A Celebration of Women Writers

Liebe Genossin:
Hermynia Zur Mühlen:
a Writer of Courage and Conviction.

woman, head and shoulders, leaning her head on one hand

By Lionel Gossman,
Princeton University,
Published with permission.

woman, pencil sketch

"Auch sie war unglücklich gewesen, kränklich und zart, aber welche Kraft sprach dennoch aus ihren Werken."

(Hermynia Zur Mühlen on Annette von Droste-Hülshoff in Unsere Töchter die Nazinen [Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, 1983], p. 37)

The Austrian writer Hermynia Zur Mühlen once enjoyed a modest reputation – as a translator from English, French, and Russian into German, as an author in her own right (an autobiographical memoir and six of her novels were published in English translation in the 1930s and 40s), and as a tireless fighter against National Socialism, anti-Semitism, and all forms of social injustice.[1] On her sixtieth birthday in 1943, the BBC aired a tribute to her and the occasion was also celebrated at a party given in her honor by the Austrian and Czech PEN clubs in London. Since her death in 1951, however, in a small suburban town north of the British capital, she has been almost completely forgotten except by a handful of dedicated scholars in the field of "Exil-Literatur" who have done their best to revive interest in her. A few of her works were republished by the Aufbau Verlag in the former DDR and by small presses in Austria, but have attracted little sustained critical attention – though it appears that an Oxford D.Phil. thesis on her – by Ailsa Wallace – will be published soon by Oxford University Press. I came upon her by accident, while searching for book illustrations by Heinrich Vogeler, a Jugendstil artist who became a Communist after World War I. Vogeler illustrated two volumes of "proletarian" fairy tales by Zur Mühlen, which, together with a collection of political fables entitled Der rote Heiland (1924), are part of the remarkable Cotsen collection of children's literature in Princeton University Library. Zur Mühlen's works are hard to come by, however. Princeton's library lacks most of the books she published during her lifetime. The same is true of other major university libraries both in this country and in Great Britain.

Hermine Isabella Victoria, Gräfin Folliot de Crenneville-Poutet, sometimes referred to as the "Red Countess," was born into an old aristocratic Viennese family on December 12, 1883. As a child, she saw little of her parents and was largely brought up by her liberal and open-minded, English-born grandmother, who instilled in her a sense of personal moral responsibility together with the unshakable conviction that all human beings are of equal worth in the eyes of God, and whom she evokes lovingly not only in a lively autobiographical memoir of 1929 but in nearly all her fictional writings. Questioning and rebellious from an early age – she herself admits that she was a "handful" as a child – she was inspired by Christian ideals of social justice and community and by romantic notions of the aristocracy as the protector of the widow and the orphan to challenge the social conditions and conventions that the adults in her world took for granted. As she grew up, the influence of her grandmother was supplemented, but never displaced, by the socialist ideas she had begun to pick up in books and through encounters with exiles from Czarist Russia.[2] Drawn in early adolescence to idealistic, humanitarian movements and causes, she was soon moving further and further in the direction of the radical political Left. A short and unhappy marriage to Viktor von zur Mühlen, a conservative German landowner – in itself an act of revolt, inasmuch as in the eyes of the urbane Austrian Catholic Crennevilles von zur Mühlen occupied a far lower rung on the social ladder and was a Protestant to boot – ended in divorce. But not before outrage at the exploitation of native Estonian workers by the ruling German landowners, which the headstrong and sharply critical young woman observed in the course of the five years (1908-1913) she spent on her husband's remote estate in one of the Baltic provinces of the Czar, had made a confirmed socialist of her.

Incapacitated by severe and ever worsening respiratory disease, she obtained release from her oppressive environment in 1913 by being sent to a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland. Here she began her literary career with a translation of an anti-war novel by the then well known and widely read Russian writer Leonid Andreyev – "the most popular, and next to Tolstoy, the most gifted writer in Russia today," according to his American translator.[3] This was immediately followed by a translation – with an Introduction by the influential Danish critic Georg Brandes – of Upton Sinclair's King Coal (Zurich, 1918). Zur Mühlen went on to translate over seventy novels or full-length books and countless shorter texts from English, French, and Russian, including works by John Galsworthy, Harold Nicolson, Edna Ferber, and her "much adored" Jerome K. Jerome – for whom she also wrote the obituary in the Frankfurter Zeitung. Her translations of more than twenty novels and plays by Upton Sinclair in particular helped to make his works bestsellers in Germany in the 1920s and were a boon to the radical avant-garde Malik Press of Wieland Herzfelde and his better known brother, the Dada photomontage artist John Heartfield, with which she had become closely associated. (Zur Mühlen's translation of Oil!, for instance, sold more copies in Germany than in the U.S.[4] ) At Davos she also met her future life's partner, Stefan Isidore Klein, a Viennese Jew several years her junior, who had made a small reputation as a translator of literary works from Hungarian into German. In 1919 the couple settled in Frankfurt and Hermynia's literary career took off. Despite the lung disease that continued to plague her throughout her life, she was astonishingly productive – as she had to be. Having broken with both her husband and her family, she could count on no income from either source, and, despite considerable activity as a translator, Klein appears not to have had much literary or financial success. Of the two, she, in all likelihood, was the breadwinner.[5]

