Skip to content

For the record Austrians don’t much like Elfriede Jelinek

Guardian Unlimited | Guardian Weekly | Austria, I hate you:

Her 1984 play Burgtheater caused a huge scandal. It attacked two sacred monsters of the Austrian theatre, the actors Paula Wessely and Karl Hörbiger, who picked up their careers again after the second world war despite having acted in Third Reich propaganda films. As Jelinek puts it: “I’m a little baroque cherub of revenge, and every day I carefully hone my hatred for this country.”

Her membership of the tiny Communist party from 1974-91, her flaunted feminism and her commitment to the fight against xenophobia have been lambasted by the FPO for the past decade. Haider has described her as “a deeply frustrated woman”, and some newspapers caricature her as a virago or a dominatrix….

The more Jelinek writes, the more she seems tied down to her source of inspiration, which oscillates between Munich and Vienna. It is hard to believe that she has never set foot in Britain, the United States or Russia, where she has an enthusiastic following. Austria remains her stamping ground – and her prison.

This is true. Despite her recent honours, Austrians as a group do not like Jelinek. Her dark and unpleasant view of human nature is inimical to their good-natured existence. Even the drunks are harmless in Vienna, asking kindly for change or for you to buy their newspaper, rather than snarling.

I can’t judge the writing, but most do not even like her language. Confusing, unpleasant.

Strange that the Nobel committee couldn’t find an Austrian writer that Austrians actually like. Apparently there are three or four of them of high merit.


  1. astrid astrid

    well, at least there is one austrian who adores her art. what i like about her and a lot of artists say too is her radical and staunch opinions. most of the austrians (and germans btw) who criticize her haven´t read one single book of her or seen one single stage play. they just repeat what newspapers like “kronen zeitung” or politicians like haider say about jelinek: that she is a “nestbeschmutzerin” (runner down of her own country) and she hates austria. well, unfortunately she is right in a lot of her complaints and descriptions about austria. unlike her i love austria and vienna but i do have to agree in a lot of her statments, especially those concerning our government and the austrian way of coping with our history. sure she oversubscripes things, makes things worse than they are. but that is a common instrument in art and makes things much clearer to understand.
    i think her language is absolutely astonishing. it very much related to her musicality. she composes with words. she creates poetical universes with her language (which is often very rude and vulgar – but this does not change the fact that it is poetical). as a matter of fact her texts are very difficult to read. you need to have a lot of concentration, it is nothing you can read just for fun. you have to admit to it. you have to open yourself and let jelineks language overtake you.
    and this fact is in my opinion the biggest problem for most of the people and the reason why people don´t like her. they don´t understand her language or they don´t want to understand her language. they don´t want her language to overtake themselves. becaused it is never fun to understand jelinek – but i fear it is often quite true what she says.

    there are indeed some other authors in austria who are also outstanding – Friederike Mayröcker, Peter Handke, Gert Jonke, … – but i think noone is as unique and radical in her literature and her whole literary career as jelinek. what i said in the beginning – i appreciate her for the fact that she stands by her opinions. she does not say what people want hear or she does not do something just because it would make her more popular. this fact and her adorable way of using the german language is in my opinion enough reasons for a nobel prize.

    btw her language is very complicated to translate. i heard that for example there exists a french translation of “Lust” with the same title.

    here you can find the english translation of jelinek´s nobel lecture:

    link to

  2. Thank you Astrid for your detailed comment. Even you find Jelinek’s writing difficult and not much fun to read? Considering your own qualifications as a native speaking German scholar of Austrian theatre and someone who reads most English literature fluently, this seems to be high damnation of a contemporary author.

    I wish I could read German well enough to take up the question of language, but I will tell you right now with the experience of having lived in at least six countries for periods of at least six months, Austria is heaven on earth in comparison to the rest of the world.

    I met an Austrian fellow in the fall (Christophe that’s you) who compared Austria to the Shire. What goes on around it doesn’t concern Austrians much as they have their own small blissful world to live in.

    That’s about it. While one could perhaps object to how Austrians do not participate enough to alleviate others misery, honestly there is only so much six million people can do.

    At least Austrians and Austria can take care of themselves against the concerted forces who are working to abolish social security and turn all the cities of the world into giant strip malls, with fortified enclosures for the super-wealthy. As I have mentioned elsewhere in this weblog, Austrian food is among the most natural in the developed world, the countryside and ecology is taken care of better than anywhere (one can swim in the Danube!) and culture is better nurtured than anywhere including France. There are very few poor in Austria and the benefits available to them are as generous as anywhere in the world – generous social benefits that work thanks to the strong work ethic still prevalent in Austria. There is more social harmony here than I have found anywhere except Iceland.

    That Elfriede Jelinek can find unhappiness even here and all the worst traits of humanity in exaggerated proportions speaks more to her own twisted psyche than about Austria.

    Ms. Jelinek has not lived abroad so she has neither perspective nor grounds to so viciously criticise Austria. So I think it’s quite right that those who are struggling now to keep Austria a small and perfect kingdom should object to her malicious calumny of Austria.

    One could happily wish an author like Ms. Jelinek on Nazi Germany, Bush’s America, Thatcher’s Britain or Sharon’s Israel – where her carping and invective would be merited and might serve useful purpose.

    Austria doesn’t deserve it. No one likes to face injust and persistent accusations. And so Austrians don’t like Elfriede Jelinek.

  3. Ignatz Ignatz

    There is no way that you’re Jewish. I’m a newly minted Austrian Jewish citizen, I can say with some authority that after a few years I’ve come to realize that her characters comport extremely well with what I’ve experienced so far.

  4. Ignatz, I’m struggling to understand your point. Is it that one must be Jewish to appreciate Jelinek? Or that Austrians are awful people?

    I can’t agree with the latter. Austria is about as well-run as a country can be. Which of course leaves a lot of room for improvement. Austrians are generally calm and friendly, yet remain lively. They do not wander in a placid stupor.

    Fortunately the Austrian borders are open, Ignatz. Anyone is free to leave.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *