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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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Afterword: Beyond Necrophilia


Beyond Necrophilia

The story that here began with Helene Vetsera must now return to her, for she, too, is part of Habsburg history-making, not just Habsburg history. The three days that led her young daughter into necrophiliac immortality are well-narrated in the Denkschrift by a widowed mother who still had another daughter to marry off, and a young son who needed to be launched on a career. Helene Vetsera tells the story of an innocent, girlish love gone wrong. But as one reads this story, it is well to remember that Helene wrote it “as told to” a journalist, Filipp (or Philipp—both variants occur in the secondary literature) von Newlinsky, correspondent for the Temps.1 Significantly, the family ran the text by a lawyer before it was printed, to avoid any charges that they were trying to insult the monarchy. In memoriam, the Denkschrift, is not and was never intended to be entirely a private story, but rather a contribution to public understanding of the history of a fateful moment. This is history written by a limited woman from a family that had lived off the court for two generations and who needed both to protest her treatment by those highest powers and guarantee some continuance of that living into the third. It pulls the curtain back on who was involved in the official story-telling, but in such a way that, if the story leaked, as it was sure to do, it would cast her and her family...

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