In addition to innumerable translations in the 1920s and 30s and even into the 1940s, Zur Mühlen turned out half a dozen detective novels with a socially critical slant under the American-sounding pseudonym of Lawrence H. Desberry, identifying herself as their "translator" – a plausible enough disguise in view of her reputation as the translator of Sinclair and other American writers. She also produced the volumes of children's fairy tales referred to earlier, in which the exploitation of the working class was exposed and interpreted for young readers from a socialist perspective. In the 1920s the fairy tale was viewed by the German Communist Party, which Zur Mühlen had joined some time between 1919 and 1921, as an effective means of promoting the political education of the masses. Illustrated by artists like George Grosz, John Heartfield, and Heinrich Vogeler, Zur Mühlen's collections enjoyed considerable success not only in Germany but in Czech, English, French, Russian, Spanish, Yiddish, Chinese, and Japanese translations. There was even a translation into Esperanto.[6] The fairy tales were thus both a source of much needed income and a contribution to a cause to which their author was committed. Hundreds of anecdotes and sketches written for magazines and for the feuilleton pages of newspapers – chiefly leftwing – were another important source of income. Some of these well crafted pieces were satirical, some were humorous, all were marked by sharp and honest observation and all were critical of both social injustice and individual human cruelty. Zur Mühlen continued to publish short works of this kind, even during her years of exile in England, when they appeared in the German language newspapers that catered to the refugee community. Two book-length collections of short pieces – Der rote Heiland [The Red Redeemer] in 1924 and Fahrt ins Licht. 66 Stationen. Erzählungen [Journey into the Light. 66 Stations. Short Stories] in 1936 – also attest to a special talent for the short form, as does the largely paratactic structure of her longer narratives. With one exception (Unsere Töchter die Nazinen), these do not have a strong or complex overarching plot structure; the organizing pattern tends to be chronological, with interest focused on individual scenes in which the characters are portrayed in their shifting relations to each other and to an evolving socio-political environment. The serialized form in which several of Zur Mühlen's novels first appeared can only have reinforced this tendency.[7]

In 1929 a charming, witty, and acutely observed autobiographical memoir of the years from childhood to the end of her marriage to von zur Mühlen was serialized in the respected Frankfurter Zeitung before being taken up and published in book form at the end of the year by S. Fischer Verlag, the publisher of Thomas Mann, under the title Ende und Anfang. Karl Kraus was one of this book's early admirers. An English translation, The Runaway Countess – for which a foreword was solicited from Arthur Schnitzler [8] – appeared a year later (New York: Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, 1930). As the German title suggests, the author uses her own life experiences, presented in the form of more or less free-standing anecdotes chronologically arranged, to depict the inner moral and cultural decay (but also, in some instances, the charm and refinement) of a world – that of pre-1914 Europe, and in particular of the pre-1914 Austrian aristocracy – that came to an end, as she believed, with the Russian Revolution of 1917, the welcomed Anfang or New Beginning of the title. "Strawstwi Revoluzia!" [Hail, Revolution!] is the title, transliterated from Russian, of the last section of the book.[9]

Several works defined by the author herself as "novels" followed soon after. Two were fictionalized narratives of her own life experiences: Das Riesenrad (Stuttgart: I. Engelhorns Nachfolger, 1932; English translation, The Wheel of Life, London: Barker, and New York: Frederick Stokes, 1933), told in the first person by its fourteen-year old heroine-narrator and concentrating on a short period of about six months, and the more expansive Reise durch ein Leben (Bern and Leipzig: Gotthelf,1933; English translation, A Life's Journey, London: Jonathan Cape,1935), told in the third person and extending over a far longer period of time from childhood through adolescence and an unhappy marriage to the threshold of disillusioned middle age. Both novels skillfully exploit and imaginatively expand on the author's own experiences in order to portray, through their heroines, the evolution of a young girl – a kind of modern female Candide – as she discovers and engages with the larger social and political world beyond the sheltered, secure, and privileged space of her childhood, which is symbolized by the magical garden of her grandmother's (A Life's Journey) or her aunts' (The Wheel of Life) villa in the Alpine resort town of Gmunden, about 130 miles from Vienna. Both novels can be viewed as belonging to the traditional German genre of the Bildungsroman – except that the leading figure is a woman instead of a man and the focus is on the social world, which the heroine discovers and unmasks, as well as on the heroine herself. Both can also be seen as critical responses to the conventional literature of the time for girls and young women, which presented their readers with an idealized view of the social world and in particular of sex and marriage, and which Zur Mühlen had subjected to stinging criticism in an article of 1919.[10] In her two "growing-up" novels, Zur Mühlen did not shy away from topics sedulously avoided in the conventional literature: menstruation, childbirth, miscarriage, abortion, and above all, the stresses and strains of living with another person, whether in a legally and religiously authorized and institutionalized marriage relationship or in a "free" relationship outside of marriage. 1933 also saw the serial publication in the Vienna Arbeiter-Zeitung of Vierzehn Nothelfer, a detective novel with striking expressionist touches that was also a trenchant social satire and of a comic novel with many references to the current political situation, Nora hat eine famose Idee (Bern and Leipzig: Gotthelf; English translation, Guests in the House [London: Frederick Muller, 1947]), which received favorable reviews in newspapers in Berlin, Vienna, Prague, and Basel.[11]

