The German Library’s Arthur Schnitzler volume (1982) has a very odd foreword by Stanley Elkin in which Elkin asserts that Schnitzler (1862-1931) was a greater novelist than playwright. This is a foreword to a book with three plays and two novellas. Moreover, Schnitzler only wrote three novels.
The longer of the novellas, “Casanova’s Homecoming” dates from 1918, when Schnitzler was 56 (and the world of Hapsburg Vienna that Schnitzler explored in his most famed works was crashing in defeat). Its Casanova is 53, and very aware of having lost any physical attractiveness. He remains seductive and there are women willing to lie with him (mostly again), but the young woman he wants, an irony-delivering mathematician named Marcolina easily wards off his flattery and overtures. She has a secret lover, a dashing Adonis of a cavalry officer, who is about to depart for war. Desperate for money to pay a gambling debt to the husband of a woman he has also been servicing, Lorenzi, sells his last night with Marcolina to the aged roué (though lying in wait to fight a duel after Casanova has had his way with Marcolina, who discovered the switch and was disgusted at the old body substituting for the young one).
Moreover, to get back to his native Venice, Casanova agrees to serve the elders of the city by spying on young freethinkers. What Schnitzler thinks of either of these dishonorable courses of conduct, I can’t tell. I feel sorry for his Casanova, but am appalled by both. Although it has struck me as a bit silly, I think it is better to get permission to take over someone’s wife than to trick the woman Casanova wants. Not that I can sympathize too much with Lorenzi, either, but in my view, Marcolina is raped in that she would not have consented to congress with Casanova, and, indeed, had refused any. (Schnitzler’s 1900 “Lt. Gustl” shows that he considered dueling silly, and he was something of a Casanova himself.)
I was interested that Schnitzler granted Casanova the grace to be concerned about his partners’ pleasures, not his own: “Casanova knew himself to be one whose rapture in a love relationship was a thousandfold greater when conferring pleasure rather than receiving it.”
I went on to read Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Schntizler’s Das Weite Land (1911—“weite” means “vast”), Undiscovered Country (1980), in which an older philanderer also slays a handsome, young officer in a duel, even after the once-faithful wife (Genia) disdains duels as “foolish vanity defending a travestied honor.”
I think there are too many characters. The dialogue seems more Wilde than Schnitzler. I have to think that Stoppard added witty repartee to the characters and situations of Schnitzler’s play.
There are also two characters who love their cheating spouses, even if they engage in affairs of their own (like the marques in “Rules of the Game”). I didn’t remark on Casanova being at another country house party, albeit one on an estate owned by a non-aristocrat who has earned his fortune. Many of the characters in “Country” gather at an alpine resort, though most of the play is set in the yard (next to the tennis court) of the Hofreiter’s.
I’m more like Friedrich Hofreiter than like Casanova in my view of aging (14 years older than Schnitzler’s Casanova 11 years older than Schnitzler when he wrote it), what bothers is my paunch (something Schnitzler also had, though not triggered by protease inhibitors, as mine was).
F: It would be wonderful to be young again.
ADELE: You’ve been young quite long enough.
F: Yes, but I was young too soon—these things are so badly arranged. One ought to be young at 40 when you’d get something out of it.
AND Schnitzler’s one-act play “Countess Mitzi” (1907) in which the title character, at home in a countryside villa, meets her father’s long-time mistress, Lolo, who is about to be married and has ended the affair, and Paul, her son whom she was forced to give up, but whose father is now acknowledging (and asking Mitzi to marry him, something he has done multiple times since his wife died). Two very long extramarital affairs and the young “natural” son of the prince who believes his mother is (1) dead and (2) was a commoner (though she was and is a countess).
Another discussion of aging:
COUNT: One grows old, Egon.
PRINCE: You get used to it…. At 55 the springtime of life is pretty well over. One gets resigned to it.
©2017, Stephen O, Murray