‘Late Fame’ By Arthur Schnitzler

Many years ago, while still in college, I read Schnitzler’s Road to the Open. I was inspired by some reading about fin-de-siecle Vienna and a reference to Freud calling him his ‘doppleganger’ (intellectually, not physically, I gather).

For most of the book, I read it as a sort of building satire, wending its way to an uncomfortably cringeworthy comic moment.

And then it didn’t.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, though.

The plot is roughly this: a senior civil servant in his, I’m guessing, late middle age (50-60) is unexpectedly visited by a young writer who says that a book of poetry that the civil servant (Saxberger) had published in his youth had inspired him and his friends and asked Saxberger to come meet with them. He joins their literary circle at a local coffeehouse and agrees to participate in their upcoming literary event (poetry reading, declamations, etc). The reviews aren’t great, everyone is disillusioned and goes home. Saxberger returns to his normal life and old companions and feels okay about that.

I expected some cringeworthy, because other characters hint at some embarrassment that he doesn’t understand. My own guess was that the flirtation of an actress in their circle made the other believe that Saxberger had developed an infatuation and thought he would embarrass himself over it. And my suspicion was that, actually, the poetry of Saxberger and the others was terrible.

But while possibly true, Saxberger drifted back to his regular life, happy that he had his moment of ‘late fame,’ but also fine with his quotidian existence.

Go figure.

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