Elfriede Jelinek
Jelinek in 2004
Jelinek in 2004
Born (1946-10-20) 20 October 1946 (age 77)
Mürzzuschlag, Austria
OccupationPlaywright, novelist
EducationUniversity of Vienna
GenreFeminism, social criticism, postdramatic theatre
Years active1963–present
Notable worksThe Piano Teacher, Die Kinder der Toten, Greed, Lust
Notable awardsGeorg Büchner Prize
Nobel Prize in Literature

Elfriede Jelinek (German: [ɛlˈfʁiːdə ˈjɛlinɛk]; born 20 October 1946) is an Austrian playwright and novelist. She is one of the most decorated authors to write in German and was awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize in Literature for her "musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that, with extraordinary linguistic zeal, reveal the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power".[1] She is considered to be among the most important living playwrights of the German language.[2]


Elfriede Jelinek was born on 20 October 1946 in Mürzzuschlag, Styria, the daughter of Olga Ilona (née Buchner), a personnel director, and Friedrich Jelinek.[3] She was raised in Vienna by her Romanian-German Catholic mother and a non-observant Czech Jewish father (whose surname Jelinek means "little deer" in Czech).[3][4][5] Her mother's family came from Stájerlakanina, Krassó-Szörény County, Banat, Kingdom of Hungary (now Anina, Romania),[6][better source needed] and was of a bourgeois background, while her father was a working-class socialist.[7]

Her father was a chemist, who managed to avoid persecution during the Second World War by working in strategically important industrial production. However, many of his relatives became victims of the Holocaust. Her mother, with whom she had a strained relationship, was from a formerly prosperous Vienna family. As a child, Elfriede attended a Roman Catholic convent school in Vienna. Her mother planned a career for her as a musical "Wunderkind". She was instructed in piano, organ, guitar, violin, viola, and recorder from an early age. Later, she went on to study at the Vienna Conservatory, where she graduated with an organist diploma; during this time, she tried to meet her mother's high expectations, while coping with her psychologically ill father.[8] She studied art history and theater at the University of Vienna. However, she had to discontinue her studies due to an anxiety disorder, which resulted in self-isolation at her parents' house for a year. During this time, she began serious literary work as a form of therapy. After a year, she began to feel comfortable leaving the house, often with her mother.[8] She began writing poetry at a young age. She made her literary debut with Lisas Schatten (Lisa's Shadow) in 1967, and received her first literary prize in 1969. During the 1960s, she became active politically, read a great deal, and "spent an enormous amount of time watching television".[8]

She married Gottfried Hüngsberg on 12 June 1974.[9][10]

I was 27; he was 29. I knew enough men. Sexuality was, strangely, the only area where I emancipated myself early on. Our marriage takes place in two cities. It's a kind of Tale of Two Cities in the Dickensian sense. I've always commuted between Vienna and Munich. Vienna is where I've always lived because my friends are here and because I've never wanted to leave Vienna. In the end I've been caught up here. Munich is my husband's city and so I've always traveled to and from, and that's been good for our marriage.[9]

Work and political engagement

Despite the author's own differentiation from Austria (due to her criticism of Austria's Nazi past), Jelinek's writing is deeply rooted in the tradition of Austrian literature, showing the influence of Austrian writers such as Ingeborg Bachmann, Marlen Haushofer, and Robert Musil.[11]

Editor Friederike Eigler states that Jelinek has three major and inter-related "targets" in her writing: what she views as capitalist consumer society and its commodification of all human beings and relationships, what she views as the remnants of Austria's fascist past in public and private life, and what she views as the systematic exploitation and oppression of women in a capitalist-patriarchal society.[12] Jelinek has claimed in multiple interviews that the Austrian-Jewish satirical tradition has been a formative influence on her writing, citing Karl Kraus, Elias Canetti, and Jewish cabaret in particular. In an interview with Sigrid Löffler, Jelinek claimed that her work is considered an oddity in contemporary Austria, where she claims satire is unappreciated and misunderstood, "because the Jews are dead." She has stressed her Jewish identity as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, claiming a continuity with a Jewish-Viennese tradition that she believes has been destroyed by fascism and is dying out.[13][14][15]


