Elias Canetti

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Elias Canetti
Elias Canetti 2.jpg
Born(1905-07-25)25 July 1905
Ruse, Bulgaria
Died14 August 1994(1994-08-14) (aged 89)
Zürich, Switzerland
NationalityBulgarian, British
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Literature
SpouseVeza Taubner-Calderon
(m. 1934–1963)
Hera Buschor(m. 1971)

Elias Canetti ( /kəˈnɛti, kɑː-/ ; [1] Bulgarian : Елиас Канети; 25 July 1905 – 14 August 1994) was a German-language author, born in Ruse, Bulgaria to a merchant family. They moved to Manchester, England, but his father died in 1912, and his mother took her three sons back to the continent. They settled in Vienna.

Bulgarian language South Slavic language

Bulgarian, is a South Slavic language spoken in Southeastern Europe, primarily in Bulgaria. It is the language of Bulgarians.

Ruse, Bulgaria City in Bulgaria

Ruse (also transliterated as Rousse, Russe; Bulgarian: Русе, pronounced [ˈrusɛ], is the fifth largest city in Bulgaria. Ruse is in the northeastern part of the country, on the right bank of the Danube, opposite the Romanian city of Giurgiu, approximately 75 km south of Bucharest, Romania's capital, 200 km from the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast and 300 km from the capital Sofia. It is the most significant Bulgarian river port, serving an important part of the international trade of the country.


Canetti moved to England in 1938 after the Anschluss to escape Nazi persecution. He became a British citizen in 1952. He is known as a modernist novelist, playwright, memoirist, and non-fiction writer. [2] He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1981, "for writings marked by a broad outlook, a wealth of ideas and artistic power". [3] He is noted for his non-fiction book Crowds and Power, among other works.

Nobel Prize in Literature One of the five Nobel Prizes established in 1895 by Alfred Nobel

The Nobel Prize in Literature is a Swedish literature prize that is awarded annually, since 1901, to an author from any country who has, in the words of the will of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, produced "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction". Though individual works are sometimes cited as being particularly noteworthy, the award is based on an author's body of work as a whole. The Swedish Academy decides who, if anyone, will receive the prize. The academy announces the name of the laureate in early October. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895. On some occasions the award has been postponed to the following year. It was not awarded in 2018, but two names will be awarded in 2019.

Life and work

Early life

Born in 1905 to businessman Jacques Canetti and Mathilde née Arditti in Ruse, a city on the Danube in Bulgaria, Canetti was the eldest of three sons. [4] His ancestors were Sephardi Jews. His paternal ancestors settled in Ruse from Ottoman Adrianople. [4] The original family name was Cañete, named after Cañete, Cuenca, a village in Spain.

Danube River in Central Europe

The Danube is Europe's second longest river, after the Volga. It is located in Central and Eastern Europe.

Sephardi Jews, also known as Sephardic Jews or Sephardim, originally from Sepharad, Spain, or the Iberian peninsula, are a Jewish ethnic division. They established communities throughout areas of modern Spain and Portugal, where they traditionally resided, evolving what would become their distinctive characteristics and diasporic identity, which they took with them in their exile from Iberia beginning in the late 15th century to North Africa, Anatolia, the Levant, Southeastern and Southern Europe, as well as the Americas, and all other places of their exiled settlement, either alongside pre-existing co-religionists, or alone as the first Jews in new frontiers. Their millennial residence as an open and organised Jewish community in Iberia began to decline with the Reconquista and was brought to an end starting with the Alhambra Decree by Spain's Catholic Monarchs in 1492, and then by the edict of expulsion of Jews and Muslims by Portuguese king Manuel I in 1496, which resulted in a combination of internal and external migrations, mass conversions and executions.

Ottoman Empire Former empire in Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa

The Ottoman Empire, historically known to its inhabitants and the Eastern world as Rome (Rûm), and historically known in Western Europe as the Turkish Empire or simply Turkey, was a state that controlled much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries. It was founded at the end of the 13th century in northwestern Anatolia in the town of Söğüt by the Oghuz Turkish tribal leader Osman I. Although initially the dynasty was of Turkic origin, it was thoroughly Persianised in terms of language, culture, literature and habits. After 1354, the Ottomans crossed into Europe, and with the conquest of the Balkans, the Ottoman beylik was transformed into a transcontinental empire. The Ottomans ended the Byzantine Empire with the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed the Conqueror.

