Dream Story by Arthur Schnitzler.

Dream Story, also known as Rhapsody: A Dream Novel (Traumnovelle) is a novella by Arthur Schnitzler, first published in Austria in 1926. It is a very strange, very good, and very dark work which put me in the mind of one of Schnitzler's contempories: Dr. Sigmund Freud. I was also very unsurprised to learn that it had been adapted into Stanley Kubrick's 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut (which I hadn't realised until I read it!).

It tells the story of Fridolin, a doctor, and his wife Albertine. Albertine soon reveals one evening that whilst they they were in Denmark she'd been very attracted to an officer there and had fantasised about him. Fridolin is then called away to a patient who, when he arrives, has died, and from there Fridolin is met with a variety of sexual possibilities: the daughter of the dead man, Marianne, tells him she loves him and though he is slightly repelled at the situation, he is also aroused. Even so he leaves, and then is solicited by a prostitute, Mizzi, who he also rejects. Instead of going home (it is now night), he walks the streets, unsettled by his wife's revelation. During his walk he meets an old friend Nachtigall, who is to play the piano at a high society orgy. He is unable to resist going and goes to great lengths to get the necessary mask he needs, but once at the orgy he is quickly thrown out, saved by a woman who essentially sacrifices herself for him. He returns home and finds his wife asleep: she has been dreaming about the Danish officer and in her dream she was sleeping with him whilst her husband was crucified. This makes Fridolin all the more determined to pursue his own sexual fantasies but, unlike the night before, he is thwarted at every turn.

Dream Story is a fascinating work. It reminds me of Finnegans Wake, which is sometimes referred to as 'Ulysses by night'. It follows Fridolin who is almost in a dream-like state but this is far from Romantic, it is thoroughly early-20th Century modernism, and in Schnitzler's work we see the night life, when the subconscious comes fully into being, of the respectable Austrian middle class, therefore it is as much a psychological work as it is an erotic one. I would say it was more suggestive than explicit, and it is a very intelligent and insightful piece. Freud, who surely inspired this work, may be largely discredited but Schnitzler's Dream Story is still a brilliant if unsettling work.


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