On 22 April 1932 Hermann Broch lectured on Joyce in Vienna.
Broch’s lecture, ‘James Joyce und die Gegenwart’ (‘James Joyce and the Present Age’) was the first major essay on Joyce’s Ulysses in German by an author whose own work was influenced by Joyce’s techniques. When Broch was imprisoned in 1938, Joyce was among those who acted to secure his release.
Born in 1886 into a Jewish family, Broch worked for years for the family textile firm. He sold the firm when he was in his forties so he could study philosophy at the University of Vienna, and in 1932 he published his first philosophical novel, Die Schlafwandler (The Sleepwalkers). The novel is heavily influenced by the techniques Joyce used in Ulysses.
Broch gave his lecture on Joyce at the Wiener Volkshochschule in celebration of Joyce’s fiftieth birthday. He compared Joyce’s Ulysses to Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre, and referred to Ulysses as a “totality,” that is as encompassing and epitomising the spirit of the age. Broch saw Ulysses as bringing together different aspects of the times, from psychology and science to modern painting and music, in something like the style of a Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art), thus providing a total view of the early twentieth century.
Daniel Brody, publisher of the German translation of Ulysses, sent Joyce a copy of Broch’s lecture in June 1933. Brody later published Broch’s novel Der Tod des Vergil (The Death of Virgil), and the two maintained an extensive correspondence. An extended version of the April 1932 lecture, James Joyce und die Gegenwart – Rede zu Joyces 50. Geburtstag, was published as a 32-page booklet in 1936 by Herbert Reichner Verlag, Vienna.
Broch was arrested and imprisoned in Altaussee after the Anschluss in March 1938, but was released following intervention on his behalf by friends and supporters, including Joyce. On Bloomsday, 16 June 1938, Joyce was able to write to Brody that a contact in the French Foreign Office had told him that Broch had been given permission to enter France, and that the French Consul General in Vienna had been informed of this. Joyce also mentions that there are two others in similar situations that he is trying to help.
In July Broch was able to leave Austria and he moved first to England where he received assistance from the PEN Club of London. He then moved to Scotland, and finally to America where he received several honours including a Guggenheim Scholarship, a Rockefeller Fellowship at Princeton, and an Honorary Fellowship at Yale.
From 1938 he worked on his last and greatest novel, Der Tod des Vergil (The Death of Virgil), published in German and in English translation in 1945. The novel concerns that last hours of the poet Virgil and in structure and technique is very similar to Joyce’s work.
Hermann Broch died in 1951.
Sources & Further Reading:
Bahr, Eberhard: The Novel as Archive – The Genesis, Reception and Criticism of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre, Rochester, New York: Camden House, 1998.
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. III, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.
Leernout, Geert, & Wim Van Mierlo (eds): The Reception of James Joyce in Europe, London: Continuum, 2004.
Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.