During the Frankfurt years, Zur Mühlen and Klein had come intermittently under police surveillance because of their Communist affiliations. After the publication of one novella – Schupomann Karl Müller (1924), in which a policeman comes to side with the revolutionaries – Zur Mühlen was even taken to court on a charge (later dropped) of high treason. In fact, the gatherings at the couple's apartment, which the authorities considered highly suspicious, appear to have been more leftwing-Bohemian than conspiratorial[12] , and by 1931 or 1932, discouraged by the oppressiveness of the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union and by the authoritarian dogmatism of the German Party itself, Zur Mühlen left the Communist Party. In her novels of the late 1930s and the 1940s her characters increasingly express doubts about the wisdom and goodness of "the masses" and even about the point of political action. The individual, however contradictory and imperfect, emerges more and more as the highest value, and the basic conditions of human existence – the fleetingness of happiness, the difficulty of relationships with others, even those we love, the persistence of malice, the sadness of aging, and the finality of death – are shown to be little affected by political change. Still, though Zur Mühlen later described herself to Hubertus Prince zu Loewenstein as having joined the ranks of the "Left Catholics,"[13] she did not trumpet her withdrawal from the Communist Party. Overcoming the pessimism, despair, and sense of isolation from common humanity that she projected convincingly on to several of her women characters and taking an active stand against injustice remained the primary imperative both of the lapsed Catholic and of the former Communist. Not surprisingly, individual Communists remain, along with truly devout Christians, among the decent and admirable characters in her fiction. In fact, the two – sincere Christians and Communists – make common cause in Unsere Töchter die Nazinen (1934, 1936) and Als der Fremde kam (1946), against the greater enemy, which for Zur Mühlen was always cruelty and inhumanity, represented in her own time in the first instance by National Socialism. In light of their political orientation and reputation, therefore, as well as Klein's situation as a Jew, the couple made the decision to leave Germany in 1933, immediately after Hitler's Machtergreifung, for their native Austria. Short of money, as always, they settled in an extremely modest pension in Vienna.

Dismayed and angered by what she saw as the blindness and indifference of her countrymen and women to developments in Germany, Zur Mühlen was especially provoked by the recommendation of a well-meaning local newspaper editor that she avoid politics and supply him with entertaining little stories and sketches. She responded by turning out one of her most politically engaged and complexly structured novels, Unsere Töchter die Nazinen, in the record time of three weeks. The contemporary situation is illuminated in this work by the interlocking first-person narratives of three women from different social classes in a small town in Southern Germany, three mothers whose daughters join the Nazi Party – a working class Social Democrat, an aristocrat, and the resentful, frustrated, and ambitious middle-class wife of a doctor whose practice has lagged far behind that of the popular and respected local Jewish doctor. The appeal of National Socialism is explained in psychological, economic, and social terms and the ultimate message of the text is that all decent people, be they Christians or Communists, working people or aristocrats, conservatives or Social Democrats, must unite in organized resistance to a fundamentally evil and inhuman regime. Serialized in a leftwing Saarbrücken newspaper in 1934 (a year before the Saar voted to rejoin the new German Reich), and published in a Norwegian translation in the same year by the Tiden Norsk Forlag in Oslo, almost immediately after its founding by the Norwegian Labor Party (Tiden Norsk was the only publishing house shut down by the Germans during the occupation of Norway), this novel could not find a publisher in Austria willing or courageous enough to take it on.[14] To that extent the newspaper editor who had advised Zur Mühlen to produce light and amusing anecdotes and sketches was vindicated. Finally, in 1936, it was put out by the Gsur Verlag, the director of which was the strongly anti-Nazi Catholic Vice-Mayor of Vienna,[15] only to be immediately banned by the authorities under pressure from the German Ambassador to Austria, Franz von Papen.[16] It was not published again until the Aufbau Verlag brought it out in 1983 in the former DDR and it has never been translated into English. Even in a less overtly polemical work from this period, the novel Ein Jahr im Schatten, which appeared in 1935 in Zurich, Vienna and Prague (English translation: A Year under a Cloud [London: Selwyn and Blount, 1937]), the personal dramas of the heroine and other members of her aristocratic but no longer wealthy or influential family are increasingly overshadowed by events "up there," i.e. in Germany. With the couple's finances as fragile as ever and the German market closed to her as a result of her fearless and highly public attacks on National Socialism,[17] Zur Mühlen had to find alternate sources of income. Resourceful and hardworking as always, she appears to have won a contract to supply Belgian radio with documentaries on prominent historical figures, for in 1937 and 1938 no fewer than eleven such documentaries by her were broadcast in Flemish – on Queen Isabella of Spain, Christopher Columbus, Louis XIV, Cardinal Richelieu, Frederick the Great, Joseph Fouché, Metternich, Florence Nightingale, Woodrow Wilson, Bethmann-Hollweg, and Lord Edward Grey.

The Anschluss in 1938 obliged Zur Mühlen and Klein to uproot once again. This time they settled in nearby Bratislava, in Slovakia, where they decided to get married. Just before they left Vienna, Hermynia came into some money from her mother's estate. To collect it in post-Anschluss Austria, however, she was required to sign an affidavit affirming that she was of pure Aryan descent. Though the couple needed the money badly, Zur Mühlen refused, as a matter of principle. With the German occupation of Bohemia and the establishment of an independent Slovak puppet state under Father Tiso in 1939, she and Klein fled to England, where they lived a penurious existence until their deaths a few years after the end of the Second World War. The small income Hermynia derived from the short pieces she wrote for the exile press, from some radio broadcasts for the BBC,[18] and from a couple of longer works published in wartime England had to be supplemented by intermittent financial assistance from refugee agencies in Britain and the U.S.A. In addition, she suffered greatly from poor health and the lack of regular medical attention. She had apparently undergone an operation for cancer before leaving for England; the English climate aggravated her respiratory problems; and in the last months of her life, during which she rarely left the modest dwelling she occupied with Klein, she required regular injections to control chronic pain. Zur Mühlen died, seemingly of a heart attack, in Radlett, Hertfordshire, in 1951, without ever having returned to Austria. Klein died nine years later in nearby St. Albans. In the local church records the woman who had once been the spoiled "Komtesserl" of a high-ranking Austrian noble family and who had achieved some celebrity as the writer Hermynia Zur Mühlen is identified in matter-of-fact English style as "Hermyna Kleinova." She would probably have appreciated that.

