Saturday, May 2, 2015

Franz Nabl and the Austrian P.E.N. Club

I would like to take a break from my series on Francis Stevens and write a little on Franz Nabl and the Austrian P.E.N. Club. There are actually two tellers of weird tales in this story, one at the beginning and one near the end. Franz Nabl comes at the beginning.

I have written about Franz Nabl before, on October 24, 2013. You can read that article by clicking here. Lars Dangel provided the information that linked Franz Habl, the name listed in Jaffery and Cook's index to the writers and artists in Weird Tales, to Franz Nabl, the real Austrian author. Once you know his real name, it's easy to find information on him.

According to Herbert Herzmann in Major Figures of Austrian Literature: The Interwar Years 1918-1938 (1995), Franz Nabl was born on July 16, 1883, in Litschau, Bohemia, now in Austria. (In my earlier article, I had his birthplace as Lautschin, Austria-Hungary, now Loučeň, a city in the Czech Republic. That information came from the German version of Wikipedia.) Nabl's father, also named Franz, was the manager of an estate owned by the German Princely House of Thurn und Taxis. The elder Franz retired early and acquired his own estate, Gstettenhof, in Lower Austria. That's where Franz Nabl the son spent most of his childhood.

Franz Nabl studied law at Vienna University but left before attaining his degree. In 1905 (according to Mr. Hertzmann), he married Hermengild Lampa and about that time became a freelance writer. Nabl suffered from poor health, thus avoiding military service during the Great War. He was editor of Grazer Tagblatt from 1924 to 1927, but the success of a play freed him from the need for regular work and he returned to freelance writing. Mr. Herzmann describes the main theme and thrust of Nabl's work:
Most of his narratives tell of the attempt of an individual to free himself or herself from the restrictions of the environment in order to achieve something like autonomy, autarky, self-sufficiency, or freedom . . . . The notion of "Wiedergeburt" (rebirth) plays a decisive role in [his work]. [One of his characters explains that] each one of us . . . is sooner or later faced with the decision of whether to undergo rebirth. If we decide for it, we must annihilate ("vernichten") all remains of our former self. (1)
Franz Nabl wrote nineteen plays and books published from 1905 to 1990. He died on January 19, 1974, in Graz, at age ninety.

I am revisiting the biography of Franz Nabl, whose main body of work was published before Word  War II, because of a controversy of today, in fact, of this week. Nabl was a member of the Austrian P.E.N. Club, a branch of the international organization of poets, essayists, and novelists. In May 1933--eighty-two years ago this month--the International P.E.N. Club held its 11th annual congress in Ragusa, Italy, now Dubrovnik, Croatia. Earlier that month, the German Student Union had burned thousands of books in Berlin.
When the Austrian PEN delegation introduced a resolution condemning the students' action [wrote Donald G. Daviau], the German representatives walked out of the meeting in protest, accompanied by the Austrians Grete von Urbanitzky, head of the Austrian group, Felix Salten, the publisher Paul Zsolnay, Egon Caesar Corti[,] who even at this early juncture was a convinced National Socialist, and others. (2)
The split became permanent the following month when a number of pro-Austrian members of the Austrian P.E.N. Club passed a resolution "defending intellectual freedom and condemning the abolition of human rights and the persecution of writers in Nazi Germany." (3) A dozen and a half (or more) writers resigned from the club in protest. Franz Nabl was among them. Although Nabl never joined the Nazi party,
there is no doubt that he allowed the new regime [after the Anschluss in 1938] to support and use him, at least partly because of the views he held at the time. (4)
Mr. Herzmann described those views as "increasingly authoritarian and even reactionary" as the 1930s progressed. Although Nabl's reputation was restored somewhat after the war, it will probably always exist under the shadow of Nazism.

This week, on May 5, 2015, at the PEN Literary Gala in New York City, PEN America will bestow upon the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award. You would think that would not be a controversial award, but we now live in an age in which all things are politicized. One hundred forty-five members of PEN have signed a letter objecting to the award, believing, I suppose, that continuing to exercise one's freedom of expression under very serious threats of violence that prove to be more than mere threats does not constitute sufficient courage. Novelist Peter Carey specifically objects to "PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognize its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population." (5) Just as the pro-German writers of the Austrian P.E.N. Club decided in favor of the suppression of free thought and free expression in 1933, so, too, do 145 members of PEN International today. Incredibly, Joyce Carol Oates is among them.

Joyce Carol Oates was born on June 16, 1937, in Lockport, New York, and received her bachelor's degree from Syracuse University (1960) and her master's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1961). Her first book was a collection of short stories entitled By the North Gate, published in 1963. Ms. Oates is considered a mainstream writer, but like innumerable writers in the American mainstream, she has delved into the Gothic tradition. (I'm not sure that American literature is separable from Gothicism.) The Internet Speculative Fiction Database lists her stories and essays in the fields of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. They go back to her first published work. In 1997, Ecco Press published Tales of H.P. Lovecraft, selected and introduced by Ms. Oates. Her connections to Weird Tales go deeper than that, with works of fiction and non-fiction appearing in the newer incarnations of the magazine.

Peter Carey it seems has succumbed to politically correct idiocy. Joyce Carol Oates' comments on the PEN controversy are pretty mild in comparison, but I think they also represent a misunderstanding that people have about cartoonists and humorists in general. (6) I won't go into any great length. I will just say that it's obvious to me that Charlie Hebdo is not racist (the leftist's favorite cry), that in fact it is an equal-opportunity offender, and that everybody ought to just calm down and get a sense of humor. The next thing you know, people will start calling Blazing Saddles racist and want to shoot holes into Mel Brooks, one of our great national treasures. But then there have always been people who have wanted to shoot holes into people like Mel Brooks (and Felix Salten and Paul Zsolnay and Joyce Carol Oates' grandmother). In 1933, they were called Nazis. Today they go by a different name. Then and now, they had supporters, defenders, and apologists. It's just too bad that writers--supposedly thoughtful, well-educated, intelligent people--are among them.

(1) "Franz Nabl" by Herbert Herzmann in Major Figures of Austrian Literature: The Interwar Years 1918-1938, edited by Donald G. Daviau (Ariadne Press, 1995), p. 299.
(2) From "Introduction" by Donald G. Daviau in Major Figures of Austrian Literature: The Interwar Years 1918-1938 (Ariadne Press, 1995), p. 62.
(3) Ditto, p. 63.
(4) Herzmann, p. 318.
(5) From "Six PEN Members Decline Gala After Award for Charlie Hebdo" by Jennifer Schuessler on the website of PEN America, here.
(6) You can read her little tweets about the whole PEN/Charlie Hebdo affair in an article called "Joyce Carol Oates, Francine Prose, and Salman Rushdie Speak Out about Charlie Hebdo PEN Award" by Isabella Biedenharn on the website of Entertainment (Apr. 30, 2015), here.

You can read more about the controversy on my blog, Indiana Illustrators and Hoosier Cartoonists, here.

Franz Nabl (1883-1974)

Copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

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