Jelinek's output has included radio plays, poetry, theatre texts, polemical essays, anthologies, novels, translations, screenplays, musical compositions, libretti and ballets, film and video art.[16] Jelinek's work is multi-faceted, and highly controversial. It has been praised and condemned by leading literary critics.[17] In the wake of the Fritzl case, for example, she was accused of "executing 'hysterical' portraits of Austrian perversity".[18] Likewise, her political activism has encountered divergent and often heated reactions. Despite the controversy surrounding her work, Jelinek has won many distinguished awards; among them are the Georg Büchner Prize in 1998; the Mülheim Dramatists Prize in 2002 and 2004; the Franz Kafka Prize in 2004; and the Nobel Prize in Literature, also in 2004.[17]

Female sexuality, sexual abuse, and the battle of the sexes in general are prominent topics in her work. Texts such as Wir sind Lockvögel, Baby! (We are Decoys, Baby!), Die Liebhaberinnen (Women as Lovers) and Die Klavierspielerin (The Piano Teacher) showcase the brutality and power play inherent in human relations in a style that is, at times, ironically formal and tightly controlled. According to Jelinek, power and aggression are often the principal driving forces of relationships. Likewise Ein Sportstück (Sports Play) explores the darker side of competitive sports.[19] Her provocative novel Lust contains graphic description of sexuality, aggression and abuse. It received poor reviews by many critics, some of whom likened it to pornography. But others, who noted the power of the cold descriptions of moral failures, considered it to have been misunderstood and undervalued by them.[17]

In April 2006, Jelinek spoke out to support Peter Handke, whose play Die Kunst des Fragens (The Art of Asking) was removed from the repertoire of the Comédie-Française for his alleged support of Slobodan Milošević. Her work is less known in English-speaking countries. However, in July and August 2012, a major English language premiere of her play Ein Sportstück by Just a Must theatre company brought her dramatic work to the attention of English-speaking audiences.[20][21][22] The following year, in February and March 2013, the Women's Project in New York staged the North American premiere of Jackie, one of her Princess Dramas.[23]

Political engagement

Jelinek was a member of Austria's Communist Party from 1974 to 1991. She became a household name during the 1990s due to her vociferous clash with Jörg Haider's Freedom Party.[24] Following the 1999 National Council elections, and the subsequent formation of a coalition cabinet consisting of the Freedom Party and the Austrian People's Party, Jelinek became one of the new cabinet's more vocal critics.[25]

Many foreign governments moved swiftly to ostracize Austria's administration, citing the Freedom Party's alleged nationalism and authoritarianism.[26][27] The cabinet construed the sanctions against it as directed against Austria as such, and attempted to prod the nation into a national rallying (Nationaler Schulterschluss) behind the coalition parties.[28][29]

This provoked a temporary heating of the political climate severe enough for dissidents such as Jelinek to be accused of treason by coalition supporters.[26][27]

In the mid- to late-1980s, Jelinek was one of many Austrian intellectuals who signed a petition for the release of Jack Unterweger, who was imprisoned for the murder of a prostitute, and who was regarded by intellectuals and politicians as an example of successful rehabilitation. Unterweger was later found guilty of murdering nine more women within two years of his release, and committed suicide after his arrest.[30]

Awards and honors





Opera libretto


Jelinek's works in English translation

In popular culture

Her novel The Piano Teacher was the basis for the 2001 film of the same title by Austrian director Michael Haneke, starring Isabelle Huppert as the protagonist.