The two longer works that date from this last and most difficult stage in Zur Mühlen's career are in some ways her most ambitious and impressive. They appear to have been intended as parts of a planned trilogy in which the social, political, and cultural history of Europe, and in particular of Austria and Central Europe, would be analyzed and represented by following the fortunes of the Herdegens, an old Austrian aristocratic family, through many generations and many individual fates, from the Congress of Vienna and the final defeat of Napoleon to the rise of Hitler, the Anschluss marking the end of Austrian independence, and the German occupation of Czechoslovakia. Zur Mühlen may have been inspired by the success of "family novels" such as Mann's Buddenbrooks (1901) or Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga (1906-1921), but her work, albeit "cast in what is perhaps an unoriginal mould" (in the words of an otherwise very favorable contemporary review in the TLS[19] ), is far more richly informed historically and her canvas is far wider and more complex than Galsworthy's. Though the central scenes of the action are the ancestral Herdegen estate not far from Vienna ("Wohan" in Moravia in the first novel, "Korompa" in Slovakia in the second) and the family palaces in Vienna, some of the principal characters are foreigners (French, Polish, Prussian, Spanish, Swiss) who either married into the family or found refuge and employment in it; on their side, some Herdegens marry foreigners and go off to live in the land of their spouse; others marry out of their social class. The "exile" who has attachments to two or more countries – or social classes – but no longer feels completely at home in any one thus plays a pivotal role in the family saga, as well as among the secondary characters, reflecting no doubt the experience of the author herself, but at the same time multiplying the historical perspectives of the novels and presenting a paradigm of humanity as inescapably hybrid. It is "Because we are patchwork" – seemingly the title of a presumed missing component of the planned trilogy[20] – that we are all both disconnected from an imagined "home" and potentially connected with each other, sharing the same destiny as parts of a single patchwork humanity. A cosmopolitanism rooted in the condition of the aristocracy of the Habsburg Empire opens here on to a global humanism that is no less relevant today than in the dark decade of the mid-30s to mid-40s when Zur Mühlen conceived, wrote, and published her family saga.

The first work in the trilogy – Ewiges Schattenspiel – which covers the period from the Congress of Vienna to the 1848 Revolutions, was probably written shortly before Zur Mühlen and Klein left Vienna for Bratislava, for, though it was not published in German as a book until 1996, it appeared in serialized form in the Bern newspaper Der Bund between November 1938 and March 1939. An English version, entitled We Poor Shadows, was published by Free Austrian Books in London in 1943 and again that same year by the London publisher Frederick Muller, with a second printing the following year. As the title page of this English version gives the name of the author as "Countess Hermynia Zur Mühlen" and as there is no indication anywhere that it is a translation, it has sometimes been assumed that Zur Mühlen wrote the novel in English. This is manifestly not the case. It is very likely, however, that she took an active part in translating it into English and in adapting it to the taste and interests of the English reading public. (The English version is considerably shorter than the German one and some of the detail that gives the extraordinarily rich and wide-ranging original, with its vast cast of characters, its historical density has been cut.)

The second major part of the presumed trilogy to be published after the departure from Vienna – Als der Fremde kam – is an engrossing and insightful portrait of the period from 1937 (i.e. just before the Anschluss) to the end of Austrian independence, the secession of Slovakia from the Republic of Czechoslovakia and its establishment as a fascist puppet state, and the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia by German troops in March 1939. Even if the earlier parts of it were written in Bratislava, therefore, it seems virtually certain that most of it was written after Zur Mühlen and Klein arrived in England. Notwithstanding that in this case the English version – Came the Stranger (London: Frederick Muller, 1946) – preceded the German version (Vienna: Globus Verlag, 1947[21] ) and again bore no indication that it was a translation (the author is identified here too simply as "Countess Hermynia Zur Mühlen"), it is most likely that it too was originally written in German and translated – perhaps by Zur Mühlen herself – from German into English, rather than the other way round, as was at one time believed. At least one further novel, it is assumed, was intended to fill in the story of the Herdegens between 1848 and 1937. In her correspondence Zur Mühlen mentions a work to which she refers by an English title, "Because we are Patchwork" – but that, once again, in no way implies that the text itself was written in English. How far along she got with this novel is not known, and no trace of it has been found.[22]

The following samples of Zur Mühlen's writing illustrate her work in the special literary genre of the spare, stripped-down short form – the anecdote, the character sketch, the fable, the fairy tale with a moral. An appreciation of her considerable skill as a novelist who combined a strikingly broad and rich historical sweep with sharp, Marxist-influenced insight into the dynamics of social and political change and an undogmatic (and perhaps especially feminine) sensitivity to the complexity of individual character and human relations and to the irremediable sadness of le temps perdu, of loss and death, must await republication of the long out-of-print English translations of her more ambitious literary achievements, especially the novels of her later years.

Lionel Gossman
Department of French and Italian,
303 East Pyne,
Princeton University,
Princeton, NJ 08544


Works by Hermynia Zur Mühlen in English translation

portrait of woman, head and shoulders, wearing hat

The Runaway Countess. New York: Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, 1930. Translated by Frank Barnes. [First published in U.S.A.; Copyright not renewed.] German title: Ende und Anfang: Ein Lebensbuch (1929). To this has been appended a Supplementary Final Chapter of the serialized republication of Ende und Anfang from the socialist woman's magazine Die Frau October 6, 1949 - April 20, 1950; Translated by Lionel Gossman. [Reproduced with permission of the translator.]

