Academic journal article German Quarterly

Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach. The Victory of a Tenacious Will

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach. The Victory of a Tenacious Will

Article excerpt

Klostermaier, Doris M. Marie von EbnerEschenbach. The Victory of a Tenacious Will. Studies in Austrian Literature, Culture and Thought. Riverside: Ariadne, 1997 xvi + 348 pp. $39.95 hardcover.

Strange as it might seem in the case of Austria's best known "classical" woman writer, this is the first full-length modern biography of Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach. On first encounter with the title, the reader might wonder if we are going to be treated to yet another, albeit more up-to-date, version of the stereotype that has dogged the literary reputation of EbnerEschenbach since Anton Bettelheim wrote his encomia of her life and work over a quarter of a century ago. Is this biography also going to focus on its subject's "moral" character in order to enhance Ebner's status as a writer? Certainly Ebner herself believed, in a thoroughly oldfashioned manner, in the inter-dependence of character and aesthetic achievement. From the outset, Klostermaier distances herself from such myths. It is clear from reading the opening pages of this neat, well-presented yet solid volume, that its author has a firm grasp of her biographical subject. She is evidently very familiar with Ebner's substantial oeuvre-the reader would of course expect no less-and she usefully plots links between, on the one hand, the writer's life, experiences and (sharp) observations of her environment over the whole of her life and, on the other, the character types and motifs from an unusually wide selection of Ebner's prose, dramatic and lyric works. She has made good use of the critical edition of Ebner's diaries, or, rather, of such as had appeared by the time of her going to press, and, by comparing the different versions, supplemented by her own work in the appropriate archives in Vienna and Prague, she familiarizes the reader with Ebner's practice and strategy of projecting a particular view of her own life and that of her family for posterity. For there is no doubt, despite her genuine modesty, that when Ebner wrote about herself, posterity was rarely far from her mind.

The biography is clearly structured around six chronological sections, each of three or four chapters; reference, however, is also made within each section to works by the poet written at different periods of her life. In this way Klostermaier underpins her view that Marie Ebner-Eschenbach "deserves a biography that focuses as much as possible on her inner life"(xl). The six sections deal with the writer's childhood and early life, which include her first attempts at writing, and her courtship and marriage; the dramatic works; the prose works; her breakthrough as a major writer; her relationship with her public; and old age. Each section is followed by informative footnotes, many of them containing imaginative insights into her subject's mind and work. Although the events and personalities of Ebner's childhood and youth cover familiar ground, the author is convincing in allotting over one fifth of the volume to this period. She is persuasive in her deconstruction of the character of Franz Dubsky, particularly with reference to his second daughter Marie herself and to his fourth wife, Xaverine. Traditionally, Marie's second stepmother, the highborn Xaverine Kolowrat-Krakowsky, has been seen as a match for the choleric Franz. The present work shows just how turbulent the marriage was, how destructive the incessant quarrels between husband and wife could be for the rest of the family, and, despite oases of respite, what a miserable life Xaverine left at her death aged fifty-seven in Marie's fortieth year. The author does not comment explicitly on the nature and developmental pattern of marriages of such disparity in age-Franz was twentyfour years older than his last wife; Moritz Ebner, Marie's husband, was almost twice her age when they married; his own father, following the death of his son in the Napoleonic wars, had married his son's fiancee, Helene Dubsky, whose obsessive maternal devotion to her only son would place such a burden on Marie's own marriage. …

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