Ariadne Press: California's Literary Bridge to Austria

by Heidi L. Hutchinson

WESS Newsletter

Fall 1995, Vol. 19, no. 1

Association of College & Research Libraries
©American Library Association

For one brief moment each year, in late April, the green, park-like campus of the University of California, Riverside, becomes the epicenter of Austrian literary studies. Scholars from around the world convene at the annual Symposium on Austrian Literature and Culture to exchange ideas on the state of Austrian writing. Conference themes of the past ten years have included: Turn of the Century Vienna, the Current Literary Scene in Austria, Austrian Literature and Film, and The Contemporary Austrian Volksstück, and have drawn such well-known writers as Wolfgang Bauer, Josef Haslinger, Peter Henisch, Felix Mitterer and Josef Winkler as guests.

But Riverside's Austrian connection goes back much farther than that, due in great part to the tireless efforts of Donald G. Daviau, Professor of German at UCR. Currently President of the International Arthur Schnitzler Research Association and editor since 1971 of the premier American journal in the field, Modern Austrian Literature(1), Daviau has been leading the campaign for recognition of Austrian literature all of his academic life.

The Problem of Austrian Literature

The existence of an Austrian literature is, even to this day, not universally acknowledged. Literature written in the German language is often simply subsumed into the category of German literature. Witness a pair of examples from our daily librarian lives: the Library of Congress PT classification interfiles all German-speaking authors in one alphabetical sequence, and postwar anthologies with titles such as Neunzehn deutsche Erzählungen (2), Great German Short Novels and Stories(3),German Stories and Tales (4), and the boldest of all, Deutschland erzählt (5) all include contributions by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Arthur Schnitzler, Franz Grillparzer and Robert Musil, as well as other newer Austrian authors.

However, things are changing. A walk through the library stacks points up a more recent trend toward anthologies of Austrian literature, stashed, along with the growing body of secondary literature, into the tiny section at the end of the PT classification called "German Literature Outside of Germany, Special, Europe, Austria" at PT3810-3829. (That's three class numbers fewer than are dedicated to Franz Grillparzer, one of the first to call himself an Austrian writer, and 329 fewer than Goethe!)

The scholars who deal with the question of the autonomy of Austrian literature often find themselves giving their essays and books titles like "Is there an Austrian literature?" Even as fundamental a tool as Frederick Ungar's 1973 Handbook of Austrian Literature (now somewhat dated, but still in our reference collections) begins with these very words. Ungar goes on to answer that question most convincingly in the affirmative.(6) In 1984, a special issue of the journal Modern Austrian Literature was dedicated to "Perspectives on the question of Austrian literature" and included a bibliography of more than 400 books and articles addressing the issue. In his preface to this volume, editor Daviau sums up the problem: "The same three questions recur over and over: Is there an Austrian literature? What is Austrian literature? When did Austrian literature begin? The problematic nature of Austrian literature should elicit no surprise, for the issue cannot be isolated and restricted to literature but always drifts over into a question of nationality. Problems of national character are not only complex, but also usually involve more emotion than logic, inevitably causing a strong division of opinion. ... As far as scholarship is concerned, we stand no closer to a definitive answer today than was the case in the eighteenth century."(7)

And the questioning, the explaining, the justifying, didn't stop in 1984. Nonetheless, the study of Austrian literature has taken a firm foothold in the United States over the years. Sessions devoted to Austrian literature are now held at meetings of the Modern Language Association, the American Association of Teachers of German, and the German Studies Association, among others. In addition, the Austrian Cultural Institute in New York brings Austrian authors to these meetings for further exposure and also helps sponsor UC Riverside's annual symposium.

The Ariadne Press

Into the footsteps of Modern Austrian Literature, with its now 30-year-old assertion that there is indeed an Austrian literature, steps Don Daviau's latest and most ambitious project to date, the 1989 founding of Ariadne Press, a publishing company devoted entirely to the Austrian literature cause.(8) In this venture he has joined forces with two other longtime Austrian literature scholars, Jorun B. Johns, Professor of German at California State University, San Bernardino, and Richard H. Lawson, Professor of German at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The company's name was chosen by the founders for its positive symbolic connotations: the idea of Ariadne leading out of the maze, the Ariadne star bringing illumination-and also as a tribute to their common interest in Hugo von Hofmannsthal and to Daviau's first book on the Hofmannsthal/Strauss opera Ariadne auf Naxos.

