None but the Brave (Leutnant Gustl) by Arthur Schnitzler, 1901
NONE BUT THE BRAVE (Leutnant Gustl)
by Arthur Schnitzler, 1901
Arthur Schnitzler wrote his most famous novella, None but the Brave (Leutnant Gustl), within the span of six days in July 1900. The story appeared in the Viennese newspaper Neue Freie Presse on 25 December 1900 and caused a scandal. The officers' corps of the Austro-Hungarian army felt insulted by the novella about a 24-year-old lieutenant stationed in Vienna. The conservative military paper Reichswehr printed a fierce attack on Schnitzler, and it was generally expected that as a reserve officer Schnitzler would defend his honor by challenging his attacker to a duel. When it became clear at last that Schnitzler had no intention to do so—one point of his story having been precisely the mindlessness of duels—a military court adjudicating matters of honor convened and relieved Schnitzler of his officer's title. It was an extraordinary step, but the judges felt that Schnitzler's disrespectful fiction as well as his subsequent cowardice called for such a severe punishment. The honor of the Habsburg army was at stake, challenged by a Jewish intellectual.
Schnitzler's story, which consists entirely of Lieutenant Gustl's interior monologue, was indeed designed to expose an unglamorous core concealed beneath a glittery uniform. Schnitzler's narrative form, the monologue novella, which he thus introduced into German literature, fits its function perfectly. The reader is allowed immediate access to the protagonist's thoughts, even those Gustl might wish to hide. Rather than criticize army officers through an omniscient narrator, Schnitzler creates an effect of self-revelation, which magnifies Gustl's shortcomings. Schnitzler's interior monologue differs from James Joyce's stream of consciousness through greater narrative coherence. The sentences are better ordered; but they still resemble spoken language in their simple, paratactic structure and by being sometimes left incomplete. Unlike Joyce, Schnitzler keeps his readers informed about his character's actions through sentences such as this: "Let's see what time it is … perhaps I shouldn't look at my watch at a serious concert like this."
Gustl's monologue begins in a concert hall. Bored by the music, he fumbles for his watch. The opening sentence—"How much longer is this thing going to last?"—is one of the story's leitmotifs. Gustl had recently challenged to a duel a doctor who had remarked that not everyone who joined the army did so to serve the fatherland. The duel is to take place in the afternoon of the next day, and Gustl is now killing time. The novella is focused on Gustl's waiting, on his wavering between impatience and boredom. On one level Schnitzler thus comments on the uselessness of the army; on another level the story's structure parodies the Catholic view of life, which is a waiting for redemption from death. This is indeed what Gustl is waiting for. As soon as the concert is over, he hurries to retrieve his coat and gets into an argument with a bulky man waiting in line. Gustl tells the man to shut up and recognizes him too late as the baker who frequents the same coffeehouse as Gustl. The man, furious at Gustl's insult, takes a firm hold of Gustl's sword, the symbol of his prestige, power, and masculinity, and threatens to break it if Gustl does not "hold his peace." Horrified at the baker's insult, but unwilling to risk a scandal, Gustl backs down. The baker leaves, and Gustl looks around to see whether their quarrel had been overheard. Gustl's anxious concern about the opinions of other people is the story's second leitmotif, which appears as early as the third sentence. Recurring phrases like "But no one will see me" or "Heavens, I hope nobody heard it" structure the text and alert the reader to an incongruence between Gustl's outer and inner worlds. He does not want to be found out. The idea of honor, however, implies a congruence between appearance and reality, between inside and outside. In the defense of honor an incongruence is rectified. In the course of the story, which can also be read as Gustl's pursuit of honor, the reader learns that Gustl's notion of honor is simply a concern for appearances. He is all shell and no core. He thinks in clichés and stereotypes that show him to be a true product of his time and his place; he lacks all individuality.
Left behind in the concert hall, Gustl is dumbfounded. He cannot challenge the baker to a duel, for, being neither an aristocrat, officer, nor academic, the baker cannot offer "satisfaction." The only way to restore his honor is to kill himself. Gustl wanders aimlessly around the city reasoning with himself that suicide is his only option, since even if nobody witnessed his humiliation, he himself would know: "And even if [the baker] had a stroke tonight, I'd know it….I'd know it. And I am not the man to continue wearing a uniform and carrying a sword if such a disgrace is on me!…So, I've got to do it, and finished—There's really nothing to it." During his peregrinations throughout Vienna, Gustl's mood changes from aggression to sentimentality. He reviews his life and thus reveals not only his prosaic reasons for joining the army but also his sexual promiscuity and love of gambling, vices then half-condoned in officers by Austrian society. Politically, Gustl embraces militarism, anti-Semitism, and antisocialism; he worships Richard Wagner and hates intellectuals. Gustl's aggressive views, however, turn out to be a defense mechanism; he has always felt second-class. The pose of aggression protects him, just as a career in the army compensated for his inferiority complex.
When morning comes, Gustl walks into his old coffeehouse. He learns by chance that the baker has died of a stroke during the night. Overjoyed to be so unexpectedly redeemed, Gustl vows "to make mince meat" of the doctor in the afternoon.
Like his character Gustl, Schnitzler's story is clearly a product of its time and place. Its unique narrative form, Gustl's free-associating interior monologue, was chosen by a Viennese writer who was equally aware of the first stirrings of Freudian psychoanalysis, as of Ernst Mach's then celebrated philosophy of impressionism. Schnitzler's monologue novella, which grants the reader no access to Gustl's outer world, illustrates dramatically Mach's view that the outer world has no reality independent from what is registered in an individual's sense impressions. In short, Gustl is imprisoned in a world defined by the limitations of his body, which he cannot transcend.