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This article is taken from PN Review 47, Volume 12 Number 3, January - February 1986.

The Little Theatre of the World James Malpas

Hermann Broch, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and His Time, translated and edited and with an introduction by Michael P. Steinberg (University of Chicago Press) £25.75, £12.75 pb.

Broch's enthusiasm for Hofmannsthal as a cultural hero was limited. Few critical works can have been undertaken in such an unadulatory mood as was Broch's to begin with; he described Hofmannsthal as 'a highly talented man, who out of weakness succombed too much to the conditions of his time . . . and became a bad poet'. It was a view that mollified in the course of writing the expansive, if turgid critique of Middle-European culture between 1880-1920 which became Broch's goal. The first chapters show that he had no intention of succumbing to the times in question. He tears into their aesthetic pretentions and shams with a polemical vigour that scarcely masks a bad temper and personal spleen.

In the early chapters, Hofmannsthal is largely absent, occasionally being used as a stalking-horse for Broch's attacks on the 'non-style', the 'kitsch' and the aesthetic blasphemy he discerned in the Jung Wien writers among whom Hofmannsthal is numbered. At this stage Broch writes like a Kraus who has mislaid his satirical edge. It is exhaustive and exhausting and gives the impression of a man of talent and energy forced to write against his will.

There is a noticeable improvement once Hofmannsthal's life and works come in for consideration. Broch drops his Hercules-before-the-Hydra stance and begins to use an ...

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