Marching into history: from the early novels of Joseph Roth to Radetzkymarsch and Die Kapuzinergruft

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This thesis takes as its starting point the consensus among scholars and interpreters of Joseph Roth’s work that his writing can be divided into two periods: an early “socialist” phase and a later “monarchist” phase. In opposition to this view, a reading of Roth’s novels is put forward in which his desire to make sense of post-Habsburg Central Europe provides the underlying logic, thus reconciling his early novels with Radetzkymarsch and Die Kapuzinergruft. The first chapter addresses the common contention that the transformation in Roth’s work is the result of a deep identity crisis. An alternative reading of the relevance of Roth’s identity to his work is offered: namely, that Roth’s conviction that identity is multivalent explains his rejection of both nationalism and other “solutions” to the problems of post-war Europe, a sentiment that finds expression in his early novels. The interpretation of these novels, which represent Roth’s early attempts to give literary form to contemporary reality, is the focus of the second chapter of the thesis. In the third chapter Radetzkymarsch is analyzed as a historical novel in the terms first proposed by Georg Lukács, as a novel which facilitates the understanding of the present through the portrayal of the past. Paradoxically, it is the historical form that most effectively captures and illuminates the complex reality of Roth’s contemporary times. The fourth and final chapter demonstrates that Die Kapuzinergruft is not simply an inferior sequel to Radetzkymarsch, a nostalgic evocation of an idealized lost Habsburg world and condemnation of the 1930s present, but rather continues the dialogue between past and present begun in Radetzkymarsch. In this novel, written before and in the immediate aftermath of the Anschluß of Austria to Nazi Germany, it is not Roth but his narrator who takes flight from reality, behaviour that Roth condemns as leading to the repetition of mistakes from the past and the failure to prevent the ultimate political catastrophe.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
StateUnpublished - 2005


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