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Friedell, Egon

Entry updated 16 January 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1878-1938) Austrian cabaret artist, wit, polymath, translator and author, born Egon Friedmann (he changed his name to Friedell in 1916), rejected for military service in World War One through physical disabilities; he also wrote as by Egon Friedländer. He remains best known for his seminal Kulturgeschichte der Neuzeit: die Krisis der europäischen Seele von der Schwarzen Pest bis zum Weltkrieg (1927-1931 3vols; trans Charles Francis Atkinson as A Cultural History of the Modern Age: The Crisis of the European Soul from the Black Death to the World War 1930-1932 3vols), a witty examination of European civilization as a conversation which became – for those who survived the Holocaust – a requiem for a world about to be murdered. His wry homage to H G Wells, Die Reise mit der Zeitmaschine: Phantastische Novelle (apparently written circa 1928-1935; 1946; vt Die Rückkehr mit der Zeitmaschine 1974 chap Switzerland; trans Eddy C Bertin as The Return of the Time Machine 1972), complete with a spoof correspondence between himself as narrator and Wells's secretary, purports to reprint the Time Traveller's narrative of his later journeys, beginning from 1905 and stopping initially in 1995. The surface of the world has been polished of all life; London floats far above, held in place by Antigravity machines. The next stop is 2123, which also proves unsatisfactory. The story, told with a literate wit reminiscent of some of Karel Čapek's lighter work, depends on complex mathematical doubletalk for its demonstration of the ultimate futility of Time Travel.

Friedell was Jewish. His work was of course unpublishable in Austria after the 1938 Anschluß, and the novel remained in manuscript until after World War Two, but was not even then released in his native land. As a conspicuous member of the cabaret/cafe culture which had given Vienna its characteristic flavour since the 1890s, Friedell was always at risk from the Austrian Nazis who despised that culture. However, when the Gestapo – which was popular in Vienna – came to arrest him in 1938, four days after the Anschluß, Friedell committed Suicide by jumping out of his window; as he fell, he shouted a warning to his fellow citizens of Vienna in the street below. Long after his death various state honours were bestowed upon him. [JC]

Egon Friedell

born Vienna, Austria: 21 January 1878

died Vienna, Austria: 16 March 1938




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