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Bronnen, Arnolt 1895–1959

Bronnen, Arnolt 1895–1959

(A.H. Schelle-Noetzel)

PERSONAL: Born August 19, 1895, in Vienna, Austria; died October 12, 1959, in East Berlin, German Democratic Republic (now Berlin, Germany); son of Ferdinand (a professor) and Martha (an author; maiden name, Schelle) Bronnen; children: Barbara. Education: Studied law and philosophy in Vienna, Austria.

CAREER: Dramatist. Worked as a department store sales clerk and in a bank, c. 1920–22; freelance writer; dramaturge for Universum Film AG (movie studio), 1928–33, and for Dramatische Funkstunde (radio broadcasting company), 1933–35; program director for a television studio, until 1939; Neue Zeit (newspaper), Linz, Austria, editor, 1945–50; Neues Theater, Vienna, Austria, director, beginning 1951; Berliner Zeitung (newspaper), East Berlin, German Democratic Republic, theater critic and publicist, 1955–59. Military service: Austrian Army; served during World War I; served in the Dolomites; wounded in action, 1916; prisoner of war in Sicily; enlisted in army in Austria, 1944–45; jailed for treason briefly in 1944.

WRITINGS:

PLAYS

Vatermord (one-act; first produced in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, April 22, 1922), Fischer (Berlin, Germany), 1920.

Anarchie in Sillian (first produced in Berlin, Germany, at Deutsches Theater, April 6, 1924), Rowohlt (Berlin, Germany), 1924.

Katalaunische Schlacht (first produced in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, at Schauspielhaus, November 28, 1924), Rowohlt (Berlin, Germany), 1924.

Die Geburt der Jugend (first produced in Berlin, Germany, at Lessing-Theater, December 13, 1925), Rowohlt (Berlin, Germany), 1922.

Die Exzesse: Lustspiel (first produced in Berlin, Germany, at Lessing-Theater, June 7, 1925), Rowohlt (Berlin, Germany), 1923.

Rheinische Rebellen (first produced in Berlin, Germany, at Staatliches Schauspielhaus, May 16, 1925), Rowohlt (Berlin, Germany), 1925.

Ostpolzug (first produced in Berlin, Germany, at Staatliches Schauspielhaus, January 29, 1926), Rowohlt (Berlin, Germany), 1925.

(Adapter) Heinrich von Kleist, Michael Kohlhaas (first produced in Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany, at the Stadttheater, October 4, 1929; adapted and broadcast for radio, 1929), radio and stage versions published together as Michael Kohlhaas: Für Funk und Bühne bearbeited, Rowohlt (Berlin, Germany), 1929, revised edition published as Michael Kohlhaas: Schauspiel nach der Novelle Heinrich von Kleists, Pallas (Salzburg, Austria), 1948.

Reparationen: Lustspiel (first produced in Mannheim, Germany, at the Nationaltheater, January 30, 1930), Rowohlt (Berlin, Germany), 1926.

Sonnenberg (radio play), Hobbing (Berlin, Germany), 1934.

"N," first produced in Linz, Austria, at the Landestheater, April 24, 1948.

Gloriana (first produced in Stuttgart, Germany, at the Württembergisches Staatstheater, November 8, 1951) 1977.

Die jüngste Nacht, first produced in Linz, Austria, at Volkshochschule-Studio, May 6, 1952.

Stücke (collected plays), edited by Hans Mayer, Athenäum (Kronberg, Germany), 1977.

Die Kette Kolin (first produced in Karlsruhe, Germany, at Badisches Staatstheater, March 8, 1981), 1958.

OTHER

Die Septembernovelle, Rowohlt (Berlin, Germany), 1923.

Napoleon's Fall, Rowohlt (Berlin, Germany), 1924.

Film und Leben, Barbara La Marr (novel), Rowohlt (Berlin, Germany), 1928.

(With Max Brod, Axel Eggebrecht, and others) Die Frau von Morgen, wie wir sie wünschen, edited by Friedrich M. Huebner, Seeman (Leipzig, Germany), 1929.

O.S. (novel), Rowohlt (Berlin, Germany), 1929.

Roßbach, Rowohlt (Berlin, Germany), 1930.

Erinnerung an eine Liebe, Rowohlt (Berlin, Germany), 1933.

(As A.H. Schelle-Noetzel) Kampf im Äther; oder, Die Unsichtbaren (novel), Rowohlt (Berlin, Germany), 1935.

Arnolt Bronnen gibt zu Protokoll: Beiträge zur Geschichte des modernen Schriftstellers, Rowohlt (Berlin, Germany), 1935.

Deutschland, kein Wintermärchen: eine Entdeckungsfahrt durch die Deutsche Demokratische Republik, Verlag der Nation (Berlin, Germany), 1956.