In 2022, a documentary about Jelinek was created by Claudia Müller, Elfriede Jelinek – Language Unleashed (German: Elfriede Jelinek – Die Sprache von der Leine lassen).[47]

See also


  1. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2004". NobelPrize.org. Retrieved 23 September 2020.
  2. ^ Delgado, Maria M.; Lease, Bryce; Rebellato, Dan (22 July 2020). Contemporary European Playwrights. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-351-62053-6.
  3. ^ a b "Elfriede Jelinek biography". notablebiographies.com. 23 March 2005.
  4. ^ "Elfriede Jelinek: Introduction". eNotes. 15 June 2002.
  5. ^ Elfriede Jelinek profile, The Poetry Foundation website; retrieved 7 September 2013.
  6. ^ "Helene Buchner". geni_family_tree. 6 May 2023. Retrieved 25 February 2024.
  7. ^ ""Obscene Fantasies": Elfriede Jelinek's Generic Perversions". University of Massachusetts Amherst. Retrieved 5 December 2020.
  8. ^ a b c Boiter, Vera (1998). Elfriede Jelinek. Women Writers in German-Speaking Countries. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. pp. 199–207.
  9. ^ a b "Portrait of the 2004 Nobel Laureate in Literature", nobelprize.org; retrieved 13 July 2010.
  10. ^ Gottfried Hüngsberg profile IMDb.com; accessed 13 July 2010
  11. ^ Honegger, Gitta (2006). "How to Get the Nobel Prize Without Really Trying". Theater. 36 (2): 5–19. doi:10.1215/01610775-36-2-4.
  12. ^ Eigler, Friederike (1997), "Jelinek, Elfriede", in Eigler, Friederike (ed.), The Feminist Encyclopedia of German Literature, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, pp. 263–4
  13. ^ Pizer, John (1994). "Modern vs. Postmodern Satire: Karl Kraus and Elfriede Jelinek". Monatshefte. 86 (4): 500–513. JSTOR 30153333. Retrieved 5 December 2020.
  14. ^ Kremer, S. Lillian (2003). Holocaust Literature: Agosín to Lentin. New York City: Routledge. p. 590. ISBN 978-0-415-92983-7.
  15. ^ Dagmar C. G. Lorenz (2007). Keepers of the Motherland: German texts by Jewish women writers. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 251–252. ISBN 978-0-8032-2917-4. Jewish women's writing likewise employs satirical and grotesque elements when depicting non-Jews... Some do so pointedly, such as Ilse Aichinger, Elfriede Gerstl, and Elifriede Jelinek... Jelinek resumed the techniques of the Jewish interwar satirists... Jelinek stresses her affinity to Karl Krauss and the Jewish Cabaret of the interwar era... She claims her own Jewish identity as the daughter of a Holocaust victim, her father, thereby suggesting that there is a continuity of Vienna's Jewish tradition (Berka 1993, 137f.; Gilman 1995, 3).
  16. ^ Stevens, L. (2016). "Elfriede Jelinek's Bambiland". Anti-War Theatre After Brecht. Springer. pp. 169–199. doi:10.1057/978-1-137-53888-8_7. ISBN 978-1-137-53887-1.
  17. ^ a b c "Elfriede Jelinek". Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 169. Gale. March 2003. pp. 67–155.
  18. ^ "Wife of incest dad under suspicion Archived May 8, 2008, at the Wayback Machine". The Australian, 5 May 2008.
  19. ^ "Elfriede Jelinek: Game on". The Stage. 13 July 2012. Retrieved 6 October 2017.
  20. ^ "Accounts". thestage.co.uk. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  21. ^ "Postcards from the Gods: Sports Play – Nuffield Theatre, Lancaster". postcardsgods.blogspot.co.uk. 17 July 2012. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  22. ^ Hutera, Donald. "Sports Play at the Nuffield, Lancaster | The Times". Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  23. ^ "Jackie | WP Theater". wptheater.org. Retrieved 25 February 2024.
