Heimito von Doderer

Franz Carl Heimito, Ritter von Doderer; known as Heimito von Doderer (5 September 1896, Weidlingau (now part of Hadersdorf-Weidlingau, Penzing, the 14th District of Vienna) 23 December 1966, Vienna) was an Austrian writer.


Memorial at Doderer's birthplace

Heimito von Doderer was born in Weidlingau, since 1938 a part of Vienna, in a forester's lodge where his family stayed while his father, the architect and engineer Wilhelm Carl (Gustav), Ritter von Doderer (1854, Klosterbruck (Czech: Loucký klášter), Znaim 1932, Vienna) worked on the regulation of the Wien River. The lodge is not preserved, today a memorial marks the site. Wilhelm Carl Doderer also worked on the construction of the Tauern Railway, the Kiel Canal and the Wiener Stadtbahn public transport network. His brother Richard (18761955) and his father Carl Wilhelm (Christian) Ritter von Doderer (1825, Heilbronn 1900, Vienna; ennobled in 1877) too were noted architects and industrialists. Carl Wilhelm's wife Maria von Greisinger (18351914) by her mother was related to the Austrian poet Nikolaus Lenau.

Doderer's mother, Wilhelm Carl's wife Louise Wilhelmine "Willy" von Hügel (18621946) also was the daughter of the established German building contractor Heinrich von Hügel (18281899), who had worked with her later husband on several railroad projects. Her sister Charlotte had married Max Freiherr von Ferstel (1859, Vienna 1936, Vienna), son of Heinrich von Ferstel, architect of the Vienna Votive Church. Max von Ferstel had designed the plans for the Doderer family home in the Vienna Landstraße district.

Until World War I, the Doderer family ranked among the wealthiest industrial dynasties of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Heimito was the youngest of six children. His unusual first name was a German phonetic spelling of the Spanish name Jaimito, a diminutive of Jaime (James). As Louise Wilhelmine was Protestant, her children likewise were baptised evangelical, although they grew up in a mainly Catholic environment.

Life and work

Heimito von Doderer spent most of his life in Vienna, where he attended the gymnasium school with moderate success. He spent his summers in his family's retreat in Reichenau an der Rax. The adolescent entered into a homoerotic romantic affair with his home tutor, and gained bisexual and sadomasochistic experiences as a frequent brothel visitor. In 1914 he narrowly passed his matura exams and enrolled to study law at the University of Vienna, however, in April 1915 he joined the dragoon regiment No. 3 of the Austro-Hungarian Army and served in the mounted infantry at the Eastern Front in Galicia and Bukovina. On 12 July 1916 he was captured as a prisoner of war by the Imperial Russian Army in the area of Tlumach.

A long way from home, in a Russian Far East camp for officer POWs in Krasnaya Rechka near Khabarovsk, he decided to become an author and began writing. Upon the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk he was released by the Bolshevik government, but had to make his way back to Austria through the Russian Civil War. Stranded in Samara, Doderer and his comrades again turned to the East, and found refuge in a Red Cross camp near Krasnoyarsk, cared for by Elsa Brändström. Many men had died from typhoid fever during their flight. Doderer stayed in Siberia until his eventual return to Austria in 1920; he finally reached Vienna on August 14.

His first published work, the book of poems Gassen und Landschaft ("Streets and countryside"), appeared in 1923, followed by the novel Die Bresche ("The breach") in 1924, both with little success. A second novel, Das Geheimnis des Reichs ("The secret of the empire"), was published in 1930. In the same year he married Gusti Hasterlik, but they separated two years later and were divorced in 1938.

In 1933 Doderer joined the Austrian section of the Nazi Party (NSDAP) and published several stories in the Deutschösterreichische Tages-Zeitung ("German-Austrian Daily"), a newspaper closely linked to the party and promoting racism and the unification of Germany and Austria. In 1936 he moved to Dachau, Germany, where he met Emma Maria Thoma, who would become his second wife in 1952. In Germany, he renewed his NSDAP membership (the Austrian Nazi Party had been banned since 1933). He returned to Vienna in 1938, sharing a flat with the celebrated painter Albert Paris Gütersloh. In that year the novel Ein Mord, den jeder begeht ("A murder everyone commits") was published. He converted to Catholicism in 1940 as a result of his reading of Thomas Aquinas and his alienation from the Nazis, which had been growing for some years. Also in 1940, Doderer was called up to the Wehrmacht and was later posted to France, where he began work on his most celebrated novel Die Strudlhofstiege. Due to ill health, he was allowed in 1943 to return from the front, serving in the Vienna area, before a final posting to Oslo at the end of the war.

After his return to Austria in early 1946, he was banned from publishing until 1947. He continued work on Die Strudlhofstiege, but although he completed it in 1948, the still-obscure author was unable to get it published immediately. However, when it did finally appear in 1951 it was a huge success, and Doderer's place in the post-war Austrian literary scene was assured. Doderer subsequently returned to an earlier unfinished project, Die Dämonen ("The demons"), which appeared in 1956 to much acclaim. In 1958 he began work on what was intended to be a four-volume novel under the general title of Roman Nr. 7 ("Novel No. 7"), to be written as a counterpart to Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. The first volume Die Wasserfälle von Slunj, appeared in 1963; the second volume, Der Grenzwald, was to be his last work and was published, incomplete and posthumously, in 1967. Doderer died of intestinal cancer on 23 December 1966.


Works published during lifetime (in German)

Published posthumously

Decorations and awards


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