Thomas Bernhard

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Thomas Bernhard
Thomas Bernhard.jpg
Bernhard in 1987
BornThomas August Bert Bernhard
(1931-02-09)9 February 1931
Heerlen, Netherlands
Died12 February 1989(1989-02-12) (aged 58)
Gmunden, Upper Austria, Austria
OccupationNovelist and playwright
Literary movement Postmodernism
Notable works Correction
The Loser

Signature Thomas Bernhard (signature).jpg

Nicolaas Thomas Bernhard (German: [ˈtoːmas ˈbɛʁnhaʁt] ; 9 February 1931 – 12 February 1989) was an Austrian novelist, playwright and poet. Bernhard's body of work has been called "the most significant literary achievement since World War II." [1] He is widely considered to be one of the most important German-speaking authors of the postwar era.

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.

Playwright Person who writes plays

A playwright or dramatist is a person who writes plays. One such person, one of the most famous in the world, is William Shakespeare, who lived during both the Tudor and Stuart eras of British history.

Poet Person who writes and publishes poetry

A poet is a person who creates poetry. Poets may describe themselves as such or be described as such by others. A poet may simply be a writer of poetry, or may perform their art to an audience.



Thomas Bernhard was born in 1931 in Heerlen in the Netherlands, where his unmarried mother Herta Bernhard worked as a maid. From the autumn of 1931 he lived with his grandparents in Vienna until 1937 when his mother, who had married in the meantime, moved him to Traunstein, Bavaria, in Nazi Germany. There he was required to join the Deutsches Jungvolk, a branch of the Hitler Youth, which he hated. [2] Bernhard's natural father Alois Zuckerstätter was a carpenter and petty criminal who refused to acknowledge his son. [2] Zuckerstätter died in Berlin from gas poisoning in an assumed suicide in 1940; [3] Bernhard never met him.

Heerlen City and Municipality in Limburg, Netherlands

Heerlen is a city and a municipality in the southeast of the Netherlands. It is the third largest settlement proper in the province of Limburg. Measured as municipality, it is the fourth municipality in the province of Limburg.

Traunstein Place in Bavaria, Germany

Traunstein is a town in the south-eastern part of Bavaria, Germany, and is the administrative center of a much larger district of the same name. The town serves as a local government, retail, health services, transport and educational center for the wider district.

Bavaria State in Germany

Bavaria, officially the Free State of Bavaria, is a landlocked federal state of Germany, occupying its southeastern corner. With an area of 70,550.19 square kilometres, Bavaria is the largest German state by land area comprising roughly a fifth of the total land area of Germany. With 13 million inhabitants, it is Germany's second-most-populous state after North Rhine-Westphalia. Bavaria's main cities are Munich, Nuremberg and Augsburg.

Bernhard's grandfather, the author Johannes Freumbichler  [ de ], pushed for an artistic education for him, including musical instruction. Bernhard went to elementary school in Seekirchen and later attended various schools in Salzburg including the Johanneum which he left in 1947 to start an apprenticeship with a grocer. George Steiner describes Bernhard's schooling as "hideous... under a sadistically repressive system, run first by Catholic priests, then by Nazis". [4]

Seekirchen am Wallersee Place in Salzburg, Austria

Seekirchen am Wallersee is a town in the district of Salzburg-Umgebung in the state of Salzburg in Austria.

Apprenticeship System of employment

An apprenticeship is a system of training a new generation of practitioners of a trade or profession with on-the-job training and often some accompanying study. Apprenticeships can also enable practitioners to gain a license to practice in a regulated profession. Most of their training is done while working for an employer who helps the apprentices learn their trade or profession, in exchange for their continued labor for an agreed period after they have achieved measurable competencies. Apprenticeship lengths vary significantly across sectors, professions, roles and cultures. People who successfully complete an apprenticeship in some cases can reach the "journeyman" or professional certification level of competence. In others can be offered a permanent job at the company that provided the placement. Although the formal boundaries and terminology of the apprentice/journeyman/master system often do not extend outside guilds and trade unions, the concept of on-the-job training leading to competence over a period of years is found in any field of skilled labor.