In Ruse, Canetti's father and grandfather were successful merchants who operated out of a commercial building, which they had built in 1898. [5] Canetti's mother descended from the Arditti family, one of the oldest Sephardi families in Bulgaria, who were among the founders of the Ruse Jewish colony in the late 18th century. The Ardittis can be traced to the 14th century, when they were court physicians and astronomers to the Aragonese royal court of Alfonso IV and Pedro IV. Before settling in Ruse, they had migrated into Italy and lived in Livorno in the 17th century. [6]

Kingdom of Aragon medieval and early modern kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula

The Kingdom of Aragon was a medieval and early modern kingdom on the Iberian Peninsula, corresponding to the modern-day autonomous community of Aragon, in Spain. It should not be confused with the larger Crown of Aragon, that also included other territories — the Principality of Catalonia, the Kingdom of Valencia, the Kingdom of Majorca, and other possessions that are now part of France, Italy, and Greece — that were also under the rule of the King of Aragon, but were administered separately from the Kingdom of Aragon.

Alfonso IV of Aragon King of Aragon, Valencia, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica

Alfonso IV, called the Kind was the King of Aragon and Count of Barcelona from 1327 to his death. His reign saw the incorporation of the County of Urgell, Duchy of Athens, and Duchy of Neopatria into the Crown of Aragon.

Peter IV of Aragon King of Aragon

Peter IV, called the Ceremonious, was from 1336 until his death the King of Aragon and also King of Sardinia and Corsica, King of Valencia, and Count of Barcelona. In 1344, he deposed James III of Majorca and made himself King of Majorca.

Elias Canetti's native house in Ruse, Bulgaria Elias Canettis fodested.JPG
Elias Canetti's native house in Ruse, Bulgaria

Canetti spent his childhood years, from 1905 to 1911, in Ruse until the family moved to Manchester, England, where Canetti's father joined a business established by his wife's brothers. In 1912, his father died suddenly, and his mother moved with their children first to Lausanne, then Vienna in the same year. They lived in Vienna from the time Canetti was aged seven onwards. His mother insisted that he speak German, and taught it to him. By this time Canetti already spoke Ladino (his native language), Bulgarian, English, and some French; the latter two he studied in the one year they were in Britain. Subsequently, the family moved first (from 1916 to 1921) to Zürich and then (until 1924) to Frankfurt, where Canetti graduated from high school.

Lausanne Capital city of the canton of Vaud, Switzerland

Lausanne is the capital city and biggest town of the canton of Vaud in Romandy, Switzerland. A municipality, it is situated on the shores of Lake Geneva. It faces the French town of Évian-les-Bains, with the Jura Mountains to its north-west. Lausanne is located 62 kilometres northeast of Geneva.

Vienna Capital city and state of Austria

Vienna is the federal capital, largest city and one of nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primate city, with a population of about 1.9 million, and its cultural, economic, and political centre. It is the 7th-largest city by population within city limits in the European Union. Until the beginning of the 20th century, it was the largest German-speaking city in the world, and before the splitting of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, the city had 2 million inhabitants. Today it is the second largest German-speaking city after Berlin and just before Hamburg. Vienna is host to many major international organizations, including the United Nations and OPEC. The city is located in the eastern part of Austria and is close to the borders of Czechia, Slovakia, and Hungary. These regions work together in a European Centrope border region. Along with nearby Bratislava, Vienna forms a metropolitan region with 3 million inhabitants. In 2001, the city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In July 2017 it was moved to the list of World Heritage in Danger.

Zürich Place in Switzerland

Zürich or Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and the capital of the canton of Zürich. It is located in north-central Switzerland at the northwestern tip of Lake Zürich. The municipality has approximately 409,000 inhabitants, the urban agglomeration 1.315 million and the Zürich metropolitan area 1.83 million. Zürich is a hub for railways, roads, and air traffic. Both Zurich Airport and railway station are the largest and busiest in the country.

Canetti went back to Vienna in 1924 in order to study chemistry. However, his primary interests during his years in Vienna became philosophy and literature. Introduced into the literary circles of First-Republic-Vienna, he started writing. Politically leaning towards the left, he was present at the July Revolt of 1927 – he came near to the action accidentally, was most impressed by the burning of books (recalled frequently in his writings), and left the place quickly with his bicycle. [7] He gained a degree in chemistry from the University of Vienna in 1929, but never worked as a chemist.

First Austrian Republic republic in Central Europe (1919–1934)

The First Austrian Republic was created after the signing of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye on 10 September 1919—the settlement after the end of World War I which ended the Habsburg rump state of Republic of German-Austria—and ended with the establishment of the Austrofascist Federal State of Austria based upon a dictatorship of Engelbert Dollfuss and the Fatherland's Front in 1934. The Republic's constitution was enacted in 1 October 1920 and amended on 7 December 1929. The republican period was increasingly marked by violent strife between those with left-wing and right-wing views, leading to the July Revolt of 1927 and the Austrian Civil War of 1934.

