Jelinek, Elfriede 1946–

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Jelinek, Elfriede 1946–


Born October 20, 1946, in Mürzzuschlag, Steiermark, Austria; daughter of Friederich (a chemist) and Olga Ilona (a personnel director) Jelinek; married Gottfried Heinrich Hungsberg (an information systems engineer and film composer), June 12, 1974. Education: Attended the University of Vienna and the Vienna Conservatory of Music.


Home—Munich, Germany; Vienna, Austria. E-mail—[email protected]


Translator, critic, and author.


Graz Writers Union.


Austrian Youth Culture award, 1969; Austrian State Scholarship for Literature, 1972; Roswitha Memorial award, City of Bad Gandersheim, 1978; Interior Ministry of West Germany award for best screenplay, 1979; honored by Austrian Minister for Education and Art, 1983; Heinrich-Böll award, 1986; Honorary Award for Literature of Vienna, 1989; Walter Hasenclever Prize and Peter Weiss Prize, both 1994; Bremer Literature Prize, 1996; Georg Büchner Prize, 1998; Berlin Theater Prize, 2002; Heinrich Heine Prize, 2002; Else Lasker Schüler Prize, 2003; Lessing Critics' Prize, 2004; Stig Dagerman Prize, 2004; Nobel Prize in Literature, 2004; Franz Kafka Prize, Czech Republic, 2004.



Lisas Schatten (title means "Lisa's Shadow"), Relief Verlag Eilers (Munich, Germany), 1967.

Wir sind Lockvoegel Baby! (title means "We're Decoys, Baby!"), Rowohlt (Reinbek bei Hamburg, Germany), 1970, translation by Michael Hulse published as Wonderful, Wonderful Times, Serpent's Tail (London, England), 1990.

Michael: Ein Jugendbuch für die Infantilgesellschaft (title means "Michael: A Young Person's Guide to Infantile Society"), Rowohlt (Reinbek, Germany), 1972.

Die Liebhaberinnen, Rowohlt (Reinbek bei Hamburg, Germany), 1975, translation by Martin Chambers published as Women as Lovers, Serpent's Tail (London, England), 1994.

Bukolit. Hörroman, Rhombus (Vienna, Germany), 1979.

Die Ausgesperrten, Rowohlt (Reinbek, Germany), 1980.

Ende: Gedichte von 1966-1968, Schwiftinger Galerie-Verlag (Schwifting, Germany), 1980.

Die endlose Unschuldigkeit, Schwiftinger Galerie-Verlag (Schwifting, Germany), 1980.

Die Klavierspielerin, Rowohlt, 1983, translation by Joachim Neugroschel published as The Piano Player, Weidenfeld & Nicholson (New York, NY), 1988, translated as The Piano Teacher, Serpent's Tail (London, England), 1999.

Oh Wildnis, oh Schutz vor ihr, Rowohlt (Reinbek, Germany), 1985.

Lust, Rowohlt, 1989, translated by Michael Hulse, Serpent's Tale (London, England), 1992.

Die Kinder der Toten (title means "Children of the Dead"), Rowohlt, 1995.

(With Jutta Heinrich and Adolf-Ernst Meyer) Sturm und Zwang. Schreiben als Geschlechterkamp, Klein (Hamburg, Germany), 1995.

Ein Sportstück, Rowohlt (Reinbek, Germany), 1998.

Gier, Rowohlt (Reinbek, Germany), 2000, translated by Martin Chalmers as Greed, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2007.

Einar, translated by P.J. Blumenthal, afterword by Hans-Ulrich Müller-Schweve, Post-Apollo Press (Sausalito, CA), 2006.

L'entretien, Seuil (Paris, France), 2007.

Neid (e-book), 2007.


Was geschah, nachdem Nora ihren Mann verlassen hat (title means "What Happened after Nora Left Her Husband"), produced in Graz, Austria, 1979.

Clara S, first produced in Bonn, Germany, 1984.

Theaterstücke. Clara S. Was geschah, nachdem Nora ihren Mann verlassen hat. Burgtheater (omnibus), edited by Ute Nyssen, Prometh (Cologne, Germany), 1984.

Krankheit oder moderne Frauen, produced in Bonn, Germany, 1987.

Präsident Abendwind, in Anthropophagen im Abendwind, produced in Berlin, Germany, 1988.

Totenauberg, Rowohlt (Reinbek, Germany), 1991.

(With Robert Walser) er nich als er, first produced in Hamburg, Germany, 1998.

Wolken: Heim, Steidl (Göttingen, Germany), 1993.

Raststätte, 1995.

