Aichinger, Ilse

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Nationality: Austrian. Born: Vienna, 1 November 1921. Education: Studied medicine, University of Vienna, 1946-48. Family: Married the poet Günter Eich in 1952 (died 1972); two children. Career: Forced work in a pharmacy during World War II; lector, S. Fischer Verlag, 1949-50; assistant to Inge Aicher-Scholl, Ulm Academy for Design, 1950-51; began association with Gruppe 47, 1951. Awards: Austrian State prize for literature and Gruppe 47 prize, both in 1952; City of Düsseldorf Immermann prize and City of Bremen prize, both in 1955; Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts prize, 1961, 1991; Anton Wildgans prize, 1969; Nelly Sachs prize, 1971; City of Vienna prize, 1974; City of Dortmund prize, 1975; Trackle prize, 1979; Petrarca prize, 1982; Belgian Europe Festival prize and Weilheim prize, both in 1987; Town of Solothurn prize, 1991; Roswitha medal. Address: c/o Fischer Verlag, Postfach 700480, Frankfurt 6000, Germany.



Dialoge, Erzahlungen, Gedichte [Dialogues, Short Stories, Poems], edited by Heinz F. Schafroth. 1965.

Ilse Aichinger: Selected Short Stories and Dialogue, edited byJames C. Alldridge. 1966.

Ilse Aichinger, edited by James C. Alldridge. 1969.

Gedichte und Prosa [Poems and Prose]. 1983.

Selected Poetry and Prose, edited by Allen H. Chappel. 1983.

Gesammalte Werke [Collected Works] (8 vols.), edited byRichard Reichensperger. 1991.


Die größere Hoffnung. 1948; as Herod's Children, 1963.

Short Stories

Rede unter dem Galgen [Speech under the Gallows]. 1951; as Der Gefesselte, 1953; as The Bound Man and Other Stories, 1955.

Eliza, Eliza. 1965.

Nachricht vom Tag: Erzahlungen [News of the Day: Short Stories]. 1970.

Schlechte Worter [Bad Words] (includes radio plays). 1976.

Meine Sprache und ich: Erzahlungen [My Language and I:Stories]. 1978.

Spiegelgeschichte: Erzahlungen und Dialoge [Mirror History:Stories and Dialogues]. 1979.


Zu keiner Stunde [Never at Any Time] (dialogues). 1957.

Besuch um Pfarrhaus: Ein Horspiel, Drei Dialoge [A Visit to the Vicarage: A Radio Play, Three Dialogues. 1961.

Knöpfe [Buttons] (radio play). In Hörspiele, 1961.

Auckland: 4 Horspiele (radio plays). 1969.

Weisse Chrysanthemum (radio play). In Kurzhörspiele, 1979.

Radio Plays:

Knöpfe, 1953; Gare maritime [Maritime Station], 1973; Belvedere; Weisse Chrysanthemum, 1979.


Verschenkter Rat [Advice Given]. 1978.


Wo ich wohne: Erzahlungen, Gedichte, Dialoge [Where ILive: Short Stories, Poems, Dialogues]. 1963.

Grimmige Marchen, with Martin Walser, edited by WolfgangMieder. 1986.

Kleist, Moos, Fasane (memoir). 1987.

Editor, Gedichte, by Günter Eich. 1973.


Critical Studies:

"Who Is the Bound Man?: Towards an Interpretation of Ilse Aichinger's Der Gefesselte, "in German Quarterly , 38, January 1965, and "The Ambivalent Image in Aichinger's Spiegelgeschichte, " in Révue des Langues Vivantes (Belgium), 33, 1967, both by Carol Bedwell; "Ilse Aichinger's Absurd I" by Patricia Haas Stanley, in German Studies Review , 2, 1979; "A Structural Approach to Aichinger's Spiegelgeschichte " by Michael R. Ressler, in Unterrichtspraxis, 12 (1), 1979, pp. 30-37; "Aichinger: The Sceptical Narrator" by Hans Wolfschütz, in Modern Austrian Writing: Literature and Society after 1945, edited by Wolfschütz and Alan Best, 1980; "Buttons" by Sabine I. Golz, in SubStance, 21(2), 68, 1992, pp. 77-90; "Winter Answers in the Poetry of Ilse Aichinger" by Amanda Ritchie, in Focus on Literature, 1(2), Fall 1994, pp. 111-27; "Ilse Aichinger: The Poetics of Silence" by Andrea Reiter, in Contemporary German Writers, Their Aesthetics and Their Language, edited by Arthur Williams, Stuart Parkes, and Julian Preece, 1996; "Out from the Shadows!: Ilse Aichinger's Poetic Dreams of the Unfettered Life" by Edward R. McDonald, in Out from the Shadows: Essays on Contemporary Austrian Women Writers and Filmmakers, edited by Margarete Lamb Faffelberger, 1997; Wenn Ihr Nicht Werdet Wie Die Kinder: The Significance of the Child in the World-View of Ilse Aichinger by Catherine Purdie, 1998.

