An "Austrian Dreyfus": Arthur Schnitzler's "Professor Bernhardi" (1912) Professor Helga Schreckenberger, Department of German and Russian
Arthur Schnitzler's "comedy" Professor Bernhardi stands out as the author's most direct and perceptive analysis of the complex and multilayered antisemitism in pre-World War I Vienna and its cooption by political opportunists. Set in a private hospital under the leadership of the Jewish physician Professor Bernhardi, the play links medical rivalries and institutional jealousies to the antisemitic climate permeating Viennese society. After preventing a priest from seeing a dying patient, Bernhardi falls victim to an antisemitic smear campaign that costs him his career. Bernhardi's unwavering adherence to his ethical principles and the triumph of his opportunistic detractors has been linked to the crisis of liberalism in Austria at the end of the nineteenth century. This talk discusses Schnitzler's play in the context of contemporary discourses on the relationship of the individual and society that surfaced in response to the Dreyfus Affair in France and the increasing antisemitism in Europe. It argues that Bernhardi's insistence on moral individualism should not be read as Schnitzler's mourning of a failed political ideal but as his reclaiming of the values of the Enlightenment for Jewish identity.
Helga Schreckenberger holds the holds the Wolfgang and Barbara Mieder Green and Gold Professorship in German at the University of Vermont where she is also an affiliate faculty member of the Miller Center for Holocaust Studies.
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