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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.See .

2.See the appendix of the present volume for the peculiar history of this narrative and a transcription of the text in German. It is included here because historians refer to it repeatedly to stress its factual inaccuracies, but it has not been published as a whole.

1. Excursus from the Crypt

1.Helene Baroness Vetsera, née Baltazzi (1848–1925), the “richest girl in Constantinople” at the time of her marriage when she was orphaned at 16 (with several younger siblings).

2.The original text says “Schloß,” which is usually rendered as “palace.” The English convention is, however, that Mayerling was an imperial hunting lodge—less than a palace, but definitely not intended as a permanent residence.

3.Mary Vetsera, born 19 March 1871 in Vienna. The original distinguishes between Helene and Mary Vetsera, both Baronesses in rank, by using Baronin for Helene and for Mary when she appears in scenes alone, the French form Baronesse for Mary when she could be confused for her mother in the narrative. The translation will use “Baroness” and ← 183 | 184 → Baronesse for these purposes, which will preserve both the visual and oral differentiations between the two.


5.This is an elite jeweler’s store in the Inner City of Vienna which still exists today.

6.The cast of supporting characters is not entirely clear here, or in other versions of the episode consulted here...

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