Literary Landscape by Gerhard Ruiss

First Beginnings


Before the 20th century, separate intralinguistic developments created a diverse literary landscape in the languages of the Habsburg monarchy. Independent media and publishing houses were inexistent at the time.

The most important representatives of German language literature in the Habsburg Monarchy in the first half of the 19th century, Nikolaus Lenau (1802–1850), Adalbert Stifter (1805–1868) or Anastasius Grün (1808–1876), hailed from Banat (Romania), Bohemia (Czech Republic) or Ljubljana (Slovenia), but their works were published by German publishers. The disputes between Austrian playwrights and the censorship authorities of the Austrian Metternich regime (1809–1848), which made every effort to create difficulties for performing the plays by Grillparzer, Nestroy et al., were not only a protest against censorship and the restrictions of their work, but may also be considered as confident gestures of an early independent approach to literature. This development was preceded by an astonishing act performed by a publisher: with the agreement of the reigning Archduchess of Austria, Maria Theresia (1717–1780), Thomas von Trattner (1717–1798), the biggest “pirate printer” in German-language publishing history, reprinted German classical literature in Vienna in the second half of the 18th century. Intended to serve educational purposes, the classics were published in bowdlerised versions. The censorship of books and media was seamless: publishers had to have a concession and were obliged to submit the works for inspection before their release, and imported books were screened. Until far into the 20th century, written literary products were reserved to German publishers, and theatrical literature had its home in Vienna, a city with a great theatrical tradition.