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Hermann Broch
Born(1886-11-01)November 1, 1886
Vienna, Austria-Hungary
DiedMay 30, 1951(1951-05-30) (aged 64)
New Haven, Connecticut
Literary movementModernism

Hermann Broch (German: [bʁɔx]; November 1, 1886 – May 30, 1951) was a 20th-century Austrian writer, part of the Modernists.


Broch was born in Vienna to a prosperous Jewish family and worked for some time in his family's factory, though he maintained his literary interests privately. As the oldest son, he was expected to take over his father’s textile factory in Teesdorf; therefore, he attended a technical college for textile manufacture and a spinning and weaving college.

In 1909 he converted to Roman Catholicism and married Franziska von Rothermann, the daughter of a knighted manufacturer.[1] The following year, their son Hermann Friedrich Maria was born. His marriage ended in divorce in 1923. In 1927 he sold the textile factory and decided to study mathematics, philosophy and psychology at the University of Vienna. He embarked on a full-time literary career only around the age of 40. At the age of 45, his first major literary work, the trilogy The Sleepwalkers, was published by Daniel Brody, for the Rhein Verlag in 1931/1932 in Munich.[2]

He was acquainted with many of the now well-known writers, intellectuals, and artists of his time, including Robert Musil, Rainer Maria Rilke, Elias Canetti, Leo Perutz, Franz Blei and writer and former nude model Ea von Allesch.

With the annexation of Austria by the Nazis (1938), Broch was arrested in the small Alpine town of Bad Aussee for possession of a socialist magazine but was soon released. Shortly thereafter, a movement organized by friends – including James Joyce, Thornton Wilder, and his translators Edwin and Willa Muir – managed to help him emigrate; first to Britain and then to the United States, where he published his novel The Death of Virgil and his collection of short stories The Guiltless. While in exile, he also continued to write on politics and work on mass psychology, similar to Elias Canetti and Hannah Arendt. His essay on mass behaviour remained unfinished. Broch's work on mass psychology was intended to form part of more ambitious project to defend democracy, human rights, and human dignity as irreducible ethical absolutes in a postreligious age.[3]

From the 15th of August to the 15th of September 1939, Hermann Broch lived at the Albert Einstein House at 112 Mercer Street Princeton, New Jersey when the Einsteins were on vacation.[4] From 1942 to 1948 Broch lived in an attic apartment in Eric and Lili Kahler's house at One Evelyn Place in Princeton, New Jersey.[5] Broch died in 1951 in New Haven, Connecticut. He is buried in Killingworth, Connecticut, in the cemetery on Roast Meat Hill Road. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950.[6]


One of his foremost works, The Death of Virgil (Der Tod des Vergil) was first published in 1945 simultaneously in its original German and in English translation.[7] Having begun the text as a short radio lecture in 1937,[8] Broch expanded and redeveloped the text over the next eight years of his life, which witnessed a short incarceration in an Austrian prison after the Austrian Anschluss,[9] his flight to Scotland via England,[10] and his eventual exile in the United States.[11] This extensive, difficult novel interweaves reality, hallucination, poetry and prose, and reenacts the last 18 hours of the Roman poet Virgil's life in the port of Brundisium (Brindisi). Here, shocked by the balefulness (Unheil) of the society he glorifies in his Aeneid, the feverish Virgil resolves to burn his epic, but is thwarted by his close friend and emperor Augustus before he succumbs to his fatal ailment. The final chapter exhibits the final hallucinations of the poet, where Virgil voyages to a distant land at which he witnesses roughly the biblical creation story in reverse.

The French composer Jean Barraqué composed a number of works inspired by The Death of Virgil.

Erich Heller observed that if "The Death of Virgil is his masterpiece... it is a very problematical one, for it attempts to give literary shape to the author's growing aversion to literature. In the very year the novel appeared, Broch confessed to 'a deep revulsion' from literature as such – 'the domain of vanity and mendacity'. Written with a paradoxical, lyrical exuberance, it is the imaginary record of the poet’s last day and his renunciation of poetry. He commands the manuscript of the Aeneid to be destroyed, not because it is incomplete or imperfect but because it is poetry and not 'knowledge'. He even says his Georgics are useless, inferior to any expert treatise on agriculture. His friend the Emperor Augustus undoes his design and his works are saved." (Erich Heller, "Hitler in a very Small Town", The New York Times, January 25, 1987.)

Other important works by Broch are The Sleepwalkers (Die Schlafwandler, 1932) and The Guiltless (Die Schuldlosen, 1950). The Sleepwalkers is a trilogy, where Broch takes "the degeneration of values" as his theme. The trilogy has been praised by Milan Kundera, whose writing has been greatly influenced by Broch. Broch demonstrates mastery of a wide range of styles, from the gentle parody of Theodor Fontane in the first volume of The Sleepwalkers through the essayistic segments of the third volume to the dithyrambic phantasmagoria of The Death of Virgil.

Selected bibliography

Works translated into English:

Complete works in German:

KW 1: Die Schlafwandler. Eine Romantrilogie
KW 2: Die Unbekannte Größe. Roman
KW 3: Die Verzauberung. Roman
KW 4: Der Tod des Vergil. Roman
KW 5: Die Schuldlosen. Roman in elf Erzählungen
KW 