Preradovic, Paula von (1887–1951)

views updated

Preradovic, Paula von (1887–1951)

Austrian writer whose literary legacy bridged the Slavic and Germanic cultures of Austria and the Balkans and who wrote the words for the Austrian national anthem. Name variations: Paula Preradovic; Paula Molden. Born in Vienna on October 12, 1887; died in Vienna on May 25, 1951; daughter of Dusan von Preradovic; mother's maiden name was Falke; granddaughter of Petar Preradovic (1818–1872), a poet and general in the Austrian Army; had brother Petar; married Ernst Molden (1886–1953, a historian and journalist), in April 1916; children: sons, Fritz and Otto.

Paula von Preradovic was a master of the German language, but culturally she was a product of the multinational Habsburg Empire. Like many Austrians, her ancestry was more Slavic and Latin than it was Germanic, given the fact that her paternal grandfather was the great Croatian poet Petar Preradovic, who combined a career as a general in the Austrian Army with being the most popular poet of the Croatian National Revival. Just as his granddaughter would many decades later, he felt at home in most of the traditions of European literature, translating Czech, French, German, Italian, Polish and Russian Romantic poetry into Croatian. Paula's father, Dusan von Preradovic, a career officer in the Austro-Hungarian Navy, also had strong feelings for Croatian culture and literature, but her mother, born into the aristocratic German-speaking Falke von Lilienstein family, had neither understanding of nor sympathy for either her husband's or her daughter's Croatian pursuits.

Growing up in Vienna in the last years of the 19th century, Paula was exposed to many intellectual and artistic trends. One of the most important influences on her was her aunt, Amalie Falke , then a noted author and strong advocate of women's rights. As a girl, Preradovic was surrounded by the diverse traditions of the Habsburg Empire, including those found in the Croatian port of Pola where her father was stationed. She grew to love the rural regions of Carinthia and Carniola where Slav and Germanic traditions interacted. She also grew to love the beautiful Austrian lakes, particularly the Mondsee where her family had a summer home. Another important influence on her intellectual development was the years spent at the Roman Catholic secondary school Englischen Fräulein, in St. Pölten, Lower Austria. Here she became ever more immersed in the mystical traditions of Austrian Catholicism. Influential too were her contacts with the Catholic writer Enrica von Handel-Mazzetti , who became both friend and patron as Paula's writing career developed. Soon it became clear that Preradovic possessed much more than average literary talent. She began to dream of becoming a famous writer when her verse was praised by such towering literary figures as Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach and Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

In 1913, Paula left Pola for Munich, where she trained as a nurse. Soon, her nursing skills would be of great use, as Europe began to destroy itself in the carnage of World War I. Returning to Vienna, she worked in the emergency military hospital that had been set up within the University of Vienna. She also met and fell in love with a young historian, Dr. Ernst Molden. They were married in April 1916, and over the next years she would give birth to two sons, Otto and Fritz. The newlyweds were spared the trauma of living in Vienna during the last two years of the war. Instead, they lived in Copenhagen and The Hague, two neutral nations to which Ernst had been assigned on diplomatic missions.

Only in 1920 did Paula, her husband, and their young son Otto return to Vienna. The once-proud imperial city was now a demoralized collection of starving people uncertain of their future. With limited prospects as a diplomat and a bleak future in academia, Ernst decided to enter the world of journalism. Within a few years, he would have a flourishing career as a member of the editorial board of Vienna's most distinguished newspaper, the voice of middle-class liberalism Neue Freie Presse. During these years, Preradovic divided her time between raising her sons (Fritz was born in 1924) and writing. She and her husband also delighted in serving as hosts at one of Vienna's most important intellectual salons. Most of the city's artists looked forward to an invitation to attend a reception at the Moldens' spacious 14-room apartment in Vienna's Döbling district. All of the important new books, musical compositions, films, and works of art produced in Central Europe in the 1920s and 1930s would be vigorously discussed and argued over in these rooms.

