Literary Landscape by Gerhard Ruiss

First Beginnings

Before the 20th century, parallel developments of separate national literatures shaped a diverse literary landscape in the languages of the Danube monarchy. At the same time, independent media and publishing houses were lacking. 

The most important representatives of German-language literature in the Danube Monarchy in the first half of the 19th century, Nikolaus Lenau (1802-1850), Adalbert Stifter (1805-1868) or Anastasius Grün (1808-1876) came from the Banat (Romania), Bohemia (the Czech Republic) or Ljubljana (Slovenia). Their books were printed and published in Germany, since censorship largely restricted independent book publications and their distribution in Austria. These conditions, as well as the constant confrontations of Austrian theater authors with the censorship of the Austrian Metternich regime (1809-1848), which obstructed the performances of Grillparzer's, Nestroy's and other playwrights' plays to the best of its ability, can be seen, along with the protest against censorship of a petition jointly drawn up in 1845 by some 90 well-known book and theater authors, as early self-confident gestures against political paternalism and instrumentalization. They were preceded by a sensational publishing feat undertaken for reasons of popular education: Thomas von Trattner (1717-1798), the greatest pirate printer in the history of German-language publishing, reprinted the German classics in pirated versions in Vienna in the second half of the 18th century with the consent of the reigning Archduchess of Austria, Empress Maria Theresa (1717-1780). They appeared in defanged versions. Book and media censorship functioned without loopholes due to the obligation to license publishing activities as well as the obligation to submit before publication and the control at import. Until well into the 20th century, written literary products in and from Austria therefore remained a matter for German publishers, and only dramatic literature had a home in Vienna, the capital of the royal residence, which had been elevated to the status of a "theater city.