Christopher's Reviews > Dream Story

Dream Story by Arthur Schnitzler
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Aug 18, 2007

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Published in 1926, Arthur Schnitzler's DREAM STORY ("Traumnovelle") is a novella of dark Freudian images and plays on the merging of the conscious and subconscious in human life. Forgotten for several decades, it has returned to print with Stanley Kubrick's last film EYES WIDE SHUT, which was a somewhat faithful adaptation set in the present day. DREAM STORY tells of a married couple in Vienna, perhaps at the turn of the 20th century though the date is unspecified. While having what begins as a friendly conversation one evening, Albertine confesses to her physician husband Fridolin that during a vacation in Denmark the previous summer she felt she could leave him and their daughter behind for a handsome naval officer who was staying in the same hotel. Fridolin, shocked that his marriage isn't terribly stable and that his wife could maliciously leave him, is then called to visit a patient. From there he encounters several women in his journeys through Vienna and eventually gains entrance to a upper-class orgy (presented somewhat differently than the black mass of Kubrick's film). The action takes place over only two days, and this slim volume can be read in a mere two hours. I can't comment on this translation, having read the translation into Esperanto by Michel Duc Goninaz, but the novel's meaning is based on symbolism that wouldn't lose much in translation, though one must be aware that the German names of the characters (and the Schreyvogelgasse, a Viennese street) are linked. People owning a German dictionary will get a little more out of this novella.

Arthur Schnitzler was quite enamoured by the theories of Sigmund Freud, so much so that Freud joked that he would never meet the novelist because of the belief that one would die upon encountering his double. DREAM STORY is full of allusions to Freudian psychology, and the orgy is both a real event and a representation of Fridolin's subconscious. Albertine's dream recounted to Fridolin afterwards, told in unrealistic detail that shows Schnitzler is trying too hard for a roman a clef, echoes the previous action eerily and hence the title of the novella. It is because of its Freudian basis that DREAM STORY is ultimately disappointing. Freudian psychology has been taken some heavy blows in favour of the theories of Jung and Lacan, so this story shows its age. And while it would seem at first that Schnitzler is being progressive in saying that women do indeed think of sexuality, it is apparent that Schnitzler believes that women unhealthily desire sex only as a tool to hurt and strike out, as Albertine insinuates several times that she would take great pleasure in abandoning Fridolin for a purely physical relationship with a younger man. As a result of this basis, DREAM STORY is quite out of date and misogynist.

I really couldn't recommend DREAM STORY, unless one has an interest in Freudian psychology and its application, in which case this novella is a treasure of the thought of the period. While recommending the movie over the book is a reversal of the usual order of things, I'd recommend simply watching EYES WIDE SHUT. Stanley Kubrick was aware of many of the flaws of the source material and fixed a few of them, and the art direction and cinematography are superb. The novella doesn't have much going for it.

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