17 June, 2012

Heimito von Doderer

Heimito von Doderer was a famous Austrian writer.

Heimito von Doderer was born near Vienna in 1896, son of the architect and engineer Wilhelm Carl von Doderer and his wife Wilhelmine von Hügel as the youngest of 6 children. His unusual first name was based on an attempt to germanicize the Spanish name "Jaimito", a diminutive of "Jaime" (James).

His life was spent mostly in Vienna, the longest exception being a period as a Russian prisoner of war in Siberia from 1916 until his eventual return to Austria in 1920. It was during his time in Russia that he decided to become a writer. His first published work, a book of poems Gassen und Landschaft, appeared in 1923, followed by the novel Die Bresche the following year, both with little success. A further novel, Das Geheimnis des Reichs, followed in 1930. In the same year he married Gusti Hasterlik, but they separated two years later and were divorced in 1938.

In 1933 Doderer joined the Austrian section of the Nazi Party (NSDAP) and published several stories in the Deutschösterreichische Tages-Zeitung ("German-Austrian Journal"), a newspaper closely linked to the party and propagating racism and the unification of Germany and Austria. In 1936 he moved to Dachau (Germany), where he met his future second wife, Emma Maria Thoma (although they were not to marry until 1952). In Germany, he renewed his NSDAP-membership (the Austrian Nazi Party had been banned since 1933). He returned to Vienna in 1938, sharing a flat with the celebrated painter Albert Paris Gütersloh. In that year the novel Ein Mord, den jeder begeht was published. He converted to Catholicism in 1940 as a result of his reading of Thomas Aquinas and his alienation from the Nazis, which had been growing for some years. Also in 1940, Doderer was called up to the Wehrmacht and was later posted to France, where he began work on his most celebrated novel Die Strudlhofstiege. Due to ill health, he was allowed in 1943 to return from the front, serving in the Vienna area, before a final posting to Oslo at the end of the war.

After his return to Austria in early 1946, he was banned from publishing. This ban was lifted in 1947. He continued work on Die Strudlhofstiege, but although he completed it in 1948, the still-obscure author was unable to get it published immediately. However when it did finally appear in 1951 it was a huge success, and its author's place in the post-war Austrian literary scene was assured. After this Doderer returned to an earlier, unfinished project, Die Dämonen, which appeared in 1956 to much acclaim. In 1958 he began work on what was intended to be a four-volume novel under the general title of "Novel No. 7", to be written as a counterpart to Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. The first volume Die Wasserfälle von Slunj, appeared in 1963; the second volume, Der Grenzwald, was to be his last work and was published, incomplete and posthumously, in 1967.

Doderer died of intestinal cancer on 23 December 1966.

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