Werfel photographed by Van Vechten, 1940
Franz Viktor Werfel
10 September 1890
|Died||26 August 1945 54) (aged|
|Occupation||Novelist, playwright, poet|
|Partner(s)||Alma Mahler (1929–1945; his death)|
|Relatives||Hanna Fuchs-Robettin (sister)|
Franz Viktor Werfel (10 September 1890 – 26 August 1945) was an Austrian-Bohemian novelist, playwright, and poet whose career spanned World War I, the Interwar period, and World War II. He is primarily known as the author of The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (1933, English tr. 1934, 2012), a novel based on events that took place during the Armenian Genocide of 1915, and The Song of Bernadette (1941), a novel about the life and visions of the French Catholic saint Bernadette Soubirous, which was made into a Hollywood film of the same name.
Austria, officially the Republic of Austria, is a country in Central Europe comprising 9 federated states. Its capital, largest city and one of nine states is Vienna. Austria has an area of 83,879 km2 (32,386 sq mi), a population of nearly 9 million people and a nominal GDP of $477 billion. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Hungary and Slovakia to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west. The terrain is highly mountainous, lying within the Alps; only 32% of the country is below 500 m (1,640 ft), and its highest point is 3,798 m (12,461 ft). The majority of the population speaks local Bavarian dialects as their native language, and German in its standard form is the country's official language. Other regional languages are Hungarian, Burgenland Croatian, and Slovene.
A Bohemian is a resident of Bohemia, a region of the Czech Republic or the former Kingdom of Bohemia, a region of the former Crown of Bohemia. In English, the word "Bohemian" was used to denote the Czech people as well as the Czech language before the word "Czech" became prevalent in the early 20th century.
A novelist is an author or writer of novels, though often novelists also write in other genres of both fiction and non-fiction. Some novelists are professional novelists, thus make a living writing novels and other fiction, while others aspire to support themselves in this way or write as an avocation. Most novelists struggle to get their debut novel published, but once published they often continue to be published, although very few become literary celebrities, thus gaining prestige or a considerable income from their work.
Born in Prague (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), Werfel was the first of three children of a wealthy manufacturer of gloves and leather goods, Rudolf Werfel. His mother, Albine Kussi, was the daughter of a mill owner. His two sisters were Hanna (born 1896) and Marianne Amalie (born 1899).His family was Jewish. As a child, Werfel was raised by his Czech Catholic governess, Barbara Šimůnková, who often took him to mass in Prague's main cathedral. Like the children of other progressive German-speaking Jews in Prague, Werfel was educated at a Catholic school run by the Piarists, a teaching order that allowed for a rabbi to instruct Jewish students for their Bar Mitzvahs. This, along with his governess's influence, gave Werfel an early interest (and expertise) in Catholicism, which soon branched out to other faiths, including Theosophy and Islam, such that his fiction, as well as his nonfiction, provides some insight into comparative religion.
Prague is the capital and largest city in the Czech Republic, the 14th largest city in the European Union and the historical capital of Bohemia. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of 2.6 million. The city has a temperate climate, with warm summers and chilly winters.
Austria-Hungary, often referred to as the Austro-Hungarian Empire or the Dual Monarchy, was a constitutional monarchy in Central and Eastern Europe from 1867 to 1918. It was formed by giving a new constitution to the Austrian Empire, which devolved powers on Austria (Cisleithania) and Hungary (Transleithania) and placed them on an equal footing. It broke apart into several states at the end of World War I.
Hanna Fuchs-Robettin (1896–1964) was the sister of Franz Werfel, wife of Herbert Fuchs-Robettin, and mistress of Alban Berg. Berg secretly and cryptically dedicated his Lyric Suite to her.
Werfel began writing at an early age and, by 1911, had published his first book of poems, Der Weltfreund, which can be translated as "the friend to the world" as well as philanthropist, humanitarian, and the like.By this time, Werfel had befriended other German Jewish writers who frequented Prague's Café Arco, chief among them Max Brod and Franz Kafka, and his poetry was praised by such critics as Karl Kraus, who published Werfel's early poems in Kraus's journal, Die Fackel (The Torch). In 1912, Werfel moved to Leipzig, where he became an editor for Kurt Wolff's new publishing firm, where Werfel championed and edited Georg Trakl's first book of poetry. While he lived in Germany, Werfel's milieu grew to include Else Lasker-Schüler, Martin Buber, Rainer Maria Rilke, among other German-language writers, poets, and intellectuals in the first decades of the twentieth century.
