Aug 2008 Journal

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Viennese tart

This is not a recipe for something sweet although it is about ‘Das Süsse Mäderl’. It is probably the first article in this publication about pornography.
Some time ago I was asked by a friend of a friend to help her clear the house of a German scientist who had died, as she was the executor and knew no German. I think it was really to help decide what should be done with technical books and papers but there was also quite a varied collection of books. Many of these have now found homes in educational libraries.
One book intrigued me. I had vaguely heard of it but had never seen a copy. This was Josefine Mutzenbacher, subtitled The Autobiography of a Viennese Prostitute As Told By Herself, published anonymously. I am not an expert in this type of stuff and have often been told that it’s really rather dull and repetitive. After all, there is a limited amount that even the most fertile imagination can produce about sex. I looked at some of it and extended my vocabulary. The nicely brought-up, average-middle-class eight-year-old Viennese boy is not normally exposed to the words used here. I wonder whether my mother knew these words as she was Hungarian. If my father (brought up in Leopoldstadt and the Austrian army) knew them, he never uttered them in my presence. There is an entertaining glossary at the end entitled Beiträge zur Ädöologie des Wienerischen and written in phonetic Viennese, which taught me some more.
The text was originally published in Vienna in 1906. This particular edition, proudly stating that it is the full and uncut text, was printed in Munich in February 1970 and gives its publishing history as ‘1st impression of 5,000 copies October 1969, 2nd impression of 30,000 copies November 1969, 3rd impression of 20,000 copies February 1970’. Clearly, selling like hot cakes. On the back of the title page is a statement to the effect that the purchaser has assured the bookseller that he is over 21, has promised to keep it away from young persons and all who might be adversely influenced by the text, and will not lend it to anyone.
A newspaper cutting dated February 1971 was inside the book, reporting that a Munich court had ruled that this book, as well as a companion volume and one by Apollinaire, had been found to have no artistic merit or social-history value and was to be banned. This was more than a year after the citizens of Munich had started buying it in large numbers. It was also more than ten years after the Lady Chatterley trial in the UK had decided that D. H. Lawrence had written a literary work that could be read by the general public, in spite of its four-letter words. I had not realised that the Germans were so prude in comparison to Britons.
The editor’s foreword was very instructive in another way, as it told us about the author of this anonymous text. Imagine my surprise when the originator was revealed as Felix Salten. I have probed a bit and my literary friends tell me that Felix Salten, who was born Siegmund Salzmann in Budapest but grew up in Vienna, was actually quite well-known for his pornography, written under a variety of pseudonyms (always with the initials FS). Certainly, his children’s book Bambi, about a young fawn, should perhaps be viewed in a rather different light! I have not kept the book but given it away ...

Paul Samet

previous article:Love in the time of reason (theatre review)
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