A haze of nostalgia has blanketed fin de siècle Vienna since 1941, when The World of Yesterday, Stefan Zweig’s elegy for the “Austrian-Jewish-bourgeois culture that culminated in Mahler, Hoffmannsthal, Schnitzler, and Freud” first appeared. The Viennese bourgeoisie in the 1890s were, after all, the most cultivated and refined middle class in the world, and they set an all but unassailable benchmark in cultural accomplishment. It was an era of relative innocence: the assumptions of the Enlightenment and faith in the ideal of human progress were unquestioned; the empire’s endemic anti-Semitism had been in abeyance for two decades; the tremors of the tottering Hapsburg monarchy were easily ignored. Zweig described this “golden age of security” as an age of reason in which radicalism and violence seemed impossible.

The irrational was relegated to the psyche. Arthur Schnitzler ...

 

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