Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Fraulein Else, by Arthur Schnitzler

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Arthur Schnitzler's page turning drama of a young woman asked to compromise herself to save her family from debt. 

Fraulein Else is a nineteen-year-old woman holidaying at a luxury Italian spa with her Aunt. She is quite bored with her friends and upper middle-class life in general, with the vanity and chatter, even though she often describes the atmosphere as being like “champagne”.  She exists in a gilded cage.

Into this world of ennui and privilege comes an urgent letter from her mother. A crisis is looming. Her father, always in some trouble or other, is in serious debt. Thirty thousand gulden must be raised within a matter of days, otherwise her father will be dragged to court and then prison. Can Else approach the art dealer Herr von Dorsday, who is also at the spa, and ask for a loan? Surely he won't mind, as he's extended credit to the family before. This is a difficult request for Else as she doesn’t at all like Dorsday. In fact, she finds him a bit of a creep. No matter, the unpleasant business must be done. The family needs money.

Else approaches Dorsday, but almost immediately regrets doing so. He really does make her skin crawl. She explains matters to the art dealer, who gently listens. The flighty and highly strung Else almost walks off without an answer, even though Dorsday has agreed. There is one condition Dorsday puts on the loan, a very compromising condition. Else becomes torn over what to do, pushing her to the psychological extremes.

Arthur Schnitzler’s 1924 novella, Fraulein Else, is all written from Else’s feverish perspective. Reality here and there breaks through her mad stream-of-conscious monologue in the form of fragments of talk from friends, resort staff, her aunt Emma and Dorsday himself. These fragments, which are set in italics, act like documentary footage within the story. We see how Else’s immature and panicked mind hopelessly fails to interpret and deal with real events. The reader has some sympathy for Else: she’s been put in an impossible situation by her parents. At the same time, Schnitzler is offering a sharp critique of her milieu. Else is the product of a culture that lives foolishly beyond its means, bored even with the luxuries that money can buy. No wonder they all end up in such ridiculous and tragic circumstances.

Fraulein Else is a gripping psychological drama, one that perfectly captures panicked and irrational states of mind, that feeling of being the deer caught in the headlights. It's a story of all the unhappiness that money can buy, of misery in the midst of plenty.

Fraulein Else, by Arthur Schnitzler. Published by Pushkin Press. ISBN: 9781782273714  RRP: $19.99

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