Late Fame (NYRB Classics) – Arthur Schnitzler (Author), Alexander Starritt (Translator)

(Reviewed by JD Jung)


“Around him was an atmosphere of hope, youth, self-confidence, and he breathed it in deeply. …some of the words they were using began to sound familiar to him…words he had thought of from time to time over the course of the passing years as if of something opaque or daydreamt. And which were now flying back and forth between these young people as if the words themselves had become young and alive once again. And it seemed to him that he belonged among these people. As if much of what they said of themselves was true also of him and as if he, too, still had battles to fight as they did. “

Eduard Saxberger, referred by the narrator as an “old gentlemen”, was a one-time published poet and now a long-time civil servant. His life is predictable yet comfortable; that is, until he receives a visit from a young man. This excited man discovered his collection of poems— and commercial failure—“The Wanderings”, which was written decades ago.

He urges Saxberger to attend a meeting of the Enthusiasm Society, a literary club of young aspiring poets who are critical of the current established literary scene. Though some have rather large egos, they practically worship Saxberger and even refer to him as “maestro”. It’s difficult for him to resist this adulation and so finds a home among these early twenty year-olds.

But as age and life experience  changes all of us,  how much has it changed Saxberger? Can he reconcile the life of an artist to one a civil servant and member of the middle class? I don’t want to give too much away, so let me say that it is not all black and white.

Late Fame is an engaging novella that was written over a century ago. It was unpublished, but recently rediscovered in the papers of Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931).

The characters are fully developed; I especially love the over-dramatic actress trying topreserve her youth. As you can tell from the quote above, the translated prose is vibrant and full of emotion.

Definitely read the Afterward, but as the word implies, not until you finish the story. You’ll learn of relevance to Schnitzler’s life and the nineteenth century Austrian literary scene, as well.

At fewer than 130 pages, this quick read is difficult to put down. You’ll find Late Fame relatable even in current times. I guess some things just never change.

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