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The Afterlife of Austria-Hungary

The Afterlife of Austria-Hungary: The Image of the Habsburg Monarchy in Interwar Europe

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    The Afterlife of Austria-Hungary
    Book Description:

    The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 was just one link in a chain of events leading to World War I and the downfall of the Austro-Hungarian empire. By 1918, after nearly four hundred years of rule, the Habsburg monarchy was expunged in an instant of history. Remarkably, despite tales of decadence, ethnic indifference, and a failure to modernize, the empire enjoyed a renewed popularity in interwar narratives. Today, it remains a crucial point of reference for Central European identity, evoking nostalgia among the nations that once dismembered it.The Afterlife of Austria-Hungaryexamines histories, journalism, and literature in the period between world wars to expose both the positive and the negative treatment of the Habsburg monarchy following its dissolution and the powerful influence of fiction and memory over history. Originally published in Polish, Adam Kozuchowski's study analyzes the myriad factors that contributed to this phenomenon. Chief among these were economic depression, widespread authoritarianism on the continent, and the painful rise of aggressive nationalism. Many authors of these narratives were well-known intellectuals who yearned for the high culture and peaceable kingdom of their personal memory.Kozuchowski contrasts these imaginaries with the causal realities of the empire's failure. He considers the aspirations of Czechs, Poles, Romanians, Hungarians, and Austrians, and their quest for autonomy or domination over their neighbors, coupled with the wave of nationalism spreading across Europe. Kozuchowski then dissects the reign of the legendary Habsburg monarch, Franz Joseph, and the lasting perceptions that he inspired.To Kozuchowski, the interwar discourse was a reaction to the monumental change wrought by the dissolution of Austria-Hungary and the fear of a history lost. Those displaced at the empire's end attempted, through collective (and selective) memory, to reconstruct the vision of a once great multinational power. It was an imaginary that would influence future histories of the empire and even became a model for the European Union.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7917-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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    (pp. 1-22)

    Austria-Hungary ceased to exist almost a hundred years ago. The oldest generation of Central Europeans can remember it from their parents’ and grandparents’ stories. The majority of them learned about it in high school and associates the monarchy with its few royals, particularly the late Franz Joseph and his eccentric wife Elisabeth. Those figures, already famous during their lifetime, entered the realm of popular culture and remain recognizable in most countries of Europe, providing a stable income for the souvenir industry in what used to be their empire and inspiration for screenwriters on both sides of the Atlantic. Naturally, the...

    (pp. 23-65)

    The following three chapters of this book discuss three genres of historical writing about Austria-Hungary: academic historiography, political essays, and literary fiction. One of my goals is to demonstrate that the interpretations expressed by these genres are complementary, and that they fuse in an image of the monarchy that would not be complete if we ignored any of them. I begin with historiography for two reasons. First, academic history may seem to many readers to be the most difficult to get through—and I cannot sincerely deny this intuition. Indeed, interwar historians of Austria-Hungary fiercely debated numerous issues that have...

    (pp. 66-107)

    The frontiers of historiography as a genre have always been leaky. Interwar historians wrote multivolume books, just as their novelist contemporaries did, but their language had not yet been as professionalized as it is today, and they addressed a broad public of nonspecialists as well. They used standard vocabulary and phraseology and rarely tortured their readers with methodological problems and sophisticated terminology. They did not hesitate to include extensive quotations in Latin and French, but knowledge of these languages was still mandatory for alumni of the classicalgymnasia.Familiarity with a number of literary classics, particularly Goethe and Schiller in...

    (pp. 108-148)

    Many literary theorists emphasize that the most characteristic feature of literary fiction is that it constantly deceives us and questions our capacity to understand the world around us—or, more precisely, that the world of fiction is not like ours. In this chapter I propose a more naïve reading of literature dealing with the Austro-Hungarian past, arguing that it can tell us a lot about past realities, and that its authors were making real claims about them. The monarchy, after all, passed away before the postmodern era, and this was the way in which most readers interpreted the texts I...

    (pp. 149-165)

    In narratives about Austria-Hungary the person of Emperor Franz Joseph is omnipresent. Apart from his numerous biographers, he inspired political and cultural historians, essayists, authors of fiction, and memoirists. It may seem that for interwar authors, writing on any aspect of the Austro-Hungarian past without discussing his role was scarcely possible. Indeed, it appears that he symbolized his country and his time in a much more general sense than any other monarch. Such popular labels as “Napoleonic France” or “Victorian England” designate a particular period, a political tendency, or a mentality; in case of Austria-Hungary the person of Franz Joseph...

    (pp. 166-190)

    It is time to comment again on the objectives of this book. Its purpose has been to reconstruct interwar discourse on Austria-Hungary and determine the mechanisms of its development, particularly the flow of ideas between various genres. I have intended to identify the points that make this discourse exceptional and those that are typical for historical thinking of the first half of the last century. I have not attempted to verify what interwar authors wrote on Austria-Hungary. It does not really matter for the purposes of this analysis whether they were right or wrong in their opinions on the monarchy....