How often does one play games with death and love? How would one make up the rules for such games? What are the prices and what are the consequences? What dangers, and what rewards might there be? All these questions, I guess, would depend on what are your definitions of love and death? Is love simply an act of sexual desires or adventure? Is death simply an ending to life? (I see you shaking your head Mr Murakami…hehehe)...Ah the luxury of frivolity and precarious living…hehehe…if only we can afford such thing…while love and death are the most discussed subjects among the human, literatures, films and arts, Arthur Schnitzler is more concerned with ‘playing games’ with them. Toying around the idea that perhaps, we can take love and death lightly, that we can take an adventure and let your guarded self be tempted, that as long as diplomacy and intelligence are implemented, then perhaps the consequences won’t be so bad; after all if life is a stage as Shakespeare once put, then it’s isn’t too bad a to assume a role that one has been fantasising about. The question is ‘what is the distance between the reality of the stage and the reality of life?’ And in four short stories, Dr Schnitzler bravely stated the prices, the consequences and the dangers of playing games with love and death.
Mother and Son – a young mother who recently lost her husband, becoming protective of her young son who was at the age of frivolity, discovering love and sexuality. The reason she became protective of her son, was the very same reason she feared of her own gender. She feared the advantage which the female beauty often had its effects on men, she feared the flippant nature of the bohemian women that would break her son heart and turn his soul black and blue. Being governed by these fears, she felt the need to loosen herself, and one day, inadvertently she found herself in the arms of one of her son friends. Then one night, her son was humiliated and as the air was thick, black and bruised, mother and son took a promenade and subsequently ended up in rowing boat, she wanted to talk to him about the idea of leaving the place and travelling abroad, alas the conclusion is frightening, hinting the fear and emancipation which for a long time had been well locked up in the Freudian chamber!!! Schnitzler’s description of Austria is almost a paradise, a place where one could walk, row on the quiet river at night and weaving one’s thoughts as a loom spinning fabric of silk, enveloping the moon.
The Man of Honour – described Alfred, a young barrister, quite content with his current lover (Elise, a correspondence clerk of a Viennese shop), yet when he saw a possible chance with the beautiful daughter of a wealthy manufacturer, Adele, he decided to pursue her love. What started out as a playful, innocent intention, later brought about some serious consequences. The wealthy manufacture advised the young man that he should perhaps travel for a year and if their love hadn’t changed upon his return, then he would be happy for them to be man and wife. Throughout his journey with Elise, Alfred wrote many love letters to Adele and closer to his arrival, Alfred murdered his Elise while on board at the bright prospect of uniting with Adele. At this point of the story, there isn’t much honour to be credited to Alfred, at the conclusion however, similar to the story of ‘the prodigal son’, Alfred’s approach to repentance truly shows his honour.
A confirmed Bachelor – Edgar Allan Poe once said ‘The mental features discoursed of as the analytical, are, in themselves, but little susceptible of analysis’. For Dr Graesler, however, it is part of his nature to thoroughly dissect analysis, even those concerning love. The lonely Dr Graesler, in his late fifty, looking for a life partner, was drawn to the lively family of one of his patients. He then fell in love with Sabine, the oldest daughter of the family. It took him a long time to disclose his feeling to her, alas when Sabine sent him a letter disclosing her feeling for him and a possible plan for their futures, Dr Graesler ran off in fear to his old home town, thinking perhaps that there were more options for him to choose from. There, he met a beautiful and precarious prostitute (Katharina) and a widow of a sick child (Frau Sommer), in knowing these two women, Dr Graesler became appreciative of Sabine’s virtue and intelligence. When Dr Graesler came back, planning to accept Sabine’s proposal, it was too late. At the conclusion, Dr Graesler was like a drowning man, grasping onto anything that would keep him alive. Similar to the above statement by Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Schnitzler projected this philosophy onto Dr Graesler’s character, a modern man equipped with sharp morality and intelligence, yet when it comes to ‘love’, is there a need for such analysis and civility?...For ‘he went on to talk to her…The wind, which stirs on these shores even on the calmest days, blew away the next words – and many more of the same nature’
The Spring Sonata – Frau Bertha never had her heart quivered and delicately trembled like how it meant to be when one is passionately in love. Soon after her husband passed away, Bertha missed her musician life and decided to initiate correspondence with a past lover who was becoming a famous violinist in Vienna. She made regular trips to Vienna, hoping to spend time with him, and spent most of the time dreaming at the prospect of being his lover. Simultaneously, Bertha was getting to know a couple living in close proximity, Frau and Herr Rupius, a disable man who has a beautiful, young wife, and she too made regular trips to Vienna. In moments of contemplation, Bertha imagined that perhaps Frau Rupius was having an affair in Vienna, she also witnessed the Herr Rupius’ despair as he believed that Frau Rupius would leave him any time soon…the dry reality of Bertha’s life encourages her to play a little game with love, with the idea that perhaps, her heart would one day be trembled in happiness and that her womanly fruit was still ripened and hang free, waiting for a violinist’s hand to pluck it. At the conclusion, many tragedies took place and Bertha understood that virtue, like most firmament qualities, could be restored by faith and self-respect.
Arthur Schnitzler was raised in a highly educated, civilised environment where he studied medicines and literatures, but later abandoned the former to write full time. In such an environment, diplomacy is highly regarded and exercised on an everyday basis, and when it concerns ‘love and death’, what is the use of diplomacy? These short stories of Dr Schnitzler perhaps are protests against the mechanical ways of living life where the heart is neglected, and the analytical mind is over used, or that human has becoming too pragmatic, a little desensitised towards love and death, hence dignity and virtues are just derelicts, or perhaps beautiful objects being put on a shrine and observe from a distance. There is a marked characteristic of diplomacy in Dr Schnitzler’s writing, it was almost as though one is reading a court alibi, or an official account of autobiography. Amidst these diplomatic accounts, there are strong poetry and subtle philosophy trickling through the pages, Arthur Schnitzler only let out enough poetry and lyricism to keep the readers going, and that…is pure intelligence in writing composition.