The Wheel of Life. London: Arthur Barker, 1933 ; New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1933. Translated by Margaret Goldsmith. [Copyright status not determined.] German title: Das Riesenrad (1932).

A Life's Journey. London: Jonathan Cape, 1935. Translated by Phyllis and Trevor Blewitt. [Gatt restoration extends U.S. copyright automatically for the British translators.] German title: Reise durch ein Leben (1933).

A Year under a Cloud. London: Selwyn and Blount, 1937. Translated by Ethel K. Houghton and H. E. Cornides. [Gatt restoration extends U.S. copyright automatically for the British translators.] German title: Ein Jahr im Schatten (1936).

We Poor Shadows. London: Frederick Muller, 1943. No translator named. [Reproduced with permission.] German title: Ewiges Schattenspiel (1938-1939).

Came the Stranger. London: Frederick Muller, 1946. No translator named. [Reproduced with permission.]

Guests in the House. London: Frederick Muller, 1947. No translator named. [Reproduced with permission.] German title: Nora hat eine famose Idee (1932-1933).


[1] "She was one of the best known women writers of the Weimar Republic and retained her readership during her years of exile in Austria, in Czechoslovakia, and even in England." (Beate Frakele, "Reise durch ein Leben. Zum 40. Todestag Hermynia Zur Mühlens," in Siglinde Bolbecher, ed., Literatur in der Peripherie [Vienna: Verlag für Gesellschaftskritik, 1992], p. 208; all translations from German are by L.G. unless otherwise indicated). Karl Markus Gauß provides a somewhat darker view: "She was born to fabulous wealth, and died in bitter poverty. Her novels, short stories, novellas, and children's books went through many editions, and she was forgotten in her own lifetime. A great number of admirers showed respect for her literary achievement and testified to her stylistic sensitivity and personal courage. Greater still, however, has been the ignorance that caused the work of this important woman writer to be disregarded and the author herself abandoned to the oblivion into which she was cast by the cultural devastation of fascism." (Introduction to a re-edition of Zur Muhlen's short story collection Fahrt ins Licht [Klagenfurt: Sisyphus Verlag, 1999], p.7.) In the late 1940s and in the 1950s, however, short sketches ("Humoresken") – of varying quality – by Zur Mühlen continued to appear from time to time, alongside brief pieces by writers like Gottfried Benn (strange company for her!) and Jean Cocteau (e.g. April 18, 1953), in the feuilleton pages of the newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau. The last of these was published on May 1, 1961, ten years after her death. For a list of Zur Mühlen's writings in Austrian newspapers and magazines, see Deborah J. Vietor-Engländer, Eckart Früh and Ursula Seeber, eds., Nebenglück: Ausgewählte Erzählungen und Feuilletons aus dem Exil von Hermynia Zur Mühlen (Bern: Peter Lang, 2002), pp. 259-73. Aside from a few occasional mentions of her, the only study of her work in English is the short essay by Lynda J. King, "From the Crown to the Hammer and Sickle: the Life and Works of Austrian Interwar Writer Hermynia zur Mühlen," in Marianne Burkhard and Jeanette Clausen, eds., Women in German Yearbook, vol. 4 (Boston: University Press of America, 1988), pp. 125-54.


[2] Zur Mühlen appears to have viewed Christianity as an anticipation of socialism, socialism as the appropriate present-day form of Christianity. The title-story of Der rote Heiland [The Red Redeemer] (1924), for instance, revives the Romantic conflation of Christianity and Revolution. This tendency became more pronounced in the author's later years. The titles of the three parts of Came the Stranger (1946), which is set in the period from just before the Anschluss until the German occupation of Bohemia and Moravia, are "Peace," "The Shadow of the Cross," and "The Passion" (the last being itself divided into "Gesthemane," "Ere the Cock Crows," and "There was Darkness over all the World"); the Biblical flight into Egypt becomes an allegory of the plight of refugees from Nazi Germany in the short story "Flüchtlinge" (Zeitspiegel [London], 23 December 1944); while in another short story about the setting up of a union of farm laborers in England in 1872, the working man who organizes the movement is presented as Moses leading his people out of slavery ("Die Vogelscheuche," in Arbeiter Zeitung, 11 June 1950). Zur Mühlen would have subscribed to the view expressed by Rudolf Olden, editor-in-chief of the liberal Berliner Tageblatt, writing from London in 1937: "Wer Christ ist, muß Sozialist sein." (Quoted by Hubertus, Prinz zu Löwenstein, Abenteurer der Freiheit: Ein Lebensbericht [Frankfurt/Berlin/Vienna: Ullstein Verlag, 1983], p. 178). As for the significance for her of her noble birth, it is hinted at in the words she attributes to Countess Agnes, one of the three heroines of the 1934 novel Unsere Töchter die Nazinen: "I have always been too proud to imagine I was anything because of my noble birth. For me, noble birth always meant responsibility: we had privileges, but precisely for that reason we were doubly responsible. Privately, I often felt that our time was over – as a class, but not as human beings." (Berlin and Weimar: Aufbau-Verlag, 1983, p. 43) "Chivalrousness" – Ritterlichkeit – remains an important general human value for Zur Mühlen, whence the frequent expressions of moral outrage at uneven combat, the shame and inhumanity of attacks by many against one, the strong against the weak, in both the feuilletons and the novels (e.g. the feuilleton "Man muß es ihnen sagen," the novels Reise durch ein Leben [Bern: Gotthelf, 1933, pp. 36-45], Unsere Töchter die Nazinen [Berlin, 1988, pp. 49-50, 113-114], and Ein Jahr im Schatten [Zurich: Humanitas-Verlag and Büchergilde Gutenberg, 1935, p. 156]).