(Editor and translator) Aesop, Sieben Berichte aus Hellas: Der antike Aisopos-Roman neu übersetzt und nach dokumentarischen Quellen ergänzt, Rowohlt (Hamburg, Germany), 1956.

Viergespann, Aufbau (Berlin, Germany), 1958.

Tage mit Bertolt Brecht: Geschichte einer unvollendeted Freundschaft, Desch (Munich, Germany), 1960.

Begegnungen mit Schauspielern: 20 Portraits aus dem Nachlaß, edited by Harald Kleinschmidt, Henschel (Berlin, Germany), 1967.

Sabotage der Jugend: Kleine Arbeiten, 1922–1934, edited by Friedbert Aspetsberger, Institut für Germanistik, Universität Innsbruck (Innsbruck, Austria), 1989.

Werke (collected works), five volumes, edited by Friedbert Aspetsberger, 1989.

Contributor to periodicals, including Der Abend.

SIDELIGHTS: Best known as a playwright, Arnolt Bronnen entered the spotlight as a controversial writer who created scenes of eroticism and violence for the stage during the heady days of Germany's Weimar Republic. A friend of famous dramatist Bertolt Brecht, Bronnen also wrote experimental plays for the theater that mixed realism with expressionism. While his early plays, such as Vatermord, were influenced by the playwright's predilection for combining eroticism and violence, his later dramas primarily involve political themes that reflect the author's extreme evolution from right-wing National Socialist to left-wing Communist.

After serving in the Austrian army during World War I, Bronnen moved to Berlin to begin his career in the theater. He worked as a sales clerk and for a bank for the next two years while completing his early plays. The first of these, Vatermord, was first performed in 1922 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The story of a family dominated by the father, the play outraged audiences when they viewed the sexual relationship between a mother and her son, who later kills his own father. When the play was performed in Berlin, it incited a riot that required police intervention. Another early play, Die Geburt der Jugend, is a highly idealized example of antiauthoritarianism. Originally written when Bronnen was nineteen, the play is about a group of students who rebel against their schoolteachers. In the final scene, they flee into the woods, where they celebrate a union with nature, becoming "a collective body growing toward divinity," as Ward B. Lewis described it in the Dictionary of Literary Biography.

Although Bronnen continued to write sexually charged plays laced with violence, such as Anarchie in Sillian and Die Exzesse: Lustspiel, he was also becoming a political writer by the mid-1920s. Katalaunische Schlacht mixes these two sides of the playwright in a story about immoral soldiers who desert their posts and rob their dead comrades of their possessions. After the war, Hiddie, the wife of one of the deserters who has died, is pursued by three of the other men who intend to rape her. In the end, cornered by the men on an ocean steamer, she kills herself. The play's unflattering portrayal of German soldiers at a time when nationalism was heating up in that country doomed it to disaster. Bronnen, therefore, switched gears to produce Rheinische Rebellen, a much more patriotic work that clearly favored Germany's designs to regain the Rheinland region then occupied by France.

After the production of his epic play Ostpolzug in 1926, a work that depicts Alexander the Great in a modern light as he conquers Mt. Everest and the world, Bronnen released two novels that clearly illustrated his right-wing politics at the time. O.S. concerns the disputed territory of Upper Silesia that Germany wished to wrest from Poland, and Roßbach "glorified Adolf Hitler's attempted putsch in Munich," related Lewis. Bronnen wished to be officially declared an Aryan, disguising the fact that his father was Jewish and making contact with Joseph Goebbels, the head of Nazi propaganda. However, the attempt failed; not only this, but the fact that Bronnen was a Jew, led to his being fired from his job at a radio network. By 1940, his works were banned by the Nazis, and three years later Bronnen fled back to Austria. Though he re-enlisted in the army there, he was jailed for treason in 1944.

After the war, Bronnen lived in Austria and found work as editor of the newspaper Neue Zeit. His plays now took a distinctly anti-right turn as his politics began to shift toward communism. In 1948, for example, the play "N" was performed. "Ostensibly a historical drama about Napoleon, 'N' is actually a veiled attack on Hitler," noted Lewis. Bronnen's transition to the left was complete by 1951, when he became director of the Viennese Neues Theater, which performed plays emphasizing communist themes. In 1955, he moved to East Berlin at the invitation of East Germany's cultural minister. Here he worked as theater critic and publicist for the Berliner Zeitung and continued to produce such left-wing plays as Die Kette Kolin. Unfortunately, the reputation he still had from his earlier plays, which were considered bourgeois by the East Germans, prevented Bronnen from rediscovering success in his final years.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 124: Twentieth-Century German Dramatists, 1919–1992, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.

PERIODICALS

Modern Language Review, October, 1991, Alfred D. White, "Modernism in German Literature: A Review Article," pp. 924-928.

Theatre Survey, November, 1998, Lynn Dierks, "Arnolt Bronnen's Vatermord and the German Youth of 1922," pp. 25-38.

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