Lieutenant Gustl is a story written completely in interior monologue, and was the first novel of the sort to be published. In this style, the reader gets to know the setting solely as it is described by the protagonist, Gustl, and we are exposed to his views and biases. This story also differs from other stories in that the protagonist undergoes almost no character development throughout the course of the circular plot line – most of which is spent on the Lieutenant deciding to commit suicide after a confrontation that had many readers thinking, “well, that escalated quickly”. While it can seem that there is nothing going on in this story, there is actually a lot being said. Lieutenant Gustl is a character quite opposite from the author, Arthur Schnitzler, who was a Jewish Doctor who was involved in the military. With this in mind it is much easier to understand the satirical comments being made throughout the novel underneath its dark comedy.
All this being said, is Lieutenant Gustl an effective work of satire? Was this story an effective way for Schnitzler to convey his views of Viennese culture and anti-Semitism?
While writing my essay on the German short stories this past weekend, I reread E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Sandman” and made some connections that I hadn’t previously noticed. Throughout the story, the main character Nathanael’s love of creative writing and poetry is referenced, mostly in relation to how his love interests react and respond to his work. Nathanael writes a poem for Clara in which on their wedding day the “terrible Coppelius appears and touches Clara’s lovely eyes, which start from her head and penetrate Nathanael’s breast like bloody sparks” (71). After revisiting Professor Lieblang’s lecture slides on German Romanticism I noticed that Nathanael seems like he might fall into that category , were he a real author. His dark fixations and deeply emotional reactions to the world around him seem, to me at least, to fit with the German Romantic themes. Along with this, he also strongly resents Clara’s rationality and her “cold, prosaic spirit” (69), which fits with the idea of romanticism being opposed to calm and rationality.
It seems, through my interpretation, that Hoffmann is painting German Romanticism in a negative way, seeing as Clara is shown in a more positive light throughout the story and the reader is assured that she has a happy ending. But seeing as Hoffmann is categorized as a German Romantic, why would he do this? I don’t know a lot about Hoffmann as a writer or of his views, but if this parallel was in fact intentional and not just something that I projected on the story, I can’t really grasp his motives. I was wondering if anyone else noticed this, and if so, what are your thoughts?