Saturday, May 09, 2015

Dreams and Reality

Night Games: And Other Stories and NovellasNight Games: And Other Stories and Novellas 
by Arthur Schnitzler

"Dream and waking, truth and lie flow into one another.  Safety is nowhere."  - Arthur Schnitzler, Paracelsus

A fairy tale, a dream, a nightmare. The opening of Dream Story begins with the innocence of a young girl reading a fairy tale.  However, the narrative almost immediately drifts into a not so innocent glance (look) between the girl's parents. Suddenly they are remembering a masquerade ball and the reader is drawn into the parents' world where reality is like a dream and "truth and lie flow into one another".

Dream Story narrates the emotional life of a a couple, Fridolin and Albertine, who are living banal lives where the hours fly "by soberly in predetermined daily routines and work"; he as a doctor and she as a mother with "household and motherly duties" that prevent her from staying in bed any longer than her husband. They have just attended the first masquerade ball of the season (it is just before the end of the Carnival season) and they even found that strangely unexciting, that is until their return home when they were oddly moved to "lovemaking more ardent than they had experienced for a long time."

As the story continues, Albertine confesses that the previous summer, while they were on vacation in Denmark, she had had a sexual fantasy about a young Danish military officer. Fridolin then admits that during that same vacation he had been attracted to a young girl on the beach. Later that night, Fridolin is called to the deathbed of an important patient. Finding the man dead, he is shocked when the man’s daughter, Marianne, professes her love to him. The scene grows darker as a restless Fridolin leaves and begins to walk the streets. Although tempted, he refuses the offer of a young prostitute named Mizzi; however he meets an old friend Nachtigall, who tells him that he will be playing piano at a secret high-society sex orgy that night. Intrigued, Fridolin procures a mask and costume and follows Nachtigall to the party at a private residence. Inside, Fridolin is shocked as several men in masks and costumes and naked women with only masks are engaged in various sexual activities. When a young woman surreptitiously warns him to leave, Fridolin ignores her plea and is soon exposed as an interloper. The woman then announces to the gathering that she will sacrifice herself for Fridolin, thus he is allowed to leave.

Upon his return home, Albertine awakens and describes to him a dream she has had: while making love to the Danish officer from her sexual fantasies, she had watched without sympathy as Fridolin was tortured and crucified before her eyes. Fridolin is outraged, as he believes that this proves his wife wants to betray him. He decides to continue own sexual temptations. The next day, Fridolin learns that Nachtigall has been taken away by two mysterious men. He then goes to the costume shop to return his costume and discovers that the shop-owner is prostituting his teenage daughter to various men. He finds his way back to where he had been the night before; but is handed a note addressed to him by name that warns him to not pursue the matter. He then visits Marianne, but she is no longer interested in him. He also searches for Mizzi, the prostitute, but is unable to find her.
He reads that a young woman has been poisoned. Suspecting that she is the woman who sacrificed herself for him, he views the woman’s corpse in the morgue but is unable to identify it. Returning home that night, Fridolin finds his wife asleep, with his mask from the previous night set on the pillow on his side of the bed. When she wakes, Fridolin confesses all of his activities. After listening quietly, Albertine comforts him and they greet the new day with their daughter.

This story, psychological in nature, focuses on the inner desires and fantasies of a married couple. Themes of fidelity and infidelity, jealousy, and guilt are depicted while the couple copes with feelings of insecurity, betrayal, and resentment. More important in my estimation is the blurring of dream and reality. Fridolin's "real" adventure seems to become more unreal once he leaves and returns, while Albertine's dream has both connections with and an impact upon reality that transcends her irrational dream world. Schnitzler effectively blurs the line between reality and fantasy in the story; at the end, Fridolin and Albertina agree that no dream is ever entirely unreal, and that reality does not encompass the entirety of an individual life. It is not surprising that Arthur Schnitzler was considered one of the best portrayers of the Freudian point of view in literature.

Some critics also suggest that the novella underscores the tensions between duty and desire through both Fridolin and Albertine’s temptation to sacrifice family and marital stability in pursuit of sexual fantasies. One cannot escape the image of death as a theme of Dream Story, with the scene of the dead woman who may have sacrificed her life for Fridolin. Finally, I was impressed with the tautness of this novella as its themes were integrated within the story both symbolically and structurally.  I should add that Schnitzler's novella was the source of Stanley Kubrick's 1999 film, "Eyes Wide Shut".

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Brian Joseph said...

Great commentary as always James

This sounds like a fascinating story. The themes and ideas that you allude to are things that make a book so interesting to me.

I think that I may have been one of the fe people to haver actually liked "Eyes Wide Shut". I thought that it presented some of these ideas in an artistic and though provoking way.

James said...


This is a great psychological narrative that portrays Freudian ideas better than any other I have read.
I will have to view "Eyes Wide Shut" to see how Kubrick interpreted the story.