Paula and her husband traveled often during these years. They were particularly drawn to the former Austrian regions which had become part of the new South Slavic kingdom of Yugoslavia. There, Preradovic developed strong friendships with some of the country's leading creative spirits, including the sculptor Ivan Mestrovic and the poet Camilla Lucerna . As well, Paula's brother Petar lived there. The geography and culture of this troubled region informed her work. In 1929, her first book of poems appeared

under the title Südlicher Sommer (Southern Summer). In 1933, Dalmatinischen Sonnette (Dalmatian Sonnets) was published, followed in 1936 by Lob Gottes im Gebirge (Praising God in the Mountains). These three volumes were rich evocations of the Adriatic coast she had known as a child in prewar Austria, with a sparkling Adriatic Sea and Croatian cities such as Trieste, Pola, and Ragusa (now Dubrovnik) serving as living links between the region's varied peoples and cultures.

By the late 1930s, Preradovic had achieved a solid reputation in Austrian literary circles, but during this decade it was a writer's political affiliations, not necessarily the quality of their writing, that played a crucial role in deciding how their work was judged. In the case of Preradovic, a conservative traditionalist strongly linked to the multinational culture of the Habsburgs, her writings were anathema not only to those affiliated with the political Left, but even more so to Austria's Nazis, whose theory of Aryan supremacy made them rabid racists and who regarded the Habsburg era as one of Germanic subordination to "inferior" Slavs, Latins, and Jews, as well as to Roman Catholicism's cosmopolitan values. The German annexation (Anschluss) of Austria, in March 1938, was a catastrophe for Preradovic and her entire family. Her husband and sons, who shared her cosmopolitan ideals, were demoralized by the Nazi takeover. Ernst's position at the Neue Freie Presse soon ended, given the fact that Austria's new Nazi overlords had long regarded that newspaper as the embodiment of "Jewish domination" over Austrian public opinion and intellectual life. Fritz and Otto's Jewish friends were forced to flee for their lives, and regimentation replaced easy-going Viennese attitudes.

Despite—or possibly even because of—the nature of the world around her, in the late 1930s Preradovic created what would become one of her most impressive literary legacies, her one and only novel Pave und Pero. Published in Salzburg in 1940, Pave und Pero was a historical narrative based on a family tragedy that had long fascinated Paula. Her grandfather Petar von Preradovic ("Pero") was happily married to Paolina de Ponte , a woman whose roots were distinguished, since she could claim descent from one of the most ancient Italian noble families of Istria. Paolina, known to her husband as "Pave," was the mother of a large, thriving family when tragedy struck with the death of little Costja, her favorite child, from whooping cough. Convinced that she was to blame, Pave did not confess to her husband about the details of Costja's death; she quickly found herself caught in a web of lies and committed suicide by drowning. In her novel, Preradovic used extensive correspondence between Pave and Pero that had been preserved by her aunt, the Croatian painter Zora von Preradovic (1867–1927), and which she inherited upon Zora's death.

Upon its publication, Pave und Pero received excellent reviews in Austria and enjoyed bestseller status; there have since been at least seven printings. Besides being an evocative novel about a family tragedy, it also appealed to many Austrians who were becoming disillusioned with Nazi rule and increasingly drawn to the traditions of the Habsburg past, when different nationalities found it possible to live together in peace. For some, reading Pave und Pero was a small but principled act of resistance to "alien, Prussian" Nazism. Even though Preradovic was clearly biased in favor of the values of Old Austria, which was by no means an ideal society, in 1940 a significant number of Austrians found themselves responding positively to the book's implied criticism of Nazi-ruled Austria. The author was particularly pleased when a Croatian translation of her novel appeared in print in 1940.

