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Belle Necropolis

Ghosts of Imperial Vienna


Katherine Arens

Since coming to public notice through major museum catalogues and the work of Carl Schorske around 1980, fin de siècle Vienna has been cast as the final bloom of a dying culture. Yet this assessment is itself a historical construct, deriving from the politics of the twentieth century. This volume argues that «Habsburg nostalgia» is anything but backward looking: instead, images from this glittering Habsburg past become evidence of a culture’s sophisticated sense of how and why history is made, in both official and popular spheres. Including the first translation of an original account of Crown Prince Rudolf’s suicide at Mayerling in 1889, Belle Necropolis argues for Austria’s continued reuse of its own history to point the way toward the future rather than simply memorializing a past that only exists as living memories of shared stories, not as a truth in itself. Case studies included here range from imperial stereotypes before 1900 through their adaptations in the film 1. April 2000 and today’s musicals, and from the politics of representing Austria since Rebecca West up through Schorske’s master narrative of the Ringstrasse. Through these studies, Habsburg culture emerges as a culture of commemoration that uses its own past to overcome the limits of a small country seeking a role on the contemporary world stage.
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This book would not have been possible without the support of many, since it was begun and finished at the two ends of a difficult era.

First and foremost, I would like to acknowledge that the publication of this book was made possible by a University of Texas Subvention Grant, awarded by President William C. Powers, Jr. His support of this program in this age of austerity reflects his unwavering commitment to the faculty of The University in the face of adversity, and I know I speak for many who are grateful for his support and leadership.

Numerous colleagues have been generous discussants of parts of this work, helping me to see around some difficult corners. Special thanks to Robert von Dassanowsky, historian extraordinare of Austrian film, for his help on the back story of 1. April 2000, to David Luft for his wisdom on Musil and his general good counsel, and to Janet Swaffar, the colleague whose wisdom we all need, who suffered through many discussions about why Austria is not Germany.

Without the support of Janet Swaffar, Leah Ross, and Carlos Amador, the project would not have gotten off the ground; they made it possible for me to present the first version of the Schorske material at the conference of the Modern Austrian Literature and Culture Association (now the Austrian Studies Association) at the University of Vienna, and to keep my eyes on the finish line—the rare ← vii | viii → combination of...

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