Broch, Hermann

views updated


BROCH, HERMANN (1886–1951), Austrian novelist and essayist. Broch was born in Vienna into a Jewish industrialist family. He was educated privately with the intention of getting an administrative position in his father's textile factory. It was not until he was in his forties that he turned to writing. Broch published his first novel, the trilogy Die Schlafwandler (3 vols. 1931/32; The Sleepwalkers,) dealing with the decay of values in Germany in the period between 1888 and 1919. The spread of fascism made Broch abandon his literary projects. He was arrested by the Nazis in 1938. Inspired by the visions of impending death in prison, he wrote a few elegies, which became the core of Der Tod des Vergil (1945; The Death of Virgil), a philosophical novel describing the end of Virgil's life after his return from Greece. Broch's interest in the collective psychological sources of Nazism was later expressed in Massenpsychologie (1951) and in Die Schuldlosen (1950). Broch traces the rise of Nazism to political apathy and the psychological disorientation of European society. His characters have lost their values; they are outsiders in their own life. Die Verzauberung (1976) also deals with mass psychology. The story is set in a small Tyrolean mountain village where farmers believe the promises of a fanatical fundamentalist and participate in the ritual murder of a young girl. Broch worked on the book periodically from the 1930s, but it was left unfinished. Broch's literary style has a lyrical, almost hymn-like quality. His writing is pervaded by the sense of man's mortality; his characters struggle to overcome their constant awareness of their inevitable end. However, he perceives a redeeming spark of divinity which breaks through the contemporary decline of values and allows new hope to spring from apparent despair. On the eve of a planned return to Europe from the United States, where he had settled, Broch died in 1951. His Gesammelte Werke were published in 10 volumes (1952–61).


R. Koester, Hermann Broch (1987); Luetzeler, P.M., Die Entropie des Menschen (2000); E. Kiss, Philosophie und Literatur des negativen Universalismus (2001).

[Sol Liptzin /

Ann-Kristin Koch (2nd ed.)]