Thursday, 1 June 2017

Read in 2017 - 22: Zur schönen Aussicht

Zur schönen Aussicht
Ödön von Horvath

For a change, I read something in German. Most of what I read in my native language are work-related documents and of course my weekly paper (for which I usually have a back log of about three issues).

This free ebook is a play. I don't know about you, but normally, I do not enjoy reading theatre plays, but prefer the flow of a story in its narrative shape. After the first two or three pages of "Zur schönen Aussicht", I was about to give up, but then decided to stick to it.

The play is about a group of people at a run-down hotel. There are the manager and his staff, one staying guest and a few visitors.
In the opening scene, the tone is set for the entire play: Conversation is a mix between witty and vulgar, with little love lost between the characters. Sometimes the innuendo is a little mysterious; to fully understand each remark, one needs to know the time and context in which the play was written. Language and its use of certain terms changes, and the 91 years that have passed since its first publication in 1926 show.

The hotel manager and the (only) paying guest, a rich lady slightly past her prime, are having an affair without any attempt at hiding it. This changes when a former lover of the manager appears for a surprise visit, claiming their brief relationship resulted in a child. The manager believes it is the young woman's strategy to marry him, whom she believes to be wealthy. He, his staff, the rich lady and her brother (who has also arrived on a surprise visit) confer about the best way to get rid of the young woman.
They do not intend to kill her, just to scare her away and forego all claims on the manager, and develop a ruse.

Things do not go as planned, however, and the play ends with a surprise for the partners in crime.

What can I say? It is not a play to be "enjoyed". People behave and talk nastily, but they are not meant to be admired for it. Instead, the characters (apparently based on people the author knew in real life) are exposed as parts of a society hardened and bittered by a war (WWI was less than 10 years ago) and economic difficulties. Everyone has dark spots in their past, everyone has a more or less hidden agenda, and everyone is interested only in their own advantage, willing to sacrifice what little friendship or affection may exist between them.
It left me sad, and I felt sorry for those nasty, frustrated people who were so clearly looking for happiness in all the wrong places. Time to read something a bit more entertaining!

The author was of Austro-Hungarian origin. Born in 1901, he started writing while still a student, and during his short life produced an impressive list of plays, novels and other prose. He died in 1938 when, while walking in Paris during a thunderstorm, he was hit by a falling branch from a tree. Only a few months earlier, he had arrived in Paris as an immigrant, leaving Austria after it had become part of the German Nazi Reich.
Politics and history, and especially the dangers of fascism, often feature in his works.
You can read a little more about him here.


  1. The story makes me think the film Budapest hotel had this as a first draft. The period that we know know as 'between the wars' is often called the first modern period, and the characters seem lost. Thanks for reminding us of Horvath.

    1. When we were in our mid-to-late teens, my sister read Horvàth and I remember her telling me about his untimely and slightly bizarre death.
      Thank you for commenting - I believe this is your first on my blog? I am going to make a return visit in a minute :-)