Stecken, Stab und Stangle—Eine Handarbeit, 1996.

Macht Nichts: Eine kleine Trilogie des Todes, Rowohlt (Reinbek, Germany), 1999.

Das Lebewohl: 3 kl. Dramen, Berlin Verlag (Berlin, Germany), 2000.

Das Schweigen, first produced in Hamburg, Germany, 2000.

In den Alpen: Drei Dramen, Berlin Verlag (Berlin, Germany), 2002.

Prinzessinnendramen, produced in Hamburg and Berlin, Germany, 2002.

Das Werk, first produced in Vienna, Austria, 2003.

Der Tod und das Mädchen I-V: Prinzessinnendramen, Berliner Taschenbuch Verlag (Berlin, Germany), 2003.

Bambiland; Babel: Zwei Theatertexte, Rowohlt (Reinbek, Germany), 2004.

Irm und Margit, first produced in Zurich, Switzerland, 2004.

Babel, 2004.

Ulrike Maria Stuart, 2006.


(With Ferdinand Zellwecker and Wilhelm Zobl) Materialien zu Musiksoziologie, Jugend & Volk (Munich, Germany), 1972.

Die Ausgesperrten (screenplay), 1982.

Was die Nacht verspricht (screenplay), 1987.

Malina (screenplay), 1990.

Theater Von Frauen—Österreich, Eichborn (Frankfurt am Main, Germany) 1991.

Isabelle Huppert in Malina: Ein Filmbuch, Suhrkamp (Frankfurt am Main, Germany), 1991.

Frauenleben, Frauenpolitik: Ruckschlage & Utopien: Gespräche mit Elfriede Jelinek, Eva Poluda-Korte, Johanna Stumpf, Branka Wehowski, Regine Hildebrandt, Petra Kelly (interviews), Konkursbuch Verlag C. Gehrke (Tübingen, Germany), 1992.

(Author of text) Herwig Zens, Zens, Holzhausen (Vienna, Germany), 1998.

(Author of text) Robert Hammerstiel, Glücksfutter, Kehrer Verlag (Heidelberg, Germany), 1998.

Peter Eschberg: Theatermacher, was sonst!, Suhrkamp (Frankfurt, Germany), 2001.

Xenia Hausner: Damenwahl: Berichte aus dem Labor = Ladies First: Second Thoughts, Wienand (Cologne, Germany), 2003.

(Author of sketch) Olga Neuwirth, Bählamms Fest: Ein venezianisches Arbeitsjournal, 1997-1999, Literaturverlag Droschl (Graz, Austria), 2003.

Author's works have been translated into more than two dozen languages.


Die Klavierspielerin was adapted to film as The Piano Teacher.


Austrian novelist and playwright Elfriede Jelinek is considered one of her country's most talented—and most outspoken—writers. Building each of her fictions on a strong Marxist-feminist foundation, since making her literary debut in 1967 with Lisas Schatten Jelinek has become more controversial with each new work she publishes. In novels such as Women as Lovers, The Piano Player, and Lust, her central protagonists are usually women; commodities; victims of male-perpetrated crimes that include domestic violence, sexual exploitation, and human alienation. Accused by male critics for her coarse depiction of such acts, Jelinek has also received disapprobation from other feminists who condemn her depiction of female sexuality and masochistic behavior.

Jelinek is a unique stylist, combining verbal components culled from cartoons, comic strips, Beatles songs, and science-fiction films to shock readers out of their cultural complacency. Her language is sometimes profane, sometimes brutally graphic. Wonderful, Wonderful Times, for example, finds mindless SS-style violence reborn in an Austrian street gang, where "the lurid lives of individuals full of bitterness, failure, weakness, and hatred are an obvious metaphor for bourgeois Austria's Nazi past," according to New Statesman and Society reviewer Carole Morin. And Jelinek's Lust, which was condemned as pornography by some critics after its publication in 1989, depicts the futility of female desire as a bourgeois woman is relegated to the status of mere property by her capitalist husband.

In addition to her characteristic graphic portrayal of brutality towards women, Jelinek is not hesitant about displaying her Marxist leanings. Her concern for the welfare of the proletariat within capitalist Europe is encoded within all her fiction. In her highly praised 1983 work, The Piano Player (also published and adapted to film as The Piano Teacher), which Charlotte Innes termed "a brilliant if grim exploration of fascism" in her New York Times Book Review assessment, Jelinek's thirty-year-old protagonist finds that learning to endure her status as a victim of her mother's oppressive restrictions is the only path to personal control.