July Revolt of 1927 July 1927 political unrest in Austria

The July Revolt of 1927 was a major riot starting on 15 July 1927 in the Austrian capital Vienna. It culminated with police forces firing into the outraged crowd, killing 89 protesters, while five policemen died. More than 600 protestors and around 600 policemen were injured.

University of Vienna public university located in Vienna, Austria

The University of Vienna is a public university located in Vienna, Austria. It was founded by Duke Rudolph IV in 1365 and is the oldest university in the German-speaking world. With its long and rich history, the University of Vienna has developed into one of the largest universities in Europe, and also one of the most renowned, especially in the Humanities. It is associated with 20 Nobel prize winners and has been the academic home to a large number of scholars of historical as well as of academic importance.

He published two works in Vienna before escaping to Great Britain. He reflected the experiences of Nazi Germany and political chaos in his works, especially exploring mob action and group thinking in his novel Die Blendung ( Auto-da-Fé , 1935) and non-fiction Crowds and Power (1960). He wrote several volumes of memoirs, contemplating the influence of his multi-lingual background and childhood.

Canetti's tomb-stone in Zurich, Switzerland Elias Canetti tomb-stone.jpg
Canetti's tomb-stone in Zürich, Switzerland

Personal life

Canetti Peak, Antarctica, named after Elias Canetti Canetti Peak.jpg
Canetti Peak, Antarctica, named after Elias Canetti

In 1934 in Vienna he married Veza (Venetiana) Taubner-Calderon (1897–1963), who acted as his muse and devoted literary assistant. Canetti remained open to relationships with other women. He had a short affair with Anna Mahler. In 1938, after the Anschluss with Germany, the Canetti couple moved to London. He became closely involved with the painter Marie-Louise von Motesiczky, who was to remain a close companion for many years. His name has also been linked with the author Iris Murdoch (see John Bayley's Iris, A Memoir of Iris Murdoch, which has several references to an author, referred to as "the Dichter", who was a Nobel Laureate and whose works included Die Blendung [English title Auto-da-Fé ]).

After Veza died in 1963, Canetti married Hera Buschor (1933–1988), with whom he had a daughter, Johanna, in 1972. Canetti's brother Jacques Canetti settled in Paris, where he championed a revival of French chanson. [8] Despite being a German-language writer, Canetti settled in Britain until the 1970s, receiving British citizenship in 1952. For his last 20 years, Canetti lived mostly in Zürich.


A writer in German, Canetti won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1981, "for writings marked by a broad outlook, a wealth of ideas and artistic power". He is known chiefly for his celebrated trilogy of autobiographical memoirs of his childhood and of pre-Anschluss Vienna: Die Gerettete Zunge (The Tongue Set Free); Die Fackel im Ohr (The Torch in My Ear), and Das Augenspiel (The Play of the Eyes); for his modernist novel Auto-da-Fé (Die Blendung); and for Crowds and Power , a psychological study of crowd behaviour as it manifests itself in human activities ranging from mob violence to religious congregations.

In the 1970s, Canetti began to travel more frequently to Zurich, where he settled and lived for his last 20 years. He died in Zürich in 1994. [9]

Honours and awards


See also

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  3. nobelprize.org. "The Nobel Prize in Literature 1981" . Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  4. 1 2 Lorenz, Dagmar C. G. (17 April 2004). "Elias Canetti". Literary Encyclopedia. The Literary Dictionary Company Limited. ISSN   1747-678X . Retrieved 13 October 2009.
  5. "The Canetti House – a forum for alternative culture". Internationale Elias Canetti Gesellschaft. Archived from the original on 24 March 2010. Retrieved 2009-10-13.
  6. Angelova, Penka (2006). "Die Geburtsstadt von Elias Canetti". Elias Canetti: Der Ohrenzeuge des Jahrhunderts (PDF) (in German). Internationale Elias-Canetti-Gesellschaft Rousse. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 April 2018. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
  7. Stieg, Gerard, Fruits de Feu - l'incendie du Palais du Justice de Vienne en 1927 et ses consequences dans la Littérature Autrichienne. Université de Rouen ( ISBN   9782877750080), 1989.
  8. Patrick Labesse (10 June 1997). "Jacques Canetti, Le découvreur de Brassens et de Brel". Le Monde. Retrieved 22 January 2015.
  9. Encyclopædia Britannica profile
  10. "Reply to a parliamentary question" (pdf) (in German). p. 348. Retrieved 19 October 2012.
  11. "Hanser Verlag author page" . Retrieved 12 November 2013.


  1. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 28 August 2008. Retrieved 26 July 2008.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  2. http://www.capacitedaffect.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Brighenti-2011-Elias-Canetti-and-the-Counter-Image-of-Resistance.pdf