The war years proved to be difficult for the Molden family. Their anti-Nazism was no secret. Fritz Molden, after failing to escape to England via the Netherlands, returned to Vienna only to find himself denounced to the Gestapo. In prison and then in a concentration camp, Fritz faced bleak prospects until a lawyer who was a family friend secured his release, but Fritz then had to "volunteer" for service on the Russian front. After being wounded, he returned to Germany and in Berlin made contacts with anti-Nazi elements in the military. Over the next few years, he had various close calls, including becoming a key member of Allen Welsh Dulles' spy network (he would later marry Allen's daughter Joan Dulles ) and being sentenced to death by a German court martial in Italy. By the end of the war, Fritz had become chief of a major anti-Nazi resistance group and played a key role in persuading the Allies to stop indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets in Austria. After the failure of the German resistance plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler in July 1944, many anti-Nazis were arrested. Among them were both Paula von Preradovic and her husband. The couple was taken to Vienna Gestapo headquarters, the feared "Metropol," where both were subjected to harsh interrogations that included physical mistreatment. Paula's letters to her sons, which were published after the war, are among the most moving documents to survive from the Austrian resistance movement. Fortunately, both Moldens survived this harrowing experience, and were able to be reunited with their sons soon after the liberation of Vienna. Almost miraculously, all four had survived the Nazi occupation of their beloved nation.

Although her health had been permanently impaired by her experiences as a Nazi prisoner, Preradovic continued to publish after Austria regained its sovereignty in April 1945. In February 1947, her simple but moving lyric "Land der Berge, Land am Strome" ("Land of Mountains, Land of Streams") was officially adopted as the text of Austria's new national anthem. As the nation undertook the difficult task of physical reconstruction (that of moral reconstruction would be deferred until the next generation), Preradovic continued to write thought-provoking works, including the novellas Nach dem Tode (After Death, 1949), Königslegende (Royal Legends, 1950), and Die Verschwörung des Columba (The Conspiracy of Columba, 1951). During the final stages of a long, ultimately terminal illness, she was able to receive an advance copy of her last novella a few days before her death in Vienna on May 25, 1951. On May 29, Paula von Preradovic was buried in Vienna's Zentralfriedhof in a "grave of honor" reserved only for Austria's cultural and political elite. In his obituary, one of Preradovic's oldest friends, Felix Braun, described her simply as being "our greatest woman poet since Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach." Preradovic was honored by Austria with a postage stamp issued on May 17, 1996.


Braun, Felix. Das musische Land: Versuche über Österreichs Landschaft, Geschichte und Kunst. 2nd rev. ed. Vienna: Österreichische Verlagsanstalt, 1970.

Csokor, Franz Theodor. "Paula von Preradovic (1887–1951)," in Neue Österreichische Biographie ab 1815: Grosse Österreicher. Vol. 14. Vienna: Amalthea-Verlag, 1960, pp. 194–197.

Molden, Ernst. Paula von Preradovic: Porträt einer Dichterin. Innsbruck: Österreichische Verlagsanstalt, 1955.

Molden, Fritz. Exploding Star: A Young Austrian Against Hitler. NY: William Morrow, 1979.

Molden, Otto, ed. Autonomie und Kontrolle: Steuerungskrisen der modernen Welt-Europäisches Forum Alpbach 1986. Vienna: Österreichisches College, 1987.

Preradovic, Paula von. Gesammelte Werke. Edited by Kurt Eigl. Vienna: Verlag Fritz Molden, 1967.

——. Meerferne Heimat. Edited by Werner Röttinger. Graz: Stiasny Verlag, 1961.

——. Pave und Pero. Salzburg: Otto Müller Verlag, 1940.

——. Pave i Pero: Roman. Translated by Bozena Begovic. Zagreb: "A. Velzek," 1940.

Reed, W.L., and M.J. Bristow, eds. National Anthems of the World. 9th ed. London: Cassell, 1997.

Schoolfield, G.C. "Paula von Preradovic—An Introduction," in German Life and Letters: A Quarterly Review. New Series. Vol. 7. 1953–54, pp. 285–292.

Vogelsang, Hans. "Paula von Preradovic: Die Dichterin der Ehrfurcht, der Demut und des Glaubens," in Österreich in Geschichte und Literatur. Vol. 10, 1966, pp. 198–206.

Vospernik, Reginald. "Paula von Preradovic: Leben und Werk," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Vienna, 1960.

Wagner, Renate. Heimat bist Du grosser Töchter: Weitere Portraits. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Staatsdruckerei, 1995.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia