03 March 2009

"Dream Story" by Arthur Schnitzler

Dream Story
Written by Arthur Schnitzler
Translated from the German by Otto P. Schinnerer
Date of Publication: 1 June 2003 
Cover Price: $12.95
167 pages

Originally published in 1926, Dream Story (Traumnovelle) was the basis for Stanley Kubrick's final film, 1999's Eyes Wide Shut.  The premise is simple enough: Following a masquerade ball, Albertina confides in her husband, Fridolin, the lust she felt for Danish sailor she encountered on a previous vacation.  Still digesting this bubble-bursting confession, he is called away because one of his patients, a Councilor, has suffered a heart attack.  By the time Fridolin arrives, the Councilor has died.  Rather than return home, less inviting with each passing moment of reflection, Fridolin goes out in the middle of the night.

The whole publication runs 143 pages in a book that measures 6" x 4.3" and has margins that measure an inch or more.  The benefit of this brevity is that the story can easily be read in one setting, and it was certainly intended for that purpose.  Not only does this lend itself to a quick nighttime reading, but multiple readings.  How much of the story is real, and how much is imagined?  That's just the first question left for the reader.  Schnitzler delves into the subject of sexuality--from lust to revulsion; trust to jealousy; intimacy to baseness.  Because the story is so brief, and its pace so sharp, there is a large sense of urgency lent to these ponderings.  This is not soft erotica, but rather a sociological examination.

If there is a knock on how this story has aged, it is in the dialogue.  Statements made betwixt characters are often of the stilted, "In the future let's always tell each other such things at once" variety.  The narration, though, is very absorbing and flows so perfectly that the length of the paragraphs--many of which consume nearly an entire page--scarcely registers even in the mind's eye.

I sincerely wish I had read this story--or, ideally, in the original German, were I capable of comprehending it--prior to seeing Eyes Wide Shut.  I kept recalling the film version of specific scenes whilst reading, and futilely trying to use one version to analyze the other.  Furthermore, of course, I kept picturing the imagery of Kubrick's film which would certainly have been disappointing had that film not been so visually striking.

Younger readers will identify more with the story's curiosity and lust; older readers, who've built deeper relationships will be struck by Fridolin's sense of betrayal by Albertina.  This is perhaps what makes this so brilliant a story--at every stage of a reader's relationship, there is some angle of Dream Story likely to resonate strongly.

With a $12.95 cover price, though, it's very hard to outright recommend Dream Story as a new purchase.  I happened to have some rewards points accumulated that I redeemed for Borders Bucks, so I didn't actually pay for my copy.  I would advise curious readers to seek this out via their local library, or failing that to hunt for it used.  And, if you've not yet seen EWS, read the original story beforehand.

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