In the six short years of its existence, the Press has published 98 titles and begun to have an undeniable impact on its field both at home and abroad. And it is gaining recognition: on November 15, 1994, the Literaturhaus in Vienna, the national center and archive for contemporary Austrian literature, hosted a reception celebrating "Five Years of Ariadne Press (USA)." In the invitation to that event, the Literaturhaus stated, "With more than 80 translations and scholarly publications, the California publishing house is one of the most important literary mediators between Austria and the United States."

The Publishing Program

Ariadne Press started life as a scholarly press calling its program "Studies in Austrian Literature, Culture, and Thought," but soon that title became just one of several series published by the Press, the largest of which is now the Translation Series. While the scholarly works are aimed at university professors and researchers, the books in translation have the potential to reach a much larger audience, the general reading public.

Both primary and secondary (historical, bio-bibliographical, and critical) sources are included in the Ariadne Press publishing program. Of the 98 titles listed in the 1995 catalog, 55 are contained in the translation series, 24 in the "Studies," 8 in the "Historical Studies," and 11 in the "Biography, Autobiography, Memoirs" series.

Among the highlights of the Ariadne Press publishing program are three volumes of plays by Arthur Schnitzler. One of them, Three Late Plays, was translated into English for the very first time for Ariadne Press by G. J. Weinberger. The plays in this volume are The Sisters, or Casanova in Spa; The Way to the Pond; and Seduction Comedy. Two of the most important living Austrian playwrights are also represented in the Ariadne program: Peter Turrini with The Slackers and Other Plays and Shooting Rats, Other Plays, and Poems and Felix Mitterer with Siberia and Other Plays and The Wild Woman and Other Plays. They are worthwhile reading. And beyond reading: Mitterer's reputation is already international, and theater directors in London, Sydney and Los Angeles have mounted some of his plays using Ariadne Press translations.

For an idea of what-and how-Austrian writers are writing nowadays, good introductory collections are provided in Seven Contemporary Austrian Plays, which includes plays by Brigitte Schwaiger, Wolfgang Bauer, Helmut Peschina, Gabriel Barylli, Peter Turrini, and Werner Schwab; Anthology of Contemporary Austrian Folk Plays, with plays by Veza Canetti, Peter Preses and Ulrich Becher, Peter Turrini, Felix Mitterer and Gerald Szyszkowitz; Relationships: An Anthology of Contemporary Prose; and The Daedalus/Ariadne Book of Austrian Fantasy: The Meyrink Years. A further anthology of translated short stories by living authors is currently in the works, this one enhanced by the inclusion of brief statements by each of the authors about their work and their own perception of their place in contemporary Austrian literature.

What I personally consider the flagship series of Ariadne Press are the books collectively known as "Major Figures of Austrian Literature." The series, which is projected for seven volumes covering different periods, is designed "to help make the major figures of Austrian literature from 1800 to the present accessible to an English-speaking audience."(9) The format includes an introductory overview of the cultural and political background of the age followed by fifteen or so individual essays, each written by an expert on the individual author, in which "descriptive discussions of the authors' lives and works combine historical information with an analytical appreciation of their artistic (and, as the case may be, philosophical) accomplishments."(10) Each article also includes a bibliography of primary and secondary texts in both German and English. When the series is completed, it will provide biographical studies of 105 authors from Grillparzer to the very contemporary writers. Four volumes are available so far, Major Figures of Turn-of-the-Century Austrian Literature (1991), Major Figures of Austrian Literature: The Interwar Years 1918-1938 (1995), Major Figures of Modern Austrian Literature (1988), and Major Figures of Contemporary Austrian Literature (which was published in 1987 by P. Lang, before the founding of the Ariadne Press).

