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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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Appendix: An Introduction to the Denkschrift


An Introduction to the Denkschrift

What follows is the German-language text of the Denkschrift, assembled in an edition that accommodates information drawn from three sources: a hand-written copy, one copy from the original printing in the possession of the Austrian National Library (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, ÖNB), and a version printed in the German press in the 1920s.

Helene Vetsera had the text of the Denkschriftprivately printed (in about 200 copies, according to one of her heirs) to distribute to her friends as a rebuttal of the rumors still circulating about her daughter and her family’s involvement with the imperial scandal. The censors, however, confiscated the printing and purportedly destroyed all copies (the family asserts that about 25 may have escaped destruction), but not before the president of police and his deputies hand-copied the text out at least once (a fine example of following the letter of the law: the copy was found in the police dossier, in three different hands). At least two copies of the original printed version survived the censor (see below on the information for the manuscript). The family retained possession of the original manuscript until Helene’s death, when it was destroyed on her orders. Yet the heirs came into possession of another copy, out of the estate of one of Mary’s confidantes. As it turns out, Helene was in the Victorian habit of letting close friends copy out the manuscript or the text to honor Mary’s memory. One of the heirs knows of...

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