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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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1. Excursus from the Crypt: In memoriam, by Helene Vetsera


In memoriam

Privately Published from Manuscript for the Baroness Helene Vetsera1 by Johann N. Vernay, Vienna, 1889.

Amidst the first staggering impressions emerging from the Mayerling catastrophe, it had been impossible for those most closely involved with the event to assert the complete and full truth about it. The dreadful event came upon all without warning or preparation; the first reports rendered all downcast; those most closely involved knew neither what had occurred, nor how it had taken place. When scandal then began to raise its head and to send out its tendrils even as far as the public papers, the hallowedness of pain seemed to forbid us from doing justice to our duties towards the living and towards ourselves—not before the period of mourning for the dead had lapsed, before a period so full of despair had been given its due.

Now that this is accomplished, it would be a dereliction of duty towards the living and towards the memory of the dead to deny to truth her justice; we hesitate no longer in facing squarely the multifarious misstatements and attacks that the mournful event brought in its wake.

The events that found their most staggering conclusion in the castle at Mayerling2 were to that point a secret of the departed, guarded as carefully as possible; only later had they reached the awareness of those remaining here. No matter how painful it is to submit them to public scrutiny, they...

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