Thomas Bernhard

December 05, 2007
by findingDulcinea Staff
Bernhard was a farm dwelling novelist, playwright, and poet who was often criticized in Austria because of his outspoken views regarding his homeland. Despite these controversial beliefs, he was highly regarded abroad and earned himself a great literary reputation.


In his last will and testament, Thomas Bernhard prohibited any new productions of his plays and unpublished work within Austria. After his death, his half brother and sole heir revoked that rule, demonstrating his belief that Bernhard was a crucial player in 20th-century European literature and should be read by as many people as possible.
Books and Writers, with its collection of bios and reading lists, provides one of the best capsule biographies of Bernhard, pulling information from peers and literary predeccesors, to give a personal view of the writer and his work from the perspective of fans and critics.
A long review-essay in a 2006 issue of the New Yorker has lot of details about Bernhard’s life and works and is a good introduction to both.
Bernhard’s house, a farmstead in Ohlsdorf, Upper Austria, is a beautiful retreat now, preserved with the help of the Thomas Bernhard Foundation. Learn more about this writer’s escape and view pictures of the property through the foundation’s site.
Bernhard’s mandate that his work could not be published or recited in the country was rescinded by Bernhard’s half brother, his heir. The Thomas Bernhard Foundation explains how its projects helped Bernhard’s work gain fuller exposure both in and out of Austria in the 1990s.
An anonymous blog in honor of Thomas Bernhard presents dozens of thoughtful passages from Bernhard’s short and book-length prose. The blog’s creator has arranged the passages according to topic, assigning the topics himself: “Walking,” “Freedom,” and “Books.” The last topic shows Bernhard teasing the interviewer into thinking he doesn’t read. The original sources, when available, are also linked.

In Dialogue

Sign and Sight, a German organization that translates articles by foreign authors into English also features interviews and other expository pieces on its Web site. Don’t miss the 1986 interview, “Thomas Bernhard for Life,” where the author discusses the meaning of translation, being “taken seriously abroad,” and getting to know the world.
Niklas Frank, a German writer for the magazine Stern, interviewed Bernhard at his farmstead in 1982. Reprinting only Bernhard’s words, the site lets us glimpse the humor, candor, and acerbic wit of the writer.
The German novelist Asta Scheib interviewed Bernhard in 1986, questioning the writer on the prospect of having a family, being accepted as a writer by his home country, and depending on others for inspiration and stability.
“In a sanatorium—lungs drowning in sputum, aged 19 and expected to die—he began to write.” Ten years after his death in 1999, Spike magazine’s Stephen Mitchelmore reflected on the life of the author, his influence, and what chronic tuberculosis did for Bernhard’s writing.

The Homeland

In his last will and testament, Bernhard made the controversial decision to prohibit publication of his works in Austria. Cabinet magazine, a quarterly arts magazine based in Brooklyn, New York, discusses Bernhard’s complex relationship with his mother country; one characterized by the dichotomy of an influential conservative government and a culture that wants to celebrate the country’s past artistic accomplishments, subversive or not.

Now in Print

Bernhard is the author of dozens of works of short fiction, novellas, novels, plays, and essays. Two of his most impressive books are below.
The Voice Imitator, published in English in 1998, is Bernhard’s collection of short prose, and some of his wittiest, most accessible writing. Many of the stories are a mere paragraph long, but still contain the writer’s darkly pessimistic fingerprints. There are 104 stories in all, none longer than one page.
The Loser, Bernhard’s 1982 novel inspired by the life of Glenn Gould, is a seminal book that charts the ambition, failure, and success of three young men, of whom Gould is the luckiest. Bernhard uses his story to weave a grim, existential study of the exhausting, fascinating life of the virtuoso.

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