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Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830-1916) Austria's premiere woman author was born Countess Dubsky at Zdislawitz Castle nea r Kremsier in Moravia. Much to the disapproval of her family, she began writing in her childhood. This was considered an unseemly activity for a noblewoman. When Ebner-Eschenbach was seventeen her stepmother sent her verses to the well-known Austrian writer Franz Grillparzer for an appraisal of her talent, hoping for a negative assessment. Instead, Grillparzer wrote back complimenting the girl's "power of expression" and "talent for precise judgment." Heartened by these words from a literary figure she admired and respected, Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach settled on her career, no longer so hindered by family censure. The milieu of her best known works, the stories and novels, was provincial Moravia during the pre-March period and the urban life of the petit bourgeoisie and noble classes in Vienna. She carefully examined the daily routine of the "little man and woman." The plots are often based on the author's memories of her youth and provide a sharp, but humane insight into castle and village relationships in the Biedermeier period. As the descendent of Saxon and Czech ancestors, first learning the Czech and French languages, then German, she typified the multi-nationality of the Hapsburg Empire in the first half of the nineteenth century. The story collection, Dorf- und Schlossgeschichten (1883), included tales of provincial Moravia. From a Czech nursemaid, she had learned the legends and folklore of the area. A story from this collection, "Jacob Szela," sympathetically described the oppressed peasantry of neighboring Galicia and the revolt of 1846. Ebner-Eschenbach had studied the background of the uprising for a year before writing the story. She concluded that her own noble class was at fault for the unspeakable poverty of the peasant farmers. Stories like reflected on the changes in the village-manor relationship after the abolition of the robot in 1848. Marie von Ebner-E schenbach seemed to doubt that wealthy farmers were more responsible in their treatment of society's down-and-outers than were the local nobles prior to 1848. She described social injustice, but she focused on the goodness that could be found in representatives of every social class. She believed that inherent human goodness would eventually overcome adversity. At the age of eighteen she had married her cousin Moritz Ebner-Eschenbach. The marriage remained childless. As a married woman, she liv ed alternately at her castle and in Vienna, except for those periods when her husband was assigned to provincial duty. Newly married in the revolutionary year of 1848, she and her seventeen-year-older husband, belonged to a group of aristocrats, who had opposed the Metternich system. They had favored reform in government administration, in the church, and in the army. Her attitude toward moderate reform can be seen in her 1860 drama about the French Revolution, whose heroine, a Girondist, went to the block for her beliefs. Because of its "too true portrayal" of revolution, the work was forbidden publication by Emperor Francis Joseph's censors. Her historical plays were less successful than her realistic novels and short stories. Her works won general acclaim only after 1874. In 1900 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Vienna, the first to be awarded a woman, and died, during World War I, a respected member of Austria's literary elite.
Maria Wagner


Alkemade, Mechtildis. Die Leben- und Weltanschauung der Freifrau Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (Graz: Druckerei- und Verlagsanstalt Heinrich Stiasny's Soöhne, 1935).

Kubelka, Margarete. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach: Portrait einer Dichterin (Bonn: Bund der Vertriebenen, 1980).

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