George Steiner American writer

Francis George Steiner, FBA is an American literary critic, essayist, philosopher, novelist, and educator. He has written extensively about the relationship between language, literature and society, and the impact of the Holocaust. An article in The Guardian described Steiner as a "polyglot and polymath", saying that he is either "often credited with recasting the role of the critic", or a "pretentious namedropper" whose "range comes at the price of inaccuracy" and "complacency".

Bernhard's Lebensmensch (a predominantly Austrian term, which was coined by Bernhard himself [5] and which refers to the most important person in one's life) was Hedwig Stavianicek (1894–1984), a woman more than thirty-seven years his senior, whom he cared for alone in her dying days. He had met Stavianicek in 1950, the year of his mother's death and one year after the death of his beloved grandfather. Stavianicek was the major support in Bernhard's life and greatly furthered his literary career. The extent or nature of his relationships with women is obscure. Thomas Bernhard's public persona was asexual. [6] Suffering throughout his teens from lung ailments, including tuberculosis, Bernhard spent the years 1949 to 1951 at the Grafenhof sanatorium in Sankt Veit im Pongau. He trained as an actor at the Mozarteum in Salzburg (1955–1957) and was always profoundly interested in music. In 1970, he won the Georg Büchner Prize. His lung condition, however, made a career as a singer impossible. After that he worked briefly as a journalist, mainly as a crime reporter, and then became a full-time writer.

Tuberculosis Infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease usually caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) bacteria. Tuberculosis generally affects the lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body. Most infections do not have symptoms, in which case it is known as latent tuberculosis. About 10% of latent infections progress to active disease which, if left untreated, kills about half of those affected. The classic symptoms of active TB are a chronic cough with blood-containing mucus, fever, night sweats, and weight loss. It was historically called "consumption" due to the weight loss. Infection of other organs can cause a wide range of symptoms.

Sanatorium Medical facility for treatment of chronic illness

A sanatorium is a medical facility for long-term illness, most typically associated with treatment of tuberculosis (TB) in the late-nineteenth and twentieth century before the discovery of antibiotics. A distinction is sometimes made between "sanitarium" or the east-European "sanatorium" and "sanatorium".

Sankt Veit im Pongau Place in Salzburg, Austria

Sankt Veit im Pongau is a market town in the St. Johann im Pongau district in the Austrian state of Salzburg. St.Veit is the first healthy climate spa town in Salzburg. Submontane to the "Hochglocker" there is the 1912 founded sanatorium. Author Thomas Bernhard was treated in there and he also wrote a book about his residence at the clinic.

After a decade of needing constant medical care for his lungs, Bernhard died in 1989 in Gmunden, Upper Austria, by assisted suicide. [2] His death was announced only after his funeral. In his will, which aroused great controversy on publication, Bernhard prohibited any new stagings of his plays and publication of his unpublished work in Austria; however, in 1999 this was annulled by his heir, his half-brother Dr. Peter Fabjan. [3] Bernhard's attractive house in Ohlsdorf-Obernathal 2 where he had moved in 1965 is now a museum and centre for the study and performance of his work.

Gmunden Place in Upper Austria, Austria

Gmunden is a town in Upper Austria, Austria in the district of Gmunden. It has 13,204 inhabitants. It is much frequented as a health and summer resort, and has a variety of lake, brine, vegetable and pine-cone baths, a hydropathic establishment, inhalation chambers, whey cure, etc. It is also an important centre of the salt industry in Salzkammergut.

Upper Austria State in Austria

Upper Austria is one of the nine states or Bundesländer of Austria. Its capital is Linz. Upper Austria borders on Germany and the Czech Republic, as well as on the other Austrian states of Lower Austria, Styria, and Salzburg. With an area of 11,982 km2 (4,626 sq mi) and 1.437 million inhabitants, Upper Austria is the fourth-largest Austrian state by land area and the third-largest by population.

Publication output of the act of publishing, and also refers to any printed copies; distribution of copies to the general public with the consent of the author

To publish is to make content available to the general public. While specific use of the term may vary among countries, it is usually applied to text, images, or other audio-visual content, including paper. The word publication means the act of publishing, and also refers to any printed copies.


Often criticized in Austria as a Nestbeschmutzer (one who dirties his own nest) for his critical views, Bernhard was highly acclaimed abroad. Nevertheless, while reviled by some Austrians for his outspoken and harsh views of his homeland, including its Nazi past, [3] he was, during his lifetime, also highly acclaimed in Austria, winning a number of major awards, and was seen by many as the pre-eminent writer of the time.