Max Brod was a German-speaking Jewish Czech, later Israeli, author, composer, and journalist. Although he was a prolific writer in his own right, he is most famous as the friend and biographer of writer Franz Kafka. Kafka, who had named Brod as his literary executor, instructed him to burn his unpublished work upon the former's death, but he refused and had them published instead.
Franz Kafka was a German-speaking Bohemian Jewish novelist and short-story writer, widely regarded as one of the major figures of 20th-century literature. His work, which fuses elements of realism and the fantastic, typically features isolated protagonists facing bizarre or surrealistic predicaments and incomprehensible socio-bureaucratic powers, and has been interpreted as exploring themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity. His best known works include "Die Verwandlung", Der Process, and Das Schloss. The term Kafkaesque has entered the English language to describe situations like those found in his writing.
Karl Kraus was an Austrian writer and journalist, known as a satirist, essayist, aphorist, playwright and poet. He directed his satire at the press, German culture, and German and Austrian politics. The Austrian author Stefan Zweig once called Kraus "the master of venomous ridicule". He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature three times.
With the outbreak of World War I, Werfel served in the Austro-Hungarian Army on the Russian frontas a telephone operator. His duties both exposed him to the vicissitudes of total war as well as provided him with enough of a haven to continue writing Expressionist poems, ambitious plays, and letters voluminously. His strange mix of humanism, confessionalism, autobiography, as well as mythology and religiosity developed further during this time. His poems and plays ranged from scenes of ancient Egypt (notably the monotheism of Akhenaton) to occult allusions (Werfel had participated in séances with his friends Brod and Kafka) and incorporate a parable from the Bahá'í Faith in the poem "Jesus and the Carrion Path". His bias for Christian subjects, as well as his antipathy for Zionism, eventually alienated many of his Jewish friends and readers, including early champions such as Karl Kraus. Others, however, stood by him, including, Martin Buber, who published a sequence of poems from Werfel's wartime manuscript, Der Gerichtstag (Judgment Day, published in 1919) in his monthly journal, Der Jude (The Jew). and wrote of Werfel in his prefatory remark:
The Austro-Hungarian Army was the ground force of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy from 1867 to 1918. It was composed of three parts: the joint army, the Imperial Austrian Landwehr, and the Royal Hungarian Honvéd.
The Eastern Front or Eastern Theater of World War I was a theatre of operations that encompassed at its greatest extent the entire frontier between the Russian Empire and Romania on one side and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire and the German Empire on the other. It stretched from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south, involved most of Eastern Europe and stretched deep into Central Europe as well. The term contrasts with "Western Front", which was being fought in Belgium and France.
Total war is warfare that includes any and all civilian-associated resources and infrastructure as legitimate military targets, mobilizes all of the resources of society to fight the war, and gives priority to warfare over non-combatant needs. The Oxford Living Dictionaries defines "total war" as "A war that is unrestricted in terms of the weapons used, the territory or combatants involved, or the objectives pursued, especially one in which the laws of war are disregarded."
Since I was first moved by his poems, I have opened (knowing well, I should say, it's a problem) the gates of my invisible garden [i.e., an imaginarium] to him, and now he can do nothing for all eternity that would bring me to banish him from it. Compare, if you will, a real person to an anecdotal one, a late book to an earlier, the one you see to you yourself; but I am not putting a value on a poet, only recognizing that he is one—and the way he is one.
An imaginarium refers to a place devoted to the imagination. There are various types of imaginaria, centers largely devoted to stimulating and cultivating the imagination, towards scientific, artistic, commercial, recreational, or spiritual ends.
In the summer of 1917, Werfel left the frontline for the Military Press Bureau in Vienna, where he joined other notable Austrian writers serving as propagandists, among them Robert Musil, Rilke, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and Franz Blei. Through the latter, Werfel met and fell in love with Alma Mahler, widow of Gustav Mahler, the former lover of the painter Oskar Kokoschka, and the wife of the architect Walter Gropius, then serving in the Imperial German Army on the Western Front. Alma, who was also a composer, had already set one of Werfel's poems to music, reciprocated despite Werfel being much younger, shorter, and having Jewish features that she, being both anti-Semitic and attracted to Jewish men, found initially distasteful.Their love affair culminated in the premature birth of a son, Martin, in August 1918. Martin, who was given the surname of Gropius, died in May of the following year. Despite attempts to save his marriage to Alma, with whom he had a young daughter, Manon, Gropius reluctantly agreed to a divorce in 1920. Ironically, Alma refused to marry Werfel for the next nine years. However, Alma, more so than with her first two husbands and lovers, lent herself to the development of Werfel's career and influenced it in such a way that he became an accomplished playwright and novelist as well as poet. They married on 6 July 1929.