  24. ^ "DAS KOMMEN". elfriedejelinek.com. Archived from the original on 17 October 2022. Retrieved 4 September 2020.
  25. ^ Lorenz, Dagmar C. G. (2004). "The Struggle for a Civil Society and beyond: Austrian Writers and Intellectuals Confronting the Political Right". New German Critique (93): 19–41. ISSN 0094-033X. JSTOR 4150478.
  26. ^ a b Badge, Peter (3 December 2007). Nobel Faces: A Gallery of Nobel Prize Winners. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-3-527-40678-4.
  27. ^ a b Festić, Fatima (15 November 2011). Gender and Trauma: Interdisciplinary Dialogues. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4438-3533-6.
  28. ^ Wodak, Ruth (19 January 2009). Discursive Construction of National Identity. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0-7486-3735-5.
  29. ^ Waring, Alan (30 March 2019). The New Authoritarianism. BoD – Books on Demand. ISBN 978-3-8382-1263-0.
  30. ^ Johann Unterweger biography, Johann Unterweger. (2014). The Biography.com website. Retrieved 11:10, 22 November 2014.
  31. ^ a b c d e "Elfriede Jelinek". Theaterverlage (in German). 3 October 2021. Retrieved 9 December 2021.
  32. ^ "Awards – Georg-Büchner-Preis – Elfriede Jelinek". Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung (in German). Retrieved 9 December 2021.
  33. ^ a b c "Mülheimer Dramatikerpreis: Elfriede Jelinek gewinnt zum dritten Mal". Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (in German). 3 June 2009. Retrieved 9 December 2021.
  34. ^ "Else-Lasker-Schüler- Preis an Elfriede Jelinek". Der Standard (in German). Retrieved 9 December 2021.
  35. ^ "Hörspielpreis der Kriegsblinden: Auszeichnung für Elfriede Jelinek". Der Spiegel (in German). 25 February 2004. Retrieved 9 December 2021.
  36. ^ "Franz-Kafka-Preis für Elfriede Jelinek". Radio Prague International (in German). 3 November 2004. Retrieved 9 December 2021.
  37. ^ "Elfriede Jelinek erhält Literatur-Nobelpreis". Deutschlandradio (in German). 7 October 2004. Archived from the original on 9 December 2021. Retrieved 9 December 2021.
  38. ^ "Jelinek för Stig Dagerman-priset". Svenska Dagbladet (in Swedish). 4 June 2004. Retrieved 9 December 2021.
  39. ^ Fischer, Karin (8 June 2011). "Sprachmacht gegen Polit-Theater". Deutschlandfunk (in German). Retrieved 9 December 2021.
  40. ^ Jelinek, Elfriede (2011). "Neid" (PDF). Elfriede Jelinek Homepage. Archived (PDF) from the original on 31 August 2020.
  41. ^ a b "Sport in Art – MOCAK". en.mocak.pl. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  42. ^ "Bambiland – translated by Lilian Friedberg". www.elfriedejelinek.com. Archived from the original on 17 October 2022. Retrieved 16 November 2021.
  43. ^ "FaustIn and out". www.elfriedejelinek.com. Archived from the original on 17 October 2022. Retrieved 16 November 2021.
  44. ^ Jelinek, Elfriede; Honegger, Gitta (2017). "Shadow. Eurydice Says". PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art. 39 (1): 73–118. doi:10.1162/PAJJ_a_00354. ISSN 1537-9477. S2CID 57571830.
  45. ^ Jelinek, E. (1 January 2009). "BAMBILAND". Theater. 39 (3): 111–143. doi:10.1215/01610775-2009-008. ISSN 0161-0775.
  46. ^ Piekarska, Delfina (2012). Sport w sztuce : Sport in art (in Polish and English). Kraków: Muzeum Sztuki Współczesnej w Krakowie. ISBN 978-83-62435-64-7. OCLC 815593405.

Further reading