Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blaas_%E2%80%93_Marie_von_Ebner-Eschenbach.jpg?uselang=de
Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach
painted by Karl von Blaas
(1873)
It’s no secret. When I choose something to read and review here on Edith’s Miscellany, the odds are almost 100% that it’ll be a book first published between 1900 and the present. Every once in a while I also go for a classic from the nineteenth century or before, but such reads attracted me a lot more when I was a teenager. Despite all I’m fully aware of the period having brought forth many important writers, notably women, whose work is appreciated up to this day. Everybody knows George Eliot and the Brontë sisters, but other nineteenth-century writers are rarely heard of. One of the most outstanding German-language authors between 1850 and the fin-de-siècle was the Austro-Hungarian noblewoman Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach. 

The career of Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach as a writer was quite extraordinary considering that she belonged to the Catholic-Bohemian aristocracy of Austria-Hungary and that in her time writing wasn’t considered a suitable occupation for a woman, even less for one of her rank. Marie Baroness von Ebner-Eschenbach, née Baroness Dubský von Třebomyslice, was born in Zdislavice Castle near Kroměříž in Moravia, Austrian Empire (Austria-Hungary as from 1867; Czech Republic today), on 13 September 1830. As a matter of fact, she was an almost exact contemporary of the Austrian Emperor and Hungarian King Francis Joseph I who had come into the world less than a month earlier. Marie’s mother died from puerperal fever like so many at the time and her father remarried soon, but the girl became very close to both her stepmothers Eugénie Bartenstein (who died when she was seven years old) and Countess Xaverine Kolowrat-Krakowsky. 

The little baroness grew up in Zdislavice Castle where she passed the summers and in the family’s winter residence in Vienna. German and French governesses were charged with her education which was carefully supervised by Marie’s maternal grandmother, her aunt Helen and her stepmothers. As was often the case in noble families, the girl’s first language was French, but she also learned German and Czech, the latter certainly to a great part owing to Czech servants. When they stayed in Vienna, her second stepmother often took the girl to the Burgtheater and encouraged her to read, while she didn’t approve of her literary attempts. Marie was seventeen when her stepmother sent some poems to the famous Austrian poet and dramatist Franz Grillparzer in the hope that he would call them awful, but he didn’t. On the contrary, he praised them and thus transformed the girl’s wish to be a writer into determination. 

At the age of eighteen Marie Baroness Dubský von Třebomyslice married her cousin Moritz Baron von Ebner-Eschenbach who was fifteen years her senior and moved with him to Louka near Znojmo in Southern Moravia (today Czech Republic) where he taught at the Military Engineering Academy until his transferral to Vienna eight years later in 1856. Encouraged by Franz Grillparzer and with the full support of her husband Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach pursued her literary ambitions. In 1858 she dared a first step into the public: her epistolary satire Aus Franzensbad was published anonymously. After that she focused on dramas in the style of Friedrich Schiller for about twenty years, but none of those (Maria Stuart in Schottland: 1858; Marie Roland: 1867; and several one-act plays) was successful. 

At last Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach turned to the genre in which proved to lie her true talent: narrative writing. Her short novel Božena came out in the journal Deutsche Rundschau in 1876 and received some positive attention which encouraged her to continue on her new way. In 1879 Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach did an apprenticeship as a clock maker – probably because she collected clocks – and wrote the narrative Lotti die Uhrmacherin (engl. Lotti the clock maker) printed in the Deutsche Rundschau in 1880. From then on publishing houses stood open to her and Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach became one of the most widely-read and important authors of her time, noted above all for her elegant style and realistic depiction of characters and scenery. 

After a collection of Aphorismen (1880, translated as Aphorisms) and two series of very popular short stories (Dorf- und Schloßgeschichten: 1883 – including her most famous novella Krambambuli; Neue Dorf- und Schloßgeschichten: 1886) the writer brought out her most important novel Das Gemeindekind in 1887. Over the following twelve years Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach produced a large number of short stories and novellas like Two Contesses (Zwei Comtessen: 1885) and Beyond Atonement (Unsühnbar: 1890) in addition to the novel Agave (1903) and autobiographical sketches titled Meine Kinderjahre (1906). Altweibersommer from 1909 was the last work published during her lifetime.

Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach’s husband died in 1898, the same year when she received the highest civilian decoration of Austria-Hungary, the Cross of Honour for Arts and Literature. Two years later the University of Vienna honoured the writer for her life’s work conferring upon her as the first woman ever the degree of doctor of philosophy, honoris causa.

Marie Baroness von Ebner-Eschenbach died in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, on 12 March 1916 just a couple of months before Emperor Francis Joseph I.

If you wish to learn more about life and work of Marie Baroness von Ebner-Eschenbach I recommend the following biographies:

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