Prizewinning “grandes dames” of Austrian literature and the next generation 

Elfriede Jelinek (picture by G. Huengsberg via Wikimedia Commons)

Earlier this month the Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature. Elfriede Jelinek, whose 75th birthday it is this week, also won the Nobel Prize back in 2004, the first of only two Austrians to win it (her fellow Austrian, Peter Handke, subsequently won the award in 2019). The Swedish Academy citation referred to her “musical flow of voices and counter-voices”, perhaps a consequence of her highly musical childhood.

Jelinek, a reclusive figure, started out writing poetry before shifting to novels but is now best known as a playwright. As a former communist, known for her radical feminism and her criticism of the legacy of Austria’s fascist past, she has divided opinion in her home country over the years but has nevertheless been honoured with many important awards. The UL has copies of her major plays and novels, including some translations into English. We also have good holdings of books about her and her works, including several international conference proceedings. Two recent works to highlight are the 2013 Jelinek-Handbuch (747:4.c.201.12) and from 2014 Elfriede Jelinek: Werk und Rezeption (747:4.c.201.21), both by Pia Janke, director of the Elfriede Jelinek Research centre at Vienna University.

In 1998 Jelinek won the prestigious Georg Büchner Prize, following in the footsteps of her compatriot, Ingeborg Bachmann, who had won it in 1964. Bachmann emerged as a new literary voice after World War 2 and was a member of the literary circle Gruppe 47, winning its Literature prize in 1953. In her lifetime she too was awarded other prizes such as the Grand Austrian State Prize for Literature in 1968 and the Anton Wildgans Prize in 1971; she also has a distinguished prize named after her, established in her honour after her death by Klagenfurt, city of her birth. The UL has many books by and about her. Perhaps Bachmann’s most well-known work is the 1971 novel Malina, turned into a 1991 film starring Isabella Huppert, with a screenplay by none other than Elfriede Jelinek. To find out more about Ingeborg Bachmann I would recommend Ingeborg Bachmann: der dunkle Glanz der Freiheit by Andrea Stoll (C208.c.6952) or Wer war Ingeborg Bachmann? eine Biographie in Bruchstücken by Ina Hartwig (C205.d.4201). Bachmann had a sad end to her life, isolated and addicted to prescription drugs. This week marks the anniversary of her death in 1973 at the age of 47, after a fire in her Rome apartment, probably caused by an unextinguished cigarette.

The year before Ingeborg Bachmann won the Gruppe 47 prize it was awarded to Ilse Aichinger, a fellow member of the group and another important Austrian writer. Before her death in 2016 at the age of 95 she had a long writing career and won many prizes. An account of her life and work, at least up until 1995, is given in Samuel Moser’s Ilse Aichinger: Leben und Werk  (748:4.d.95.162) while Ilse Aichinger, “Behutsam kämpfen” (748:4.c.201.147) is the proceedings of a conference held to mark her 90th birthday.

Bachmann and Aichinger had very differing wartime experiences – Bachmann’s father was a member of the Nazi party whereas Aichinger was half Jewish and worked as a slave labourer in a factory, while her twin sister escaped to England via the Kindertransport. They also had differing circumstances in later life – Aichinger was married to fellow Gruppe 47 poet Günter Eich until his death in 1972, Bachmann never married but had relationships with Paul Celan and Max Frisch. Despite these differences and potential competitiveness in their literary world, the two women were friends – Bachmann even stayed with Aichinger’s sister on a visit to London. This friendship is demonstrated in a new book just out (we have a copy on order) featuring their correspondence between 1949 and 1962, published to coincide with the imminent 100th anniversary of Aichinger’s birth at the beginning of November.

Friederike Mayröcker (picture by Franz Johann Morgenbesser via Wikimedia Commons)

One more Austrian writer who had a similarly long life and career, being awarded a stack of literary prizes over a 50 year period, is Friederike Mayröcker who died in June this year at the age of 96. She also received the Georg Büchner Prize in 2001; other notable awards included the Roswitha Prize in 1982 and the Grosser Literaturpreis der Bayerischen Akademie der Schönen Künste in 1996. Among books on her in the UL I would single out Friederike Mayröcker edited by Gerhard Melzer und Stefan Schwar (746:6.c.95.137) and Buchstabendelirien: zur Literatur Friederike Mayröckers edited by Alexandra Strohmaier (C203.d.8472).

Eva Menasse (picture by Heike Huslage-Koch via Wikimedia Commons)

The prizewinning baton now seems to have been passed on to Eva Menasse who has  garnered multiple prizes since writing her debut novel, Vienna, in 2005. She already featured in an earlier blog post when her collection of short stories, Tiere für Fortgeschrittene (C205.d.820), was awarded the Österreichischer Buchpreis in 2017, the same year that her brother, Robert, won the Deutsche Buchpreis. Also in 2017 she received the Friedrich-Hölderlin-Preis to add to the Heinrich-Böll-Preis which she had gained in 2013. The UL has copies of her books and has, in fact, just taken delivery of her new novel, Dunkelblum (C206.d.7753), which may well receive some prize nominations of its own. One further connection is that like Ilse Aichinger’s sister, Eva Menasse’s father Hans came to England through the Kindertransport and played youth football in Bedfordshire before going on to be a professional player in Austria.

Katharine Dicks

The overlap of prizes

1 thought on “Prizewinning “grandes dames” of Austrian literature and the next generation 

  1. This is a wonderful blog, great many thanks.
    I had not realised Friedericke M had died! There was Nothing in Western media that I saw. That just about sums up the mess they have made here.

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