In the Shadow of Empire

In the Shadow of Empire

Austrian Experiences of Modernity in the Writings of Musil, Roth, and Bachmann

Malcolm Spencer


Camden House



The first book to consider together the responses of the great Austrian writers Musil, Roth, and Bachmann to the crisis of modernity.
Austria was not the only European country whose old order disintegrated in the early twentieth century, giving way to the crisis of modernity, nor the only country whose literature bears the marks of this crisis. But modernity's onset was experienced differently in Austria: in the words of Karl Kraus, it served as "laboratory for the fall of world civilization." This book examines the crisis as reflected in fiction written by Robert Musil, Joseph Roth, and Ingeborg Bachmann between 1920 and 1970. After examining the elusive concept of modernity, Malcolm Spencer looks at the responses of the three authors to the central themes of modernity: fragmentation, nationalism, the end of empire, and ambivalence. Chapters on Musil examine his understanding of the ancien régime in Austria and his analysis of the ideological stage of modernity. Spencer then considers Roth's more negative reaction, showing the post-imperial novel Radetzkymarsch to be a nostalgic response to the collapse of Habsburg Austria and the rise of fascism. The final chapter looks again at the end of empire, not in the work of writers who lived through it, but through that of one who experienced it as a historical and cultural legacy: Ingeborg Bachmann.

Malcolm Spencer is a Teaching Fellow at the University of Birmingham.

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8 black and white illustrations
264 pages
9x6 in
Studies in German Literature Linguistics and Culture
Paperback, 9781571134745, October 2010
Hardback, 9781571133878, September 2008
Library eBook
Camden House
BISAC LIT004130, HIS040000, HIS054000
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Negotiating Modernity in the Austrian Comtext
Modernity, Nationalism, and the Austria Crisis
Vater, Landesvater, Gottvater: Musil and the Ancien Régime
Enemies of the Empire in Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften: Sepp, Feuermaul, and Schmeisser
"Europe is committing suicide": Joseph Roth's Radetzkymarsch
"How Much home does a person need?": Ingeborg Bachmann's "Drei Wege zum See"
Conclusion: Austria and What It Means to Be Modern


A thoughtful acount of Austria's modern transition. AUSTRIAN HISTORY YEARBOOK

Rich and convincing. GERMAN QUARTERLY

Spencer begins his comparison of three works of Austrian fiction with a definition of modernism -- a daunting task. He tailors his remarks to the central European context to good effect and provides a wide variety of supplemental material. Well executed and organized. CHOICE

Conspicuously well written; the author is sensitive and perceptive in his handling of literature. JOURNAL OF EUROPEAN STUDIES

Spencer's approach to the topic of modernity as a narrative or narratives, rather than a monolithic set of specific characteristics, is convincing, especially in the context of the complex Austrian panorama. MONATSHEFTE

Author Bio

Malcolm Spencer is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham. He teaches German and French at Walton High School, Stafford, UK.

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