I wanted to read a play for German Literature Month, and after a little bit of deliberation, I decided on Arthur Schnitzler’s ‘La Ronde’.
So, what is ‘La Ronde’ about? Like any self-respecting Arthur Schnitzler story, it is about adultery and sex. Or as Suzanne Vega describes her album of love songs – it is about attraction, flirtation and confrontation. There are ten scenes in the story and each of them features two characters, who are attracted towards each other, flirt with each other and end up in bed with each other. A character from the first scene takes part in the second scene with another character and this continues till the last scene where a character from the ninth scene spends time with a character from the first scene, thus rounding things off and proving that the world is round and it all comes back to the beginning. Hence the title ‘La Ronde’. The characters in the play are all from different parts of society and so the play, in some ways, highlights the sexual mores of people from different parts of society of that era. The play was first published in 1900, and the content is pretty explicit for its time (one of the characters talks to his partner about why he is not able to get an erection and satisfy her). Schnitzler clearly seems to have tempted fate and flirted with the censors here – no wonder the play was banned for many decades after it was first published.
Looking at it from today’s perspective though, I found that the play, though it must have created lots of controversy during its time and raised a lot of hue and cry from critics, didn’t really move me much. Most of the play had flirty dialogue, which I didn’t really love that much. Maybe because the play doesn’t really work when it is read, but is better when it is performed. It didn’t have the beauty that my favourite short story of Schnitzler had – ‘The Dead are Silent’. I liked parts of one of the conversations though – the conversation between a count and an actress. Here is how it went.
COUNT: Just as I imagined: you’re a misanthropist. It’s bound to happen with artists. Moving in that more exalted sphere. Well, it’s all right for you, at least you know why you’re alive.
ACTRESS: Who told you that? I haven’t the remotest idea why I’m alive!
COUNT: Not really, Fräulein . . . famous . . . celebrated
ACTRESS: Is that-happiness?
COUNT: Happiness? Happiness doesn’t exist. None of the things people chatter about really exist. . . . Love, for instance. It’s the same with love.
ACTRESS: You may be right there.
COUNT: Enjoyment . . . intoxication . . . there’s nothing wrong with them, they’re real. I enjoy something, all right, and I know I enjoy it. Or I’m intoxicated, all right. That’s real too. And when it’s over, it’s over, that’s all.
ACTRESS (grandly): It’s over!
COUNT: But as soon as you don’t-I don’t quite know how to say it-as soon as you stop living for the present moment, as soon as you think of later on or earlier on . . . Well, the whole thing collapses. “Later on” is sad, and “earlier on” is uncertain, in short, you just get mixed up. Don’t you think so?
ACTRESS (nods, her eyes very wide open): You pluck out the heart of the mystery, my dear Count.
COUNT: And you see, Fräulein, once you’re clear about that, it doesn’t matter if you live in Vienna or on the Hungarian plains or in the tiny town of Steinamanger.
I have one of the movie versions of Schnitzler’s play called ‘360’ directed by Fernando Meirelles. I hope to watch it tomorrow. I can then tell whether the play works better when it is performed.
Have you read Arthur Schnitzler’s ‘La Ronde’ or seen it performed in the theatre or seen any of the film adaptations? What do you think about it?