing to terms. Sohnlein remarks that Schnitzler's view lacks the 'ZukunRsper- spektive" mirrored in the central partner relationship in Hofmannsthal. His works are more cynical, they tend to close on a resigned note, their characters doomed by the impossibility of true communication as expressed in one of his famous aphorisms:

Wenn zwei Menschen einander bis ins Tiefste verstehen wollen, so ist das gerade so, wie wenn zwei gegeniibergestellte Spiegel sich ihre eigenen Bilder immer wieder und von irnmer weiter her wie in vernveifelter Neugier entgegenwerfen, bis sie sich endlich im Grauen einer hoff- nungslosen Ferne verlieren. 9

For Hans Karl and Helene, on the other hand, "erofiet die Verwirklichung der ehelichen Gemeinschaft neue Moglichkeiten des interpersonellen Bezugs.*l0 Der Schulierige involves a process of deeper transformation. Helene and Hans Karl's marriage may turn out to be far from per- fectly harmonious, but it springs from more than a quiet overcoming through time of character flaws. It is grounded in the force from which Hofmannsthal believed social conventions draw their validity: destiny, life, recognition of "das Notwendige," and acting

upon it. In this way, Hofmannsthal can escape the "paralysis of driR,"ll the restless- ness andlackofvitality whichso oftenplague Schnitzler's characters. Whereas Mizzi's de- cision to go along on the trip to Ostende is a rather self-ironizing Well, why not, ina ally^ Helene and Hans Karl have looked into the depths of destiny, and seen that they belong together. Hofinannsthal sought to revitdh the dying moral and political tradition of fin de sikle Vienna through a kind of mystic conversion, a vision linking the individual back to the whole and back into life. The marriage of Hans Karl and Helene repre- sents a regeneration of social institution; it is form infused with real vitality. In it, the deeper life force is expressed within the boundaries of society Thus, each of these comedies leads to fUlfiillment-that is, aRer all,what characterizes them as comedies- but the fidYlment of Komtesse Mizzi is of a quite different quality than that of Hans Karl and Helene in Der Schwierige. Thisdoes not mean that one should disregard the mer- its of Schnitzler's solution. The yearning for a society rooted in an irrationaluvital source" quickly becomes a dangerous thingwhenun- guided by critical reason and objective rationality, and Hofmannsthal did infact move very close to the reactionary philosophy of the German "konservative Revolution" and to the Austrian movement of an organic "Skdestaat" as propagated by Othmar Spann and, later, by the Austro-fascists. Though less solidly satisfymg, Schnitzler's rationalism might wellbe (for the time being, anyway) the saner, more democraticview of the world-until, that is, the human com- munity can find its way to a positive exis- tence grounded in both reason and We."


lArthur Schnitzler, Komtesse Mizzi und an- &re Dramen (FrankfUrt:Fischer, 1986), vol. 5 of Gesammelte Werke in Einzelausgaben: Das dramatische Werk.

2Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Cesammlte

Werke in zehn Einzelbanden. Dramen IV Lustspiele, ed. Bernd Schoeller (FrankfUrt:Fischer, 1980).

3Carl Schorske, Fin-de-Si2cle Vienna: Poli- tics and Culture (New York: Vintage Books, 1981) 13.

4FranzNorbert Mennemeier, Wer Schwie- rige," Das deutsche Drama vom Barock bis zur Gegenwart: Interpretationen, ed. Benno von Wiese (Diisseldorf: Bagel, 1960) 259.

5Egon Schwarz, "Schnitzlers vielschichtige Wahrheit: Eine Interpretation von 'Komtesse Mizzi oder der Familientag'," Herkommen und Emuerung: Essays fur Oskar Seidin, ed. Ger- ald Gillespie and Edgar Lohner (Tiibingen: Niemeyer, 1976) 268-81.

6Schwarz 269f.

7Thomas Heine, "The Force of Gestures: A New Approach to the Problem of Communica- tion in Hofinannsthal's 'Der Schwierige'," German Quarterly 56 (1983): 408-18.

sHeike SijMein, Gesellschaftliche undpri- vate Interaktionen: Dialoganalysen zu Hof- mannsthals 3er Schwierige" und Schnitzlers "Dm weite Land" (Tiibingen: Narr, 1986) 151.

gArthur Schnitzler, Aphorismen und Be- trachtungen, ed. R. 0.Weiss (FrankfUrt: Fischer, 1967) 59.

1°Sohnlein 152.

llSchorske 22.

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