His work is most influenced by the feeling of being abandoned (in his childhood and youth) and by his incurable illness, which caused him to see death as the ultimate essence of existence. His work typically features loners' monologues explaining, to a rather silent listener, his views on the state of the world, often with reference to a concrete situation. This is true for his plays as well as for his prose, where the monologues are then reported second hand by the listener. Alongside his serious and pessimistic views, his works also contain some very funny observations on life. [2] Bernhard is often considered a verbose writer, but Andreas Dorschel has broadened this view by showing that Bernhard's characters (specifically in Das Kalkwerk) oscillate between excessive speech and highly economical expressions. As Dorschel argues, the two modes produce a series of oppositions with mutually informing sides. [7]

Bernhard's main protagonists, often scholars or, as he calls them, Geistesmenschen (intellectuals), denounce everything that matters to the Austrian in contumacy-filled tirades against a "stupid populace". He also attacks the state (often called "Catholic-National-Socialist"), generally respected institutions such as Vienna's Burgtheater, and much-loved artists. His work also continually deals with the isolation and self-destruction of people striving for an unreachable perfection, since this same perfection would mean stagnancy and therefore death. Anti-Catholic rhetoric is not uncommon.

"Es ist alles lächerlich, wenn man an den Tod denkt" (Everything is ridiculous, when one thinks of Death) was his comment when he received a minor Austrian national award in 1968, which resulted in one of the many public scandals he caused over the years and which became part of his fame. His novel Holzfällen (1984), for instance, could not be published for years due to a defamation claim by a former friend. Many of his plays—above all Heldenplatz (1988)—were met with criticism from many Austrians, who claimed they sullied Austria's reputation. One of the more controversial lines called Austria "a brutal and stupid nation ... a mindless, cultureless sewer which spreads its penetrating stench all over Europe." Heldenplatz, as well as the other plays Bernhard wrote in these years, were staged at Vienna's famous Burgtheater by the controversial director Claus Peymann  [ de ].

Even in death Bernhard caused disturbance by his, as he supposedly called it, posthumous literary emigration , by disallowing all publication and stagings of his work within Austria's borders. The International Thomas Bernhard Foundation, established by his executor and half-brother Dr. Peter Fabjan, has since made exceptions, although the German firm of Suhrkamp remains his principal publisher.

The correspondence between Bernhard and his publisher Siegfried Unseld from 1961 to 1989 – about 500 letters – was published in December 2009 at Suhrkamp Verlag, Germany. [8]

Works (in translation)





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  1. Peck, Dale (December 24, 2010). "Book Review – My Prizes and Prose by Thomas Bernhard". The New York Times .
  2. 1 2 3 4 Franklin, Ruth (2006-12-18). "The Art of Extinction". The New Yorker . ISSN   0028-792X . Retrieved 2017-10-08.
  3. 1 2 3 "Feature: Thomas Bernhard". Sydney Theatre Company. 2012-06-24. Retrieved 2017-10-08.
  4. George Steiner on Thomas Bernhard
  5. Honegger, Gitta. Thomas Bernhard: The Making of an Austrian. Yale University 2001, p. 59.
  6. Honegger, Thomas Bernhard, pp. 61–63.
  7. Andreas Dorschel, ‘Lakonik und Suada in der Prosa Thomas Bernhards’, Thomas Bernhard Jahrbuch 2007/08, pp. 215–233; cf. Simon Walsh in Modern Austrian Literature 43 (2010), issue 4, p. 100
  8. Der Briefwechsel Thomas Bernhard/Siegfried Unseld Archived 2009-12-06 at the Wayback Machine , Suhrkamp Verlag, 2009-12-07
  9. "Histrionics: Three Plays, Thomas Bernhard (University of Chicago Press, 1990)" . Retrieved Mar 6, 2019.
  10. "The Voice Imitator by Thomas Bernhard – five stories excerpted". Retrieved 2011-08-24.
  11. "On Earth and in Hell: Early Poems: Thomas Bernhard, Peter Waugh: 9781941110232: Books". Retrieved 2019-03-06.
  12. "Goethe Dies" . Retrieved Mar 6, 2019 via


Further reading