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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

POST-WAR  AUSTRIAN  WRITERS                   525

ALEXANDER LERNET-HOLENiA (1897- ), Viennese bom and bred,
but of French extraction on his mother's side, is one of the most
versatile and prolific writers of today. He belongs to existentialism
in the sense that his work is prevailingly (but not ostentatiously)
doppelbodig\ that is, there are two levels, but the lower one is not
bared. As a dramatist he has given the critic a handle by his own
description of the mass of his work as handfeste Tbeatralik-, that is,
framed with malice prepense to entice the expectant public beyond
the box-office. He began in expressionistic vein with yet another
Demetrius venture on the grand scale, that Czar tragedy which
Schiller and Hebbel had attempted but left unfinished. He aims at
a high level, too, in his three one-act plays Saul, Alkestis, Lepanto
(1946). He owes his great vogue, however, to a long range of
light comedies sparkling with venturesome wit that glides over
their biting irony; the titles of some of them are indicative -Erotik
(1927), Liebesnachte (1932), Die Frau des Potiphar (1934). His fiction
may be less sensational but more fanciful, or even far-fetched, as
in Mona Lisa (1937), in which a nobleman falls in love with the
famous face on the picture and goes to rack and ruin. Where he
takes his themes from periods of history - and here as in his plays
he ranges through the wide world - his ironical handling is apt to
falsify verisimilitude, as in several of the Novellen of Die Wege der
Welt (1952), or as when in the novel Der Mann im Hut (1937) the
hero and his companion in their search for the grave of Attila
come across the grave of the Nibelungs and the saga is re-told.
In the best of his novels there is a metaphysical undercurrent, as
in Der Graf von Saint Germain (1948), the story of a Viennese
industrialist who, in 1935, falls into the hands of the Gestapo, or
in Die Abentemr vines jungen Herrn in Polen, which, with the muted
notes of tragedy weaving through its staple of comedy, is probably
better than his more famous novel Die Standarte (1934), a discreet
variant of Rilke's Cornet. This latter novel was filmed as MeinLeben
fur Maria IsabelL The rogue tale Derjunge Moncada (1950) with its
picturesque Spanish colouring is a rendering of Die spanische Komo-
die (1948). There are fine qualities in Lernet-Holenia's lyric verse,
in which the influence of Holderlin and Rilke is clear at a glance.
In Die goldene Horde (1933) his learned sock is on; he sings of
Achilles and Priam, of the Crusades, of Dante, and, characteristic-
ally, relieves the heavy strophes of his classical themes by such a
lightly lifting internationalized medley as NeumexikanischerSMager-