Robert Musil was an Austrian philosophical writer. His unfinished novel The Man Without Qualities is generally considered to be one of the most important and influential modernist novels.
Hugo Laurenz August Hofmann von Hofmannsthal was an Austrian prodigy, a novelist, librettist, poet, dramatist, narrator, and essayist.
Franz Blei was an essayist, playwright and translator. He was also noted as a bibliophile, a critic, an editor in chief and publisher, and a fine wit in conversation. He was a friend and collaborator of Franz Kafka.
In April 1924, Verdi – Roman der Oper (Novel of the Opera) was published by Zsolnay Verlag, establishing Werfel's reputation as a novelist. In 1926, Werfel was awarded the Grillparzer Prize by the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and in Berlin, Max Reinhardt performed his play Juarez and Maximilian. By the end of the decade, Werfel had become one of the most important and established writers in German and Austrian literature and had already merited one full-length critical biography.
A journey in 1930 to the Middle East and encountering starving refugees inspired his novel The Forty Days of Musa Dagh which drew world attention to the Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Ottoman government.Werfel lectured on this subject across Germany. The Nazi newspaper Das Schwarze Corps denounced him as a propagandist of "alleged Turkish horrors perpetrated against the Armenians." The same newspaper, suggesting a link between the Armenian and the later Jewish genocide, condemned "America's Armenian Jews for promoting in the U.S.A. the sale of Werfel's book."
Werfel was forced to leave the Prussian Academy of Arts in 1933. His books were burned by the Nazis.Werfel left Austria after the Anschluss in 1938 and went to France, where they lived in a fishing village near Marseille. Visitors to their home at this time included Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann. After the German invasion and occupation of France during World War II, and the deportation of French Jews to the Nazi concentration camps, Werfel had to flee again. With the assistance of Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee in Marseille, he and his wife narrowly escaped the Nazi regime, finding shelter for five weeks in the pilgrimage town of Lourdes. He also received much help and kindness from the Catholic orders that staffed the shrine. He vowed to write about the experience and, safe in America, he published The Song of Bernadette in 1941. Fry organized a secret crossing over the Pyrenees on foot. They went to Madrid and then Lisbon where they boarded a ship for New York, arriving 13 October 1940. Werfel and his family settled in Los Angeles, where they met other German and Austrian emigrants, such as Mann, Reinhardt, and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. In southern California, Werfel wrote his final play, Jacobowsky and the Colonel (Jacobowsky und der Oberst) which was made into the 1958 film Me and the Colonel starring Danny Kaye; Giselher Klebe's opera Jacobowsky und der Oberst (1965) is also based on this play. Before his death, he completed the first draft of his last novel Star of the Unborn (Stern der Ungeborenen), which was published posthumously in 1946.
Franz Werfel died in Los Angeles in 1945 and was interred there in the Rosedale Cemetery. However, his body was returned in 1975 to Vienna for reburial in the Zentralfriedhof.
In English (some of these titles are out of print):
Alma Maria Mahler Gropius Werfel was a Viennese-born composer, author, editor and socialite. At fifteen, she was mentored by Max Burckhard. Musically active from her early years, she was the composer of at least 17 songs for voice and piano.
Martin Buber was an Austrian-born Israeli Jewish philosopher best known for his philosophy of dialogue, a form of existentialism centered on the distinction between the I–Thou relationship and the I–It relationship. Born in Vienna, Buber came from a family of observant Jews, but broke with Jewish custom to pursue secular studies in philosophy. In 1902, he became the editor of the weekly Die Welt, the central organ of the Zionist movement, although he later withdrew from organizational work in Zionism. In 1923, Buber wrote his famous essay on existence, Ich und Du, and in 1925, he began translating the Hebrew Bible into the German language.
The Vienna Central Cemetery is one of the largest cemeteries in the world by number of interred, and is the most famous cemetery among Vienna's nearly 50 cemeteries.
Friedrich Torberg is the pen-name of Friedrich Kantor, an Austrian writer.
The Forty Days of Musa Dagh is a 1933 novel by Austrian-Bohemian writer Franz Werfel based on true events that took place in 1915, during the second year of World War I and at the beginning of the Armenian Genocide.