[3] Leonid Andreyev, The Seven Who were Hanged, translated by Hermann Bernstein (Garden City, N.Y.: Halcyon House, n.d. [c1941]), Foreword, p. 5. The work by Andreyev that Zur Mühlen translated was Igo Voyny [The Burden of War]. It appeared in 1918 in Zurich, in a collection directed by the pacifist Alsatian writer René Schickele, as Unter dem Joch des Krieges.


[4] Zur Mühlen's close decade-long association with Sinclair, whose work she not only translated but tirelessly promoted in Germany, came to a sad and rather ugly end when Sinclair, who did not know German, responded to a couple of reports that her translations were deficient by asking Herzfelde, without Zur Mühlen's knowledge, to find another translator. Zur Mühlen was deeply hurt by Sinclair's lack of confidence in her, by Herzfelde's connivance in his disloyalty, and by the underhanded manner in which, in her eyes, both had behaved. In assessing Zur Mühlen's translations, it is necessary to bear in mind that it was common practice at the time for translators to adapt the works they were translating to the target reading public. Strongly local allusions that would be incomprehensible to readers of the translation, for instance, might be dropped or modified. Zur Mühlen claimed that she had always fought – often against the wishes of the publishers, including the avant-garde Herzfelde – to retain those passages in Sinclair's work that expressed the radical social criticism she deemed essential to it and most wanted to get across to the German reader. See Upton Sinclair, Wieland Herzfelde, Hermynia Zur Mühlen, Werter Genosse, die Maliks haben beschlossen. Briefe 1919-1950, ed. Walter Grünzweig and Susanne Schulz (Bonn: Weidle Verlag, 2001) In translating her own work into English, Zur Mühlen followed the same practice; We Poor Shadows (see below) is considerably shorter than its German original. The changes she made or permitted to be made to the original 1933 German text of her comic novel, Nora hat eine famose Idee, for the 1947 English translation, Guests in the House (see below), were even more drastic.


[5] The couple of "Aunt Kitty" (the fourteen-year old narrator-heroine's much older cousin) and her lover Robert in the autobiographically based novel Das Riesenrad (1932) may offer a clue to the relation of Zur Mühlen and Klein. Born into the aristocracy, Aunt Kitty has been excluded from good society because she abandoned her similarly aristocratic husband for Robert, who is also, to make matters worse, a commoner, and worse still, a Jew. Robert is kind and loving, but somewhat passive, and he cannot make a living. Kitty, who has some talent as an artist, supports the couple financially by tirelessly painting the pleasant landscapes and portraits popular with the well-to-do winter residents of the Côte d'Azur. From time to time she rebels against the abuse of her talent, but to Robert such moments of revolt are a self-indulgent luxury that the couple cannot afford. Aunt Kitty's relation to Robert is complex: a mixture of tenderness, appreciation, companionship, protectiveness, resentment, and occasional feelings of great loneliness when the difference in their backgrounds and life experiences looms large and she is overwhelmed by the sense that they do not really understand one another. A somewhat similar relation of deep attachment and emotional dependency combined with resentment, even at times a degree of contempt, and a taste for freedom and independence – albeit without the class difference – characterizes the marriage of Martina and her long unsuccessful writer husband Clemmy (Clemens, "Graf Follyot") in the later novel Ein Jahr im Schatten (1935), as well as that of Clarisse and Robert in the still later Als der Fremde kam (1946). In Ein Jahr im Schatten, as in Das Riesenrad, the woman is the more resourceful partner and with the arrival of hard times becomes the family breadwinner by sacrificing her talent and ambition as an artist. A sculptress, Martina spends her time producing kitschy clay dolls because they sell. Neither Stefan Klein's devotion to his wife nor Zur Mühlen's dedication of most of her novels to "St." or "My Husband" is evidence that their loyal and enduring partnership was not also fraught with difficulty – as almost all the marriages in Zur Mühlen's writings are. It would be hard in fact to find any writer who presents as nuanced and uncompromisingly honest a portrait of the complexities of the marriage relation.


[6] Zur Mühlen's fairy tales appeared both separately and in the following collections: Was Peterchens Freunde erzählen (Berlin: Malik Verlag, 1921; ill. by Georg Grosz), Ali, Der Teppichweber (Berlin: Malik Verlag, 1923; ill. by John Heartfield), Das Schloss der Wahrheit (Berlin: Verlag der Jugendinternationale, 1924; ill. by Karl Holtz), Es war einmal und es wird sein (Berlin: Verlag der Jugendinternationale, 1930; ill. by Heinrich Vogeler), Schmiede der Zukunft ( Berlin: Verlag der Jugendinternationale, 1933; ill. by Heinrich Vogeler). A complete bibliography (including translations and modern reprintings) is provided by Manfred Altner, Hermynia Zur Mühlen. Eine Biographie (Bern: Peter Lang, 1997), pp. 213-16. For an effective one-page description of the tales, see Jack Zipes, Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion, 2nd ed. (New York and Oxford: Routledge, 2006; 1st ed. 1983), pp. 155-56; see also the same author's Introduction ("Recovering the Utopian Spirit of the Weimar Fairy Tales and Fables") and translations of three of Zur Mühlen's tales – "The Fence" (Der Zaun), "The Servant" (Der Knecht), and "The Glasses" (Die Brillen) – in his Fairy Tales and Fables from Weimar Days (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1989), pp. 3-28, 53-70 and 185-192.


