Doderer, Heimito von

(1896–1966)
   Acknowledged as one of the masters of Austrian literature for his linguistic virtuosity and narrative gifts, Doderer had to wait many years before his reputation was assured. His youth had some of the epic qualities of his greatest novels, Die Strudelhofstiege (The Strudelhof Stairs, 1951) and Die Dämonen (The Demons, 1956). A prisoner of war in Russia during World War I, he returned to Vienna in 1920. He had traveled at least part of the way on foot. During the interwar period, he worked as a journalist and tried painting, neither of which brought him any particular recognition.
   In 1933, Doderer joined the outlawed Nazi Party, something he came to regret deeply. Burning his party membership card before friends in 1938, he converted to Catholicism in 1940. It was an effort, as he put it, to reestablish his humanity. He became a sharp critic of all ideology, in the belief that it warped humankind’s conceptual and psychological powers. Doderer also spent much of World War II as a captive, this time in England.
   Doderer’s writing, particularly his mature novels, is conceived on a grand scale. The Strudelhof Stairs and The Demons are the second and third volumes of a trilogy that he had worked on episodically from 1931. Filled with a rich assortment of characters from the lands of the former Habsburg Empire, interwar Austria, and especially Vienna, the works are not so much depictions of social reality as repositories of material in which writers are to find inspiration. Doderer himself took note of these figures and his impressions of them in detailed diaries. Their impact on the reader depends in part on the language Doderer used to describe his creations, in part on the great care with which he structured his prose. He was much influenced by the organizing principles of musical composition, and compared his sprawling novels to the symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven. He was also preoccupied with the relationship of modes of sexuality to what he termed the apperception of reality.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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