Call for Review: The curious case of “Claustria”: the Fritzl case as a literary metaphor



When Josef Fritzl was charged with incestuous rape, among several other offences against universal humane – ethical standards, in 2009, the global press took notice and over a period of many months, the question whether this was a ‘typically Austrian’ crime, given Austria’s Nazi past and its  difficulties with coming to term with that, was discussed in many different social, national and also culture-analytical contexts.   You will probably remember Prof Ritchie Robertson’s (Oxford) not un-controversial discussion of  “Josef Fritzl’s Fictive Forebears” in TLS from 16 May, 2008, where he searched Austrian literature for examples of men who terrorized or imprisoned their families and looked closely at  well- and lesser known texts by: Adalbert Stifter (Turmalin 1852, from the collection “Bunte Steine“), “voelkisch-nationalist” author Franz Nabl (Das Grab des Lebendigen 1917 – later reissued as Die Ortliebschen Frauen; click here for Norbert Gstrein‘s comparison of Nabl’s work with Croatian authorMiroslav Krleža s), Ferdinand Raimund (Der Alpenkönig und der Menschenfeind 1828; read the book on “Reading Europe”), Johann Nestroy (Eine Wohnung ist zu vermieten in der Stadt 1837; the text is unfortunatenly not available in translation, but click here for a list of Nestroy-translations into English), Elias Canetti (Die Blendung 1935), Veza Canetti (Die gelbe Straße 1932-3).

[Also see Transblawg]

The Fritzl-case caught the world’s attention as an exemplary case of individual inhumanity, defiying the universal understanding of a moral code. Indeed, it created far-reacing discussions general about ethical behaviour, as The Independent’s article from 2009 about the absurd marketing one of numerous books about the case as a ‘perfect father’s day gift’  demonstrates:

 One W H Smith store displayed the title as one of its “Top 50 Books for Dad” (buy one, get one half-price), declaring on a nearby display: “Fathers are heroes”. A Tesco store in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, alarmed shoppers with its suggestion that the book would be a suitable symbol of father-offspring love.

In 2012, French author Régis Jauffret, known for his ‘acerbic’novels that are ‘written with a scalpell, stripping life to the bone’ (Salammbo Press)  has written a fictional account of the case, entitled “CLAUSTRIA”.


The launch of the German version in 2013, published by the small Salzburg publishing house Lessingstrasse 6,  saw a range of public reactions in Austria,  from complete opposition and signs of collective defensiveness to reviews that called the book a “strong, obnoxious and important piece of literature” (Peter Pisa, Kurier, 12 Sept 2012).

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