When asked how the editors choose what to publish, Daviau told me Ariadne is first and foremost interested in letting Austria show itself in the best possible light. The publishers look for recognized authors whose success in their own country is acknowledged and some who are on the verge of general acceptance by the public. They wish to retain the level of a university press in terms of the quality of literature-and of translations-that they publish, and since distributing the books must always remain at the top of their list of motivators, they try to think of teachers at universities, their research and their course material as their market. Undergraduate courses on foreign literatures in translation are an expanding field and a market of special importance to Ariadne.

Through research, attendance at meetings, time spent in Austria, and considerable personal contact with Austrian writers, the publishers keep abreast of new authors and trends. On occasion, books are also brought to the publishing house's attention by colleagues who may have an interest in translating a work; and Ariadne is always open to suggestions from outside regarding new works and authors.

A final motivator, not to be overlooked, is whether or not they can afford the rights to publish a translation. Complex negotiations with the publishers of the original texts must precede every translation. Therefore it is a source of real pride when Ariadne can garner the rights to works by such prominent contemporary writers as Barbara Frischmuth, Peter Turrini and Felix Mitterer. To its credit, Austria invests heavily in supporting authors and other artists, because the country believes in subsidizing art as a matter of national policy. In an additional form of support, the Ministry for Art and Education in Vienna provides some funding for translations of Austrian authors into English, a fact which both Ariadne Press and those of us who do the translations appreciate.

A plan for future expansion involves the commissioning of volumes of essays about individual authors, again with the thought of college courses and scholarly research in mind. Daviau listed the names Karl Kraus, Robert Musil, Ingeborg Bachmann, Ferdinand von Saar and Felix Mitterer for starters. These volumes should be welcome resources for students and teachers alike.

Although their program has been picked up by Baker & Taylor, Blackwell North America and Yankee Book Peddler for distribution through their approval plans, Ariadne Press is still on the lookout for new avenues of distribution and publicity. They list in Books in Print and advertise in Monatshefte and German Quarterly and of course, in Modern Austrian Literature. They have signed on with east and west coast sales representatives to distribute their books to bookstores. Their mailing list is slowly expanding beyond the core group of MAL subscribers to reach libraries as well. They are particularly proud to have been invited to display their books at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which will be highlighting Austrian publishing in 1995. The little California publishing house with the mission of bringing Austrian literature to American readers is on a steady climb.

And where do I figure in all of this? I am a long-time WESS member who is responsible for the care and augmentation of UC Riverside's German-and therefore Austrian-collection. And after completing my Masters in German literature at UCR in 1987, I was invited by my former teacher, Professor Daviau, to try my hand at translating, an activity which has subsequently brought me a surprising amount of satisfaction. I have contributed quite a few short story and drama translations to the Ariadne Press collections over the past six years, and with each one I have become increasingly convinced of the value of bringing foreign language literatures to the English-speaking reader through translation, a mission I share with Ariadne Press.


(1) Modern Austrian Literature: A journal devoted to Austrian literature and culture of the 19th and 20th centuries 1- (1969-) was preceded by the Journal of the International Arthur Schnitzler Research Association, 1-8 (1961-1968).
(2) Neunzehn deutsche Erzählungen (München: Nymphenburger, 1963).
(3) Victor Lange, ed., Great German Short Novels and Stories (New York: Random House, 1952).
(4) Robert Pick, ed., German Stories and Tales (New York: Knopf, 1954). (5) Benno von Wiese, ed., Deutschland erzählt: sechsundvierzig Erzählungen (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1963).
(6) Frederick Ungar, ed., Handbook of Austrian Literature (New York: Ungar, 1973) xiii-xvi.
(7) Donald G. Daviau, "Preface to Perspectives on the question of Austrian literature," Modern Austrian Literature 17.3-4 (1984): iii-viii.
(8) Thanks go to Donald G. Daviau for sharing his personal insights on the Ariadne Press with me in a conversation on July 14, 1995.
(9) Ariadne Press catalog (1995): 5.
(10) Michael Winkler, rev. of Major Figures of Turn-of-the-Century Austrian Literature, ed. Donald G. Daviau, German Studies Review 16 (1993): 120-121.

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