[7] Likewise, the loose construction of her novels made it possible for her to publish brief sections from them in the feuilleton pages of popular newspapers and magazines – a valuable source of income for her. Parts of Reise durch ein Leben appeared in this way in Der Wiener Tag, Neues Wiener Tagblatt, Das kleine Blatt, Bunte Woche, and Das kleine Frauenblatt in 1933 and 1934.


[8] See Athur Schnitzler, Briefe 1913-1931, ed. P.M. Braunwarth, R. Miklin, S. Pertlike and H. Schnitzler (Frankfurt a.M.: S. Fischer Verlag, 1984), 2 vols., vol 2. p. 663 (letter to Prof. Otto Schinnerer, 6 February 1930). Schnitzler notes reading Ende und Anfang along with Gide's Les Faux Monnayeurs on 7 July, 1929 (Arthur Schnitzlers Tagebuch, ed. P.M. Braunwarth et al. [Vienna: Verlag der österreichsiche Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1997], vol. 9, p. 262). No Foreword by Schnitzler was in fact printed.


[9] The section titles have disappeared from the English translation by Frank Barnes.


[10] "Junge-Mädchen-Literatur," in Die Erde, 1919, no. 14/15, pp. 473-74; see Altner, p. 94. This literature is also severely criticized by Zur Mühlen's contemporary and compatriot Stefan Zweig in the chapter entitled "Eros Matutinus" of his autobiography, The World of Yesterday (New York: Viking Press, 1943).


[11] The endpapers of Reise durch ein Leben, also published in 1933, contain clips from favorable reviews in the liberal Berliner Tageblatt (3 September 1933), the Wiener Tag (6 June 1933), the Prager Presse (21 March i933, and the Basel Nationalzeitung (26 March, 1933). According to the reviewer in the Tageblatt, Zur Mühlen's novel offers "something truly valuable," an "accurate and unsentimentalized [unverkitschte]" account of society in a "witty presentation Behind the farcical plot, the intelligent reader will find the spirit of a sharp observer and, even more than that, a language and tone of truly creative, poetic quality."


[12] See the account of them in Sándor Márai, Bekenntnisse eines Bürgers: Erinnerungen, trans. from Hungarian (1934) by Hans Skirecki, ed. Siegfried Heinrichs (Munich/Zurich: Piper Verlag, 2000), pp. 250-256.


[13] See Manfred Altner, Hermynia Zur Mühlen. Eine Biographie, p. 153.


[14] Zur Mühlen gave a detailed account of her attempts to get this manuscript published in a supplementary chapter written for a republication of her autobiographical memoir Ende und Anfang in the socialist women's magazine Die Frau in 1950. (An English translation of this text has been appended to The Runaway Countess on this website.) In a letter, dated "Vienna, Alserstrasse, Pension Neubauer, October 1, 1935," to the American writer Nathan Asch – the son of the celebrated Yiddish writer Sholem Asch – three of whose novels she had translated and published in Germany in 1929-1930, she apologized for delay in transferring royalties from a fourth book (The Valley [Das Tal, 1935]) that had had to be published in Hungary because Asch, as a Jew, was unpublishable in Germany. At the same time she asks if he has written anything new that she could translate and explains why it could not be published in Austria and would have to be published in Switzerland: "If the new book is not too immoral, according to old-fashioned ideas, one might place it in Swizzerland [sic]; of course they pay better than the Hungarians or the poeple [sic] here, anyway here its impossible, for the biggest publishers are jews and wont publish jews so as not to lose the German market, nor yet gojim who have a bad name over there" [i.e. in Germany; by "gojim" who have a bad reputation in Nazi Germany,she was obviously referring to herself]. (Louise Pettus Archives and Special Collections, Winthrop University)



[15] Ernst Karl Winter, editor of the Wiener politische Blätter, was appointed vice-mayor of Vienna by Dolfuss after the February 1934 government attacks on and arrests of leading Social Democrats. His motto was "rechts stehen, links denken" and his political vision was of a corporatist "Volksmonarchie." Despite – or because of – his efforts to achieve a reconciliation of the workers and the rightwing Dolfuss and Schuschnigg regimes, the remnants of Austria's socialists distrusted him. "Links reden, rechts handeln" was their parody of his motto ["talk on the left and act on the right" – closer to what the New York Times describes as "the violin model: hold power with the left hand and play the music with the right" – New York Times, 21 November, 2008]. In their view, he was an "Arbeiterbändiger und Oberdemagoge" [worker-tamer and super-demagogue], an "Agent des Faschismus," a "mit Würden, Geld und Einfluss gekaufte Kreatur des Dolfuss" [creature of Dolfuss, bought with honors, money, and influence] – at best "der Hofnarr des Faschismus" [the court clown of fascism]. Winter was, however, a sincere Austrian patriot and he was passionately opposed to National Socialism and its exploitation of anti-Semitism. In 1936 he was removed from his post of vice-mayor and the Wiener politische Blätter were banned. In 1938, just before the Anschluss, he left Austria for the U.S. (Widerstand und Verfolgung in Wien 1934-1945. Eine Dokumentation, 4 vols. [Vienna: österreichischer Bundesverlag für Unterricht, Wissenschaft und Kunst. Jugend und Volk Verlagsgesellschaft, 1975], vol. 1, pp. 554-74)


[16] For facsimile reproductions of the text of the German Embassy protest (dated 17 December 1935), which was transmitted verbally, and of the report of the Austrian censor recommending that the book be banned and all extant copies confiscated – not so much because of the punishable insults leveled in it at the leaders of a neighboring country as because of its alleged communist propaganda.