Austrian literature is the literature written in Austria, which is mostly, but not exclusively, written in the German language. Some scholars speak about Austrian literature in a strict sense from the year 1806 on when Francis II disbanded the Holy Roman Empire and established the Austrian Empire. A more liberal definition incorporates all the literary works written on the territory of today's and historical Austria, especially when it comes to authors who wrote in German. Thus, the seven volume history of Austrian literature by the editors Herbert Zeman and Fritz Peter Knapp is titled History of the Literature in Austria. The Austrian literature must be considered in close connection with German literature in general, and the borderline between proper German literature and the Austrian one is porous, due to rich and complex cultural exchanges.
Musa Dagh is a mountain in the Hatay province of Turkey. In 1915 it was the location of a successful Armenian resistance to the Armenian Genocide, an event that inspired Franz Werfel to write the novel The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.
Ernst Deutsch, also known as Ernest Dorian, was a Jewish Austrian actor. In 1916, his performance as the protagonist in the world première of Walter Hasenclever's Expressionist play The Son in Dresden was praised. Deutsch also played the antihero Famulus in Paul Wegener's The Golem: How He Came into the World in 1920. He is known by English-speaking audiences for his role as Baron Kurtz in Carol Reed's 1949 film noir, The Third Man.
Johannes Lepsius was a German Protestant missionary, Orientalist, and humanist with a special interest in trying to prevent the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire. He initially studied mathematics and philosophy in Munich and a PhD in 1880 with an already award-winning work. Lepsius was one of the founders and the first chairman of the German–Armenian Society.
The Franz Werfel Human Rights Award is a human rights award of the German Federation of Expellees' Centre Against Expulsions project. It is awarded to individuals or groups in Europe who, through political, artistic, philosophical or practical work, have opposed breaches of human rights by genocide, ethnic cleansing, and the deliberate destruction of national, ethnic, racial or religious groups.
The Song of Bernadette is a 1941 novel that tells the story of Saint Bernadette Soubirous, who, from February to July 1858 reported eighteen visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lourdes, France. The novel was written by Franz Werfel and translated into English by Lewis Lewisohn in 1942. It was extremely popular, spending more than a year on the New York Times Best Seller list and 13 weeks in first place.
Werfel is a German and Jewish surname, mentioned in Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic.
Paulus Manker is an Austrian film director and actor, as well as an author and screenplay writer.
Alma is an example of site-specific promenade theatre created by Israeli writer Joshua Sobol based on the life of Alma Mahler-Werfel. It opened in 1996, under the direction of Austrian Paulus Manker, at a former Jugendstil sanatorium building designed by architect Josef Hoffmann located in Purkersdorf near Vienna; and subsequently toured to locations in Venice, Lisbon, Los Angeles, Petronell, Berlin, Semmering, Jerusalem, and Prague.
Artem Ohandjanian is an Austrian-Armenian historian and documentalist, Honorary Doctor of Sciences Academy of Armenia. He is the deputy head of the "Franz Werfel Committee" (Austria).
The novel The Story of the Last Thought of the German-Jewish writer Edgar Hilsenrath is about the Armenian Genocide in 1915. The epic which has the form of a fairy tale (Märchen) and for which Hilsenrath received many prizes is regarded as the most important book about this historical episode. In 2006 the president of Armenia presented the author with the State Award for Literature of the Republic of Armenia for his work.
The Forty Days of Musa Dagh is a 1933 novel by the Austrian-Jewish author Franz Werfel. Based on the events at Musa Dagh in 1915 during the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire, the book played a role in organizing the Jewish resistance under Nazi rule. It was passed from hand to hand in Jewish ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europe, and it became an example and a symbol for the Jewish underground throughout Europe. The Holocaust scholars Samuel Totten, Paul Bartrop and Steven L. Jacobs underline the importance of the book for many of the ghettos' Jews: "The book was read by many Jews during World War II and was viewed as an allegory of their own situation in the Nazi-established ghettos, and what they might do about it."
Alma Manon Gropius was the daughter of the architect Walter Gropius and the composer and diarist Alma Mahler and the stepdaughter of the novelist and poet Franz Werfel. She is a Randfigur whose importance lies in her key relationships to major figures: a muse who inspired the composer Alban Berg as well as Werfel and the Nobel Prize-winning writer Elias Canetti. Manon Gropius is most often cited as the "angel" and dedicatee of Berg's Violin Concerto (1935).
Nevdon Jamgochian is an American artist.
Armenian–Jewish relations are complex, often due to political and historical reasons.
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