Something does, on occasion, fall from a torch. A bit of pitch.
Karl Kraus (F 279-280: 5)

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post № 23

26 May 2015

 

Karl Kraus and Annie Kalmar: part one

Karl Kraus met the actress Annie Kalmar at some point, presumably, between 28 April 1900 and 25 June 1900. We do not seem to know much about her life prior to this time. We know that Annie Kalmar was her stage name and that she was born as either Anna Elisabeth Kaltwasser, as her mother called her (Wie Genies sterben 91), or Elisabeth Kaldwasser, as her Wikipedia entry reads, or Anna Elisabeth Kaldwasser, as Timms gives it (72). Despite the uncertainty of her birth name, it seems certain that she was born on 14 September 1877 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, to one Dorethea Kaltwasser. We do not seem to know who her father is. But Kalmar does seem to have developed an early interest in the theater before she left for Vienna to train with Rosa Keller-Frauenthal at the Deutsches Volkstheater. She entered into a five-year contract at the age of seventeen to be, so she claims in her first letter to Kraus in 1899, a “showpiece and extravaganza prop for cheap French comedies” (Wie Genies sterben 11) [my translation]. And she performed in no less than twenty-eight plays between 14 September 1895 and 28 April 1900 (see Wie Genies sterben 12)—between, as it would happen, her eighteenth birthday and Kraus’s twenty-sixth birthday.

 

Kalmar seems to have settled into her personal and professional lives in Vienna rather quickly. By September 1896, she is documented as associating, and possibly being friends, with fellow actress Olga Dvořak; she even frequented the same coffeehouses that Kraus and the members of Jung Wien did. Though she and Kraus did not become acquainted with each other until 1900, she did know Arthur Schnitzler and Felix Salten (of Bambi fame). Indeed, Schnitzler seems to have known her well enough that, in a diary entry dated 10 September 1896, he was able to make a general derogatory comment about her intelligence: “There [in the coffeehouse], Theodor Pollak, Salten, Robicek, Ms. Kalmar.– Olga Dv. as usual, drunk. Kalmar gorgeous, dumb, flirtatious” (216). And, in 1897, we find Kalmar trying to convince Emmerich von Bukovics, the then director of the Deutsches Volkstheater, that she had outgrown her role as a “showpiece and extravaganza prop.”

 

In a surviving letter fragment from that year, Kalmar complains to von Bukovics that she is up to “bigger tasks” and that she has been prevented from doing anything “befitting of [her] actual profession” (Wie Genies sterben 9) [my translation]. She goes on:

 

As you know, Director, my contract with your stage has about three years left, and I am […] kindly requesting that, beginning now, you gradually give me better and more important engagements (ibid.) [my translation].

 

Yet, whether von Bukovics had really so prevented her and whether the reasons for his actions were personal, professional, or other remains unclear. Whatever the case may be, we do not—to the best of my knowledge—hear anything more about Kalmar’s time at the Deutsches Volkstheater until some point in 1900 when tensions between her and von Bukovics came to a head during rehearsals for an Othello production, which Kalmar never got to perform in—possibly after she met Kraus (cf., Wie Genies sterben 15-16).

 

In an undated letter to von Bukovics, she protests an insulting letter from him and requests that she be immediately released from her duties at the Deutsches Volkstheater:

 

In response to your insulting and impertinent letter from the 16th of this month, I am requesting that you immediately release me from my duties. […] I am also requesting that you tell me what the situation is that you cite in your letter. I am aware that I was quite nervous and irritable on the days we had our Othello rehearsals, and I must tell you that this was the precursor to a very serious illness. Having anything more to do with your institute would disgust me, and I am urging you to grant my request that I be immediately released from my duties (Wie Genies sterben 15) [my translation].

 

While we know that her “very serious illness” was tuberculosis, we can only speculate as to what “situation” von Bukovics had mentioned in his letter to Kalmar. The “situation” may just be—as intimated in her letter above—that Kalmar was “nervous and irritable.” It may be—although it is not at all clear how probable it is—that Kalmar showed up to the rehearsals drunk; her drinking seems to have been widely known and was, as we shall see in another post, even mentioned in a scandalous editorial in the Neues Wiener Journal on 13 April 1901, less than one month before she died (see Wie Genies sterben 58). The “situation” may also have been something else entirely. We just don’t know. Nor do we seem to know anything more as to why remaining at the Deutsches Volkstheater would have disgusted her.

 

 

At the time Kalmar was dealing with her issues, Kraus was dealing with his own. His life at the time was, in a very real sense, characterized by conflict and development. In 1892, he matriculated at the University of Vienna and began studying law at the behest of his father; in the summer of 1894, however, he switched to the humanities in order to study philosophy and German after having already made a name for himself as a theater and literary critic. This switch “had,” so Schick, “presumably been one of the reasons for a familial conflict” which saw Kraus “temporarily move from his father’s apartment to stay with a friend” (31) [my translation]. That friend was Felix Salten, whom we shall encounter again in another post, but in a much different capacity. And a letter from Kraus to his oldest brother Richard dated 4 September 1897 suggests that this familial conflict was of a general nature characterized by fundamentally incompatible dispositions: writer and businessperson, art and commerce. Kraus writes:

 

Because I am in the happy position that my reason revolts from time to time, I am supposed to believe that I have some defect of the mind? It is owing to the smartest and most tender of policies which I adopted some two years ago that I have been curbing my temperament and doing everything I can not to let the divide between our family sphere and my endeavors get any larger than it already is. You will not believe me when I assure you that carrying out these tactics is often tantamount to martyrdom for me. You and the others can, of course, find common ground with father, in commerce; even differences, insofar as there were any, could at worst be of a singular and specific nature (Marbacher Katalog 34-35) [my translation].

 

The familial conflict, that is to say, endured through some time in 1895 and came to an end—if Kraus is to be believed—only after he had adopted a kind of damage control policy in contravention to his natural disposition. In 1895, at the time he is adopting this policy, he publishes only ten articles—well less than half of his publications in 1892, 1893, and 1894. And it is possible that this reduction in publications is connected with Kraus’s familial conflict.

 

Yet, his familial conflict was not the only one Kraus was having at the time. His writing was also becoming a source of conflict with his friends and acquaintances. He had been associating with the members of Jung Wien as early as 1893, which included Arthur Schnitzler, Felix Salten, Hermann Bahr, Richard Beer-Hoffmann, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and others. And Kraus’s association with them seems to end invariably in various conflicts at various dates. On the 12 June 1895, for instance, Kraus published a review of Fannie Gröger’s Adhimukti in the Neue Freie Presse; he writes in pertinent part:

 

Ms. Gröger shall bring a welcome change into this, our young Austria where the talents sit so close to one another at the coffeehouse table that they mutually impede each others’ development” (FS I: 218) [my translation].

 

While, on the surface, this remark appears to be little more than a general swipe at Jung Wien, it was more than that. It had clear targets. In a diary entry of the same date, Schnitzler notes that Kraus’s remark is a clear reference to him, Beer-Hoffmann, and von Hofmannsthal. And Kraus’s relationships with the members of Jung Wien seems to deteriorate from here—so much so in fact that, just five months later, in a diary entry dated 6 November 1895, we find Schnitzler noting that he and the others no longer associate with Kraus. The ultimate break, however, came a year later—in November and December 1896—with the publication of the first two parts of “Die demolierte Literatur.”

 

“Die demolierte Literatur” is Kraus’s first full-fledged satire and arguably where he found his voice…

 

[To be continued]

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