Divertimenti and Variations
Heimito von Doderer

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A story collection by the acclaimed Austrian novelist of the early and mid-twentieth century, Divertimenti and Variations mediates traditional and experimental story technique to explore the authentic self and creates musically-based narrative forms. These narrative experiments were begun in 1923, not long after the publication of Joyce’s Ulysses, with its “Sirens” chapter structured like a fugue. Traditional psychological realism combines with four-part “symphonic” experimental form—complete with development, intermezzi, and thematic repetition and variation—to demonstrate how technique is adequate to reveal and resolve conflict. Love interests, family tensions, dreams forcing the dreamers to face their struggles, physical injury, a young blind woman’s gaining sight, insanity, unexamined lives—Doderer develops these themes by adeptly employing traditional representation, but he does so through innovative narrative structures grounded in the musical formalisms of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven.

Heimito von Doderer (1896-1966) began writing as a prisoner of war in Siberia in 1916 and continued on his return to Vienna in 1920, while pursuing university studies in psychology and medieval history. He enjoyed only limited recognition until the unexpected success of his long novel Die Strudlhofstiege (The Strudlhof Steps) in 1951. He became the most acclaimed Austrian writer of his time, a reputation confirmed by the appearance of his 1,300-page novel Die Dämonen (The Demons) on his sixtieth birthday in 1956. A panorama of Viennese social life, it has earned him a reputation as the most important novelist writing in German after 1945. Mainly on the basis of this novel, Doderer was nominated by the Austrian PEN Club for the Nobel Prize each year from 1956 until his death. The Demons was translated into English by Richard and Clara Winston and published by Knopf in 1961.

At the time of his death, Doderer had published the first volume in a proposed tetralogy structured according to the four movements of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony and given the collective title of Novel No. VII.  Because Doderer believed in and achieved closed form in complete narratives—unlike the fragmentary structures of his eminent colleague Robert Musil in The Man without Qualities—he was often invoked as a byword of novelistic traditionalism. Since the celebrations around the centennial of his birth, however, readers and critics have been discovering and admiring the experimental and modernist aspects of his art; The Strudlhof Steps has even been compared to Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom! in its daring manipulation of time structures.

In all, Doderer published some eleven novels and about sixty short stories, as well as numerous reviews, historical essays, and cultural comments for newspapers.  (Doderer himself considered the Divertimento No VII, “The Trumpets of Jericho,” included here, to be his greatest work.) He was also a significant theoretician and critic of literature and a prolific diarist and essayist.

Aaron Kunin on Divertimenti and Variations at Rain Taxi

Divertimenti and Variations
Heimito von Doderer
Trans. by Vincent Kling
$15.50; 200 pages
ISBN 978-1933996-07-3