cover image Late Fame

Late Fame

Arthur Schnitzler, trans. from the German by Alexander Starritt. New York Review Books, $14.95 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-1-68137-084-2

Completed over a century ago but unpublished until now, Schnitzler’s droll, engrossing short novel of artists in 1890s Vienna tempers its satire with keen insight. The elderly Eduard Saxberger wrote plays and poetry in his youth but has long since withdrawn from the world of letters into the “soft and muffled” life of a career civil servant. His old ambitions are reawakened by a young writer, Wolfgang Meier, who has discovered Saxberger’s sole published book of poems, Wanderings, in a secondhand shop. Drawn by Meier into an admiring circle of young would-be artistic types, including the truculent critic Blink, the disheveled playwright Christian, the histrionic actress Gasteiner, and the young Winder, who writes “everything,” Saxberger begins to believe that his decades as “a useful member of human society” have been wasted, and he is “indeed a poet.” But when the group plans to put on a recital to present their work, Saxberger must compose new verses, and his supposed genius is put to the test. Schnitzler’s send up of both artistic pretension and hoi polloi fatuity is brilliant, but his narrative is ultimately less satirical than humane. Saxberger continually revises his ideas of both the artistic vocation and a quiet existence among the bourgeoisie, finding that the effects of fame on an artist’s work are imponderable: “Who, in the end, can guarantee you the encouragement and the recognition?” Readers are fortunate to have this late publication. (Aug.)