[17] In 1933, the distinguished S. Fischer Verlag, under extreme pressure because of its Jewish ownership, asked three of its most prominent authors, Alfred Döblin, René Schickele, and Thomas Mann, all of whom were generally known to be deeply opposed to National Socialism and all of whom had been approached by Klaus Mann about contributing to his newly-founded Amsterdam-based anti-fascist review Die Sammlung, to make a clear statement of their intention to refrain from publishing in émigré magazines. For various reasons, including concern for Samuel Fischer, who was ailing, and for the future of his publishing firm, which was still pursuing an accommodation with the Nazis, all three complied with their publisher's request and sent telegrams explaining that they had mistakenly understood Klaus Mann's review to be purely literary and non-political. Stefan Zweig apparently responded in the same way to an identical request from the Insel-Verlag. The Engelhorn Verlag, the Stuttgart publisher of Das Riesenrad, wrote to Zur Mühlen in similar vein, assuring her that, if she complied with the firm's request, she would find herself "in the best of company." Zur Mühlen's cutting reply, dated 25 October 1933, was immediately made public in Wieland Herzfelde's Prague-based Neue Deutsche Blätter (no. 3, 1933), and in the Vienna Arbeiter-Zeitung (26 October 1933) as a rejoinder to the statements of Döblin, Schickele, Mann, and Zweig, which had in the meantime been publicized and exploited by the National Socialist "Reichsstelle zur Förderung des deutschen Schrifttums." With it, Zur Mühlen burned her boats as far as publishing her work in Germany was concerned. "As I do not share your view that the Third Reich is identical with Germany and that the 'leaders' [Führer] of the Third Reich are identical with the German people," she declared, "it would be incompatible with both my convictions and my sense of personal integrity for me to follow the unworthy example of the four gentlemen you refer to. Apparently it is more important to them that their work be printed in the newspapers and their books sold in the bookshops of the Third Reich than that they remain true to their past and to their convictions. To this 'best of company' I prefer solidarity with those who, in the Third Reich, are persecuted because of their convictions, shut up in concentration camps, or 'shot while attempting to escape.' One cannot serve Germany and the German people better than by joining in the struggle against the horror tale become reality that is the Third Reich. That struggle cannot therefore logically be described as hostile to Germany by anyone truly connected with the German people and German culture. As for the accusation of betrayal of the homeland, I should point out, if that emotion-laden term must be used, that in view of the way the Third Reich has treated Austria, I, as an Austrian, would be guilty of betraying my homeland if I did not oppose the Third Reich with all the modest means at my disposal." (Quoted in Manfred Altner, Hermynia Zur Mühlen. Eine Biographie, pp. 139-40.) For a summary account of this extremely interesting episode, see Jean-Michel Palmier, Weimar in Exile: The Antifascist Emigration in Europe and America, trans. David Fernbach (London and New York: Verso, 2006; orig. French 1987), pp. 369-71, 382-392. A more detailed study and a judicious, nuanced view of the particular position of each of the writers involved, can be found in Hans-Albert Walter, "Der Streit um die 'Sammlung': Porträt einer Literaturschrift im Exil," Frankfurter Hefte, 1966, 21:850-860 and 1967, 22:49-58. For the letters exchanged between Klaus Mann and Thomas Mann and between Klaus Mann and Stefan Zweig in this affair , see Klaus Mann, Briefe und Antworten, ed. Martin Gregor-Dellin (Munich: Verlag Heinrich Ellermann, Edition Spangenberg, 1975), 2 vols., vol. 1, pp. 121-22, 131-32 (K. Mann and Zweig) and 122-24, 132-35 (K. Mann and T. Mann).


[18] On Zur Mühlen's work for the BBC and on her interest in radio in general, see Deborah Vietor-Engländer, "Hermynia zur Mühlen and the BBC," in 'Stimme der Wahrheit' – German Language Broadcasting by the BBC, ed. Charmian Brinson and Richad Dove (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2003), pp. 27-42. (Yearbook of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, University of London, 5)


[19] Times Literary Supplement, March 11, 1944, p. 125.


[20] "Patchwork" [Flickwerk] – perhaps a reminiscence of a famous phrase in Montaigne's Essays (II, 1) "nous sommes tous de lopins" – is already the title of one of the closing chapters of A Life's Journey. It refers there to a patchwork quilt on which the last remaining servant at the dilapidated and, in the aftermath of the Great War, probably no longer affordable villa of the heroine's beloved grandmother has been working all her life. To the heroine who has returned to the scene of her happy and protected childhood, it is both the symbol of her disintegrated world and fragmented personal life and, at the same time perhaps, the faint promise of a new, looser kind of unity – a unity of many individual parts each of which retains its autonomy.


[21] The work was republished in the German Democratic Republic in 1979 (Berlin and Weimar: Aufbau Verlag) and again in Austria in 1994 (Vienna: Promedia Verlag).


[22] It would be imprudent, in the absence of documentary evidence, to rule out the possibility that Zur Mühlen wrote Came the Stranger and the presumed missing part of the trilogy, Because we are Patchwork, directly in English. Other Austrian writers, notably Robert Neumann, did make the switch from German to English with some success; see Richard Dove, "Almost an Engish Author: Robert Neumann's English novels." German Life and Letters , 51 (1998), 93-105; Sylvia Patsch, österreichische Schriftsteller im Exil in Grossbritannien (Vienna and Munich, 1985), pp. 33-72.