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Ilse Aichinger's first work, the novel Herod's Children ( 1963; Die größere Hoffnung , 1948), is the only one in her relatively small literary oeuvre that deals directly with aspects of the Holocaust. Much of her work, however, is influenced by events in her early life relating to the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis and by the hardship and sorrow she and her mother endured under Austria's Nazi regime. Born to a Jewish mother and a Gentile father—they divorced in 1927—Aichinger's grandmother and her mother's siblings were murdered at a concentration camp in Minsk.

Aichinger began her career as a full-time writer in 1947 and soon became one of the most important authors of postwar literature in German. In her early writing Aichinger developed her own style and imagery; her work has none of the features of the Truemmerliteratur (literature born of the rubble) as created by Wolfgang Borchert and Heinrich Boll , among others, nor does it fit into any other literary movement in the immediate post-1945 era. Some of her poems and short stories may be compared more properly to the work of Franz Kafka, Paul Celan, and Ingeborg Bachmann.

Herod's Children introduces the topic of death, especially that of children and young adults, which is a recurrent theme in Aichinger's work. The death of her grandmother and of her mother's siblings in the Holocaust haunted Aichinger, mainly because of the senselessness and brutality—the novel's young protagonist, Ellen, is torn apart by a grenade; her friend Bibi who had been hiding for six weeks is found and savagely beaten by police guards before being deported; and Ellen's grandmother dies a painful death when she commits suicide by poison. In Aichinger's later work her preoccupation with death expresses her criticism of postwar Germany and Austria, still poisoned by Nazi ideology, and of a society that, when forced to come to terms with the horrors of the Holocaust, too often denied it had taken place or attempted to excuse in various ways its barbarity. Aichinger depicts postwar German society as dangerously shallow in character, its identity either defined by outlived traditional values, especially in the relationship between men and women ("Mondgeschichte" ["Moonstory"]), or by its rejection of change and a consequent sterility in every aspect of life ("Seegeister" ["Ghosts on the Lake"]). Society's lack of values and loss of identity is the topic of "Der Gefesselte" ("The Bound Man") and "Seegeister," the story of a woman who will disintegrate if she takes off her sunglasses, which shield her from the reality of life.

In a number of stories where the protagonists—often children—oppose the status quo, they are defeated. The young boy in the story "Das Plakat" ("The Advertisement"), terrified at the stagnation of his life, wants change as does the young girl in the story. Both are run over by a train as they seek death willingly once they realize they are condemned to a life of noncommunication in an adult world devoid of spiritual values. In "Mein Vater aus Stroh" ("My Father of Straw"), the father figure is represented as ineffectual, and his daughter, in a reversal of roles, takes on the task of a nurturing parent. Aichinger suggests that the death of the two children in "Das Plakat"—as well as that of Ellen in Herod's Children and her other young protagonists—preserves in some way their innocence and hope for a better life. This seems paradoxical, but it is Aichinger's belief that through death a new language and a world of new values may be created; her literary technique, in part, reflects her transformation of the death-and-resurrection theme. The best example of this is found in "Spiegelgeschichte" ("Story in a Mirror"), in which a young woman who dies from complications following an abortion comes alive at the moment of her burial. An anonymous person tells the woman's life story, and her sterility is underlined through the killing of her unborn child. When the woman reaches babyhood the narrator talks about the difficulty in forgetting how to talk, thus hinting at the necessity of learning a new, more meaningful language. Paradoxically, the moment of the woman's birth coincides with the moment she is pronounced dead by those surrounding her in her death agony. The last words of the story demonstrate the fact, though, that only a few understand this message:

"'It's the end' say the ones standing behind you, 'she is dead!"'

"Quiet! Let them talk!"

Shedding the old life, Aichinger suggests, enables one to find new words and new values. Aware, however, of the difficulty in making her solution germane to society's ills, she later developed further in her writings the symbolic and mystical aspects of her style and vision that were already present in Herod's Children. Her characters now inhabit a world where the mundane and the logical are subsumed by the magical and the grotesque ("Eliza, Eliza," "Mein gruener Esel" ["My Green Donkey"], "Die Puppe" ["The Doll"], "Die Maus" ["The Mouse"]). In trying to escape the horrors of her youth and the grim reality of a postwar German society still not rid of its Nazi past, Aichinger created so private and personal a literary world that it is esoteric even to those who are her initiates.

—Renate Benson

See the essay on Herod's Children.