Many of Jelinek's novels take place in a fictitious location—a nondescript rural Austrian village—that is devoid of nationalistic fervor or geographical uniqueness. She places her characters within a void, allowing their inner characteristics and their social conditioning to propel the story to its fatalistic end. In Women as Lovers, originally published in 1975, Jelinek depicts two women and their struggle for independence. While both seek an idealized "true love," one eventually settles for "good enough" in her relationship with a hardworking electrician. The other, who is far more idealistic and adventurous, marries a man who turns out to be an abusive alcoholic; now despised by her fellow towns-people, she is punished for her idealism. Throughout this story, Jelinek remains dispassionate. All the trappings of culture "are placed on the Jelinek operating table and stripped of all our most treasured notions," explained Innes. "Her method … involves presenting each chapter as a different cross section of the same bundle of themes …; this may be as artificial a technique as any, but Jelinek knows it and has fun with it. It can be said without qualification that after … Jelinek, Austria will never seem quite the same."

Jelinek was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 2004. Progressive reviewer Nina Siegal observed that Jelinek "wasn't an obvious choice" for the prestigious and lucrative prize. "Her dense, strident political satires exploring sexual perversion and social decadence aren't exactly mass-market fare. And because only a few of her novels have been translated, her work is largely unknown outside the German-speaking world," Siegal commented. The announcement of the award was greeted by reactions ranging from confusion from those who were not familiar with Jelinek and her work, to outrage or unqualified approval from those who knew her work well. The controversy included harsh criticism from publications such as the Weekly Standard and others who "claimed that her books contain more hateful fury than artistic virtuosity," observed a New Yorker reviewer. Others ridiculed the relative obscurity of her works. One of the Nobel panel's eighteen lifetime members resigned in protest. Despite the outcry, Jelinek received the award based on what the Swedish Academy described as "her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power."

In her novel Greed, Jelinek continues in a controversial vein, presenting a novel that "is not for the casual reader or the faint of heart," remarked Karen Walton Morse in Library Journal. In a repetitive, circuitous, stream-of-consciousness narrative, the unnamed female narrators tells the story of Kurt Janish, a police officer in a small Austrian village whose desire to acquire property overwhelms any sense of justice or propriety he may once have possessed. Married but sexually confused, Kurt attempts to manipulate an attractive, middle-aged widow named Gerti into signing over her house and property to him as a "trade-off for his affections," reported Financial Times reviewer Ben Naparstek. Gerti, for her part, is single and lonely and wants to make Kurt her husband and lover. After he receives her material wealth, Kurt is no longer interested in Gerti and begins an affair with sixteen-year-old Gabi. Later, with little apparent motive, Kurt murders Gabi and throws her body in a lake, where she is found during the murder investigation. As the narrative unfolds further, other characters are visited by death, disillusionment, and devastating trauma. "Everything is already known in this sad, ugly universe; any sign of discovery or wonder would disturb the illusion of a world without hope," observed Joel Agee in the New York Times Book Review. The "extraordinary linguistic zeal" as demonstrated in this novel "is why Jelinek is a Nobel laureate," Morse concluded.



Newsmakers, Issue 3, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2005.


All Things Considered, October 7, 2004, Neda Ulaby, "Profile: Elfriede Jelinek Receives the Nobel Prize in Literature," transcript of National Public Radio broadcast.

American Theatre, January, 2005, Gitta Honegger, "Alpine Dread and Decadence: Meet Elfriede Jelinek," p. 23.

Antioch Review, spring, 1990, review of The Piano Teacher, p. 258.

Artforum International, summer, 2005, Marjorie Perloff, "Vienna Roast: Marjorie Perloff on Elfriede Jelinek," review of The Piano Teacher and Wonderful, Wonderful Times, p. S44.

Bookseller, March 11, 2005, "Nobel Winner Renews with Serpent's Tail," p. 17.

Financial Times, October 11, 2004, Penny Black, "Rigorous Critic Who Courts Controversy," p. 13; October 15, 2004, James Woodall, "German Theatre's Provocative New Face," p. 10; February 23, 2005, James Woodall, "Happiness and a Handbag," p. 19; October 28, 2006, Ben Naparstek, "High Anxiety Controversial Nobel Prize-Winner Elfriede Jelinek Specializes in Unearthing Hypocrisy and Brutality from a Cliché-ridden Society," p. 26.

Germanic Review, fall, 2006, Jutta Gsoels-Lorensen, review of Die Kinder der Toten: Representing the Holocaust as an Austrian Ghost Story, p, 360.

Harvard Review, December, 2005, Leland de la Durantaye, "On Cynicism. Dogs, Hair, Elfriede Jelinek and the Nobel Prize," p. 146.

Hollywood Reporter, October 12, 2005, "Prize Protest," p. 3.

Index on Censorship, September 1, 2000, "Viennese Whirl," p. 170.

Library Journal, October 15, 1988, Paul E. Hutchinson, review of The Piano Teacher, p. 102; May 1, 2007, Karen Walton Morse, review of Greed, p. 72.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 16, 1990, Richard Eder, "A Cuckoo Clockwork Orange," review of Wonderful, Wonderful Times, p. 3.

Modern Language Review, April, 2000, review of Die Klavierspielerin, p. 437; April, 2002, Allyson Fiddler, "Staging Jorg Haider: Protest and Resignation in Elfriede Jelinek's Das Lebewohl and Other Recent Texts for the Theater," p. 353.

Nation, March 18, 1991, Charlotte Innes, review of Wonderful, Wonderful Times, p. 346.

National Post, April 14, 2007, Philip Hensher, review of Greed, p. 14.

New Statesman and Society, July 28, 1989, Carole Morin, review of The Piano Teacher, p. 33; August 31, 1990, Carole Morin, review of Wonderful, Wonderful Times, p. 38.

New Yorker, May 7, 2007, review of Greed, p. 74.

New York Times, December 17, 1988, Michiko Kakutani, review of The Piano Teacher, p. 18; October 8, 2004, Alan Riding, "Austrian Writer of Sex, Violence and Politics Wins Nobel," p. 3.

New York Times Book Review, November 27, 1988, Charlotte Innes, review of The Piano Teacher, p. 22; April 15, 2007, Joel Agee, "By a Dead Lake," review of Greed, p. 17.

New York Times Magazine, November 21, 2004, Deborah Solomon, "A Gloom of Her Own," interview with Elfriede Jelinek, p. 31.

Off Our Backs, November 1, 2004, Carol Anne Douglas, "Austrian Feminist Author Awarded Nobel Prize in Literature," p. 4.

Progressive, July, 2007, Nina Siegal, interview with Elfriede Jelinek, p. 33.

Publishers Weekly, August 12, 1988, Sybil Steinberg, review of The Piano Teacher, p. 440; November 23, 1990, review of Wonderful, Wonderful Times, p. 58; January 27, 1992, review of The Piano Teacher, p. 95; June 12, 1995, review of Women as Lovers, p. 57; October 11, 2004, "Austrian Novelist Wins Nobel in Literature," p. 7; October 25, 2004, Charlotte Abbott, "Who's Afraid of Elfriede? Nobel Honor Holds Modest Sales Bonanza for Elfriede Jelinek's London Indie House," p. 16.

Salmagundi, fall, 2005, "Destroy, She Said: Elfriede Jelinek."

Studies in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Literature, winter, 2007, Gitta Honegger, "Staging Memory: The Drama inside the Language of Elfriede Jelinek," p. 285.

Telecomworldwire, July 5, 2007, "Austrian Writer Publishes Novel on the Internet."

Theater, March 22, 1994, "This German Language … an Interview with Elfriede Jelinek," p. 14; summer, 2006, "Elfriede Jelinek: How to Get the Nobel Prize without Really Trying" and "I Am a Trummerfrau of Language."

Time International, October 18, 2004, "Sex, Violence and a Nobel Prize," p. 68.

Times Literary Supplement, July 21, 1989, review of Lust, p. 802; November 2, 1990, review of Wonderful, Wonderful Times, p. 1183; November 3, 2006, "Sadistic Touches," p. 20.

Women's Review of Books, December, 2004, Bettina Brandt, "The Challenging Writings of Elfriede Jelinek: An Austrian Feminist Wins the Nobel Prize in Literature," p. 1.

World Literature Today, fall, 1996, Susan L. Cocalis, review of Die Kinder der Toten, p. 946; spring, 2001, Gregory H. Wolf, review of Das Lebewohl, p. 369; winter, 2002, Stephan Atzert, review of Gier, p. 184; July 1, 2003, Robert Schwarz, review of In den Alpen: Drei Dramen, p. 125; January-April, 2005, Dagmar von Hoff, "Elfriede Jelinek," p. 61; May-August, 2005, Horace Engdahl, "A Tribute to Elfriede Jelinek," p. 43.

Xinhua News Agency, October 7, 2004, "Austrian Woman Writer Wins Nobel Prize."


Elfriede Jelinek Home Page, (September 22, 2007)., (September 22, 2007), brief biography of Elfriede Jelinek.