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November 1, 1886|
|Died||May 30, 1951
New Haven, Connecticut
Broch was born in Vienna to a prosperous Jewish family and worked for some time in his family's factory, though he maintained his literary interests privately. He was predestined to work in his father’s textile factory in Teesdorf, therefore, he attended a technical college for textile manufacture and a spinning and weaving college.
In 1909 he converted to Roman Catholicism and married Franziska von Rothermann, the daughter of a knighted manufacturer. The following year, their son Hermann Friedrich Maria was born. Later, Broch began to see other women and the marriage ended in divorce in 1923.
He was acquainted with Robert Musil, Rainer Maria Rilke, Elias Canetti, Leo Perutz, Franz Blei and his devoted friend and inspiration, writer and former nude model Ea von Allesch and many others. In 1927 he sold the textile factory and decided to study mathematics, philosophy and psychology at the University of Vienna. He embarked on a full-time literary career only around the age of 40. At the age of 45, he published his first novel, The Sleepwalkers.
With the annexation of Austria by the Nazis (1938), Broch was arrested, but a movement organized by friends – including James Joyce – managed to have him released and allowed to emigrate; first to Britain and then to the United States, where he finished his novel The Death of Virgil and began to work, similar to Elias Canetti, on an essay on mass behaviour, which remained unfinished.
One of his foremost works, The Death of Virgil (Der Tod des Vergil) was first published in 1945 simultaneously in its original German and in English translation. Having begun the text as a short radio lecture in 1937, Broch expanded and redeveloped the text over the next eight years of his life, which witnessed a short incarceration in an Austrian prison after the Austrian Anschluss, his flight to Scotland via England, and his eventual exile in the United States. This extensive, difficult novel interweaves reality, hallucination, poetry and prose, and reenacts the last 18 hours of the Roman poet Virgil's life in the port of Brundisium (Brindisi). Here, shocked by the balefulness (Unheil) of the society he glorifies in his Aeneid, the feverish Virgil resolves to burn his epic, but is thwarted by his close friend and emperor Augustus before he succumbs to his fatal ailment. The final chapter exhibits the final hallucinations of the poet, where Virgil voyages to a distant land at which he witnesses roughly the biblical creation story in reverse.
Erich Heller observed that if "The Death of Virgil is his masterpiece... it is a very problematical one, for it attempts to give literary shape to the author's growing aversion to literature. In the very year the novel appeared, Broch confessed to 'a deep revulsion' from literature as such – 'the domain of vanity and mendacity'. Written with a paradoxical, lyrical exuberance, it is the imaginary record of the poet’s last day and his renunciation of poetry. He commands the manuscript of the Aeneid to be destroyed, not because it is incomplete or imperfect but because it is poetry and not 'knowledge'. He even says his Georgics are useless, inferior to any expert treatise on agriculture. His friend the Emperor Augustus undoes his design and his works are saved." (Erich Heller, "Hitler in a very Small Town", New York Times, January 25, 1987.)
Other important works by Broch are The Sleepwalkers (Die Schlafwandler, 1932) and The Guiltless (Die Schuldlosen, 1950). The Sleepwalkers is a trilogy, where Broch takes "the degeneration of values" as his theme. The trilogy has been praised by Milan Kundera, whose writing has been greatly influenced by Broch. Broch demonstrates mastery of a wide range of styles, from the gentle parody of Theodor Fontane in the first volume of The Sleepwalkers through the essayistic segments of the third volume to the dithyrambic phantasmagoria of The Death of Virgil.
Selected titles translated into English:
- Die Schlafwandler: Eine Romantrilogie: Pasenow; oder, Die Romantik - 1888, 1931; Esch; oder, Die Anarchie - 1903, 1931; Huguenau, oder, Die Sachlichkeit - 1918, 1932 - Sleepwalkers: A Trilogy
- Die Unbekannte Größe, 1933 - The Unknown Quantity
- Der Tod des Vergil, 1945 - The Death of Virgil (trans. by Jean Starr Untermeyer)
- Die Schuldlosen, 1950 - The Guiltless (trans. by Ralph Mannheim)
- Der Versucher, 1953 Rhein-Verlag,AG, Zûrich; «The Seducer»
- Short Stories, 1966
- Hofmannsthal und seine Zeit, 1974 - Hugo von Hofmannsthal and His Time
- Die Verzauberung, 1976 - The Spell
- Geist and Zeitgeist: The Spirit in an Unspiritual Age, 2003
For a more complete listing, see the MLA bibliography
- Excellent overview
- IN SEARCH OF THE ABSOLUTE NOVEL - 1985 review of The Sleepwalkers by Theodore Ziolkowski
- Hermann Broch archive at Yale University
- Some Broch quotations
- Another review of The Sleepwalkers, with useful links
- Review of Geist and Zeitgeist
- Review of Death of Virgil
- A personal page about Broch's writings, and about Broch's son, H.F. Broch de Rothermann
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