Leo Perutz

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Leo Perutz
Born2 November 1882
Died25 August 1957(1957-08-25) (aged 74)
Bad Ischl, Austria
Occupation(s)Novelist; mathematician

Leopold Perutz (2 November 1882, Prague – 25 August 1957, Bad Ischl) was an Austrian novelist and mathematician. He was born in Prague (now capital of the Czech Republic) and was thus a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He lived in Vienna until the Nazi Anschluss in 1938, when he emigrated to Palestine.

According to the biographical note on the Arcade Publishing editions of the English translations of his novels, Leo was a mathematician who formulated an algebraic equation which is named after him; he worked as a statistician for an insurance company. He was related to the biologist Max Perutz.[1]

During the 1950s he returned occasionally to Austria, spending the summer and autumn months in the market town of St. Wolfgang in the Salzkammergut resort region and in Vienna. He died in the Austrian spa town of Bad Ischl in 1957. He wrote his first novel, The Third Bullet, in 1915 while recovering from a wound sustained in the First World War. In all Perutz wrote eleven novels, which gained the admiration of Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Ian Fleming, Karl Edward Wagner and Graham Greene. Wagner cited Perutz' novel The Master of the Day of Judgment [de] as one of the thirteen best non-supernatural horror novels.[2]


Perutz was born in Prague to a largely non-religious family of Jewish ancestry.[3] They moved to Vienna, where he attended various schools and colleges before studying probability theory, statistics, actuarial science, and economics.[4]

Perutz' novels are short and are usually historical novels combining fast-paced adventure with a metaphysical twist. They are influenced by the work of E. T. A. Hoffmann, Arthur Schnitzler and Victor Hugo (whose work Perutz translated into German).[5] Austrian fellow novelist Friedrich Torberg once characterized Perutz' literary style as the possible result of a little infidelity of Franz Kafka and Agatha Christie. The Marquis of Bolibar (1920) features the Wandering Jew appearing during Napoleon's campaign in Spain.[6] The Master of the Day of Judgement (1921) is a decidedly different mystery story about the circumstances surrounding an actor's death in the early twentieth century, and Little Apple (1928) concerns a First World War soldier's obsessive quest for revenge. By Night Under the Stone Bridge (1952) is an episodic work whose separate stories are bound together by the illicit love shared, in their dreams, by a Jewish woman and the Emperor Rudolf II. In the posthumously-published Leonardo's Judas (1959), da Vinci's quest for an appropriate face to give the betrayer in his Last Supper is interwoven with the squabble between a usurer and the merchant to whom he owes money.

The title of his 1933 novel Saint Peter's Snow (published in English in 1935 as The Virgin's Brand[3]), which is set in what was then the present day, refers to a drug which induces religious fervour; the Nazis, understandably, did not care for it. Critic Alan Piper considered it "a psychological detective story", although it has varyingly been categorised as science fiction or fantasy.[3] Piper believed that the novel was decades ahead of its time due to the description of a hallucinogenic drug derived from an ergot fungus 10 years before the discovery of LSD.[3] He also thought it astonishing that it discussed the experimental use of this hallucinogen on an isolated village 20 years before the 1951 Pont-Saint-Esprit mass poisoning, and proposed that ergot was the psychoactive ingredient used in the ancient mystery cults 40 years before this was put forward as a serious proposal.[3]

In his discussion of German language fantastic literature, critic Franz Rottensteiner describes Perutz as "undoubtedly the finest fantasy author of his time".[6] Literary scholar Alan Piper described Perutz's work as typically containing "an element of the fantastic, with dramatic plots featuring confusing and conflicting interpretations of events".[3]

Novels by Perutz in English translation[edit]

(Dates of publication are for the original German-language editions)




  1. ^ Max Ferdinand Perutz OM FRS, obituary by Alan R. Fersht.
  2. ^ N. G. Christakos, "Three By Thirteen: The Karl Edward Wagner Lists" in Black Prometheus: A Critical Study of Karl Edward Wagner, ed. Benjamin Szumskyj, Gothic Press 2007.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Piper 2013, p. 176.
  4. ^ Piper 2013, pp. 176–77.
  5. ^ Sorrel Kerbel, Jewish writers of the twentieth century (p.792-95), Taylor & Francis, 2003 ISBN 1-57958-313-X
  6. ^ a b Franz Rottensteiner, "German Language Fantasy since 1900" in Frank N. Magill, ed. Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature, Vol 3., (pp. 2391-2414) Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, Inc., 1983. ISBN 0-89356-450-8
  7. ^ Andreas Dorschel, 'Dein Feuer, Bürschchen, brennt an einer kurzen Lunte', in: Süddeutsche Zeitung Nr. 218, 20 September 2004, p. 14.


  • Giffuni, Cathe. ""Leo Perutz: An English Bibliography," Bulletin of Bibliography, Vol. 48 No. 4 December 1991, pp. 195–197.
  • Piper, Alan (2013). "Leo Perutz and the Mystery of St Peter's Snow". Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture. 6 (2): 175–198. doi:10.2752/175169713X13589680082172. S2CID 162287985.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hans Harald Müller: Leo Perutz, München, Verlag C. H. Beck, 1992
  • Dietrich Neuhaus: Erinnerung und Schrecken. Die Einheit von Geschichte, Phantastik und Mathematik im Werk Leo Perutz, Frankfurt am Main: P. Lang, 1984
  • Brigitte Forster, Hans Harald Müller (Hrsg.): Leo Perutz. Unruhige Träume - Abgründige Konstruktionen. Dimensionen des Werks, Stationen der Wirkung, Wien, Sonderzahl, 2002 ISBN 3-85449-197-2.
  • Ulrike Siebauer: Leo Perutz - »Ich kenne alles. Alles, nur nicht mich«, Gerlingen, Bleicher Verlag, 2000 ISBN 3-88350-666-4

External links[edit]