Late Fame: Arthur Schnitzler

“You don’t know the effect that the applause of hundreds of enthusiastic listeners, that the praise of the press–that fame will have on you.”

Arthur Schnitzler’s novella, Late Fame examines the tricky labyrinths of self-delusion through the dreams and desire for literary glory. This novella, originally intended for publication in a magazine, was resurrected from Schnitzler’s archives, and its title, published now decades after its creation, has an irony which is underscored by the material itself.

Late Fame

Eduard Saxberger is a 69-year-old civil servant, a bachelor, who has had a successful career, and who lives alone, contentedly, in a pleasantly appointed house. His life is disrupted by the arrival of Wolfgang Meier, a young poet, a member of the “Enthusiasm society,”  who gushingly asks if Saxberger is the author of The Wanderings.

Saxberger has almost forgotten his long-dead and buried dreams of literary fame. At first when he rereads the poetry he wrote so many decades before, painful memories awake:

The whole sorry life that he had led now passed though his mind. Never had he felt so deeply that he was an old man, that not only the hopes, but also the disappointments lay far behind him.

Meier understands why Saxberger stopped writing poetry:

It’s the same old story. At the start, we’re satisfied to have just our own pleasure in our work and the interest of the few who understand us. But when you see those coming up around you, winning a name and even fame for themselves-then you would rather be heard and honored as well. And then come the disappointments!  The envy of the talentless, the frivolity and malice of reviewers, and then the horrid indifference of the public. 

Charmed and flattered by the reverence shown by Meier, Saxberger mingles with the young writers, the self-styled “hope of young Vienna,” and so begins a period of renewal in Saxberger’s life. He discovers that while he loves listening to these young people praise his work, he’s bored when asked to critique another’s poems. He joins these “writers who stay apart from those following the beaten track,” and once again Saxberger dreams of literary fame. …

Late Fame is a delightful tale which follows Saxberger’s ‘renewal’ which comes to a crisis point when he’s asked to write a new poem for a public reading–a reading which will, the poets claim “show that rabble,” who will “get the shock of their lives.” A great deal of the story’s humour is found in the relationships within the group of writers. These include various poets, an unemployed actor, and a rather shopworn actress who “doesn’t fit into regular theatre life.” From a distance, she looks impressive, but as she comes closer to Saxberger, he sees “the strangely ravaged lines of the face itself.” The penetrating stares she insists on sending Saxberger make him uncomfortable.

According to the group, anyone not in their circle are “the talentless ones,” “careerists,”followers of literary fashion.” Schnitzler captures not only the seductiveness of fame, but also how easy it is to cloak ourselves in self-delusion. This circle jerk of poets and writers support each other with claims of being ‘true’ and chafe against the lack of fame while skirting the possibility of lack of talent. In their circle, they survive on mutual admiration as they bolster each other’s lack of progress. We’ve all met people like this, and we all know how impossible it is to break through the tough membrane that protects the talentless. Does Saxberger profit or suffer from this experience? That’s for the reader to decide.

This bittersweet tale of fame lost and found will make my best-of-year list.

Jonathan’s review

Max’s review

Translated by Alexander Starritt

Review copy



Filed under Fiction, Schnitzler Arthur

21 responses to “Late Fame: Arthur Schnitzler

  1. Jonathan

    A great review of a great book, Guy. I find it amazing that the book was forgotten by Schnitzler.

    I like the NYRB cover, as always.

  2. This sounds excellent Guy – right up my alley. And, that’s it’s a novella is (nearly) seducing me.

  3. This has been on my radar since Pushkin Press released it over here in the UK. It does sound good, very much in the classic Mittel-European vein. I’ve barely dipped my toe in the water with Schnitzler — only a couple of his short stories so far — but I’d like to read more in the future.

  4. It’s a terrific little book. In every cafe there’s a group of people just like that. The “twist” is priceless. I’m not going to mention it here because of other readers, but I’m sure you know what I mean. I think it actually made Saxberger laugh when he found out. The part where he tries to write a poem after all this time. Painful.

    • I love the scenes in the cafe. There’s one scene when one of the group starts gesticulating at another table and complaining about the people sitting there, and then Saxberger looks and sees …. no one. This is really very funny, and I know exactly the ‘twist’ you refer to.

  5. I’d read it just for the account of the struggle to write a new poem.

  6. It sounded good when Max reviewed it (
    and it still does.

    I wonder what Schnitzler would do with all these celebrities that reality TV produces. Isn’t it wonderful fuel for thoughts about fame?

  7. I loved this. The scenes in the cafe are fantastic; circle-jerk too is a good way to describe them. The thing is, we can’t even be sure if they are all talentless (though at least some plainly are). It’s not impossible years hence one of them might break through. As a group though they’re pretty hopeless.

    Saxberger is surprisingly sympathetic. As the novel progressed I grew more and more fearful for him, hoping that when his young admirers inevitably let him down he wouldn’t be too hurt. But of course it’s more interesting than that.

    I’ve read a fair bit of Schnitzler now and not a dud among them.

    • I too worried a bit about where the story would go. It would have been as you said, easy for Saxberger to be hurt. The actress is another possibility of danger. I’ve read some short stories and liked them immensely.
      I wondered about the talent thing, but decided that most of them weren’t as they all had these elaborate excuses about why they weren’t in the main stream. The only one I really wondered about was the quiet little one–Little Winder I think it was

      • The Afterword suggests that Little Winder is based on Hofmannsthal. Not a no-talentnik!

        This novella was delicious, hilarious! Calling it “bittersweet” seems too dark to me. The venerable poet skates a little close to the edge, but in the end, he’s a very wise and self-aware figure, and quite good natured. I thought it was a very funny send up of avant garde romantic pretensions and the “circle jerk” (wow 🙄😂!) of its social scene.

        “Hard Feelings,” by Starr, on the other hand… Definitely not Jim Thompson. But the scenes of office life in tech consulting gave me a frisson of horror. Thank goodness I’ve retired!

        Thanks for the tips! Here are a few of mine in return.🤗
        Have you ever read Gert Ledig: Payback (out of print) or The Stalin Front (NYRB). Not for the faint of heart! 😧☠️

        Also, while I’m at it, do you know the work of Ha Jin? I just read War Trash, a fictional memoir of a Chinese POW during the Korean War – excellent!!🤓

        • I didn’t read the afterword. but at least I suspected there was more to Little Winder than met the eye.
          I have The Stalin Front and I’m gathering myself for it. I’ll check out the others. Tips always welcome. The book kind. And no, I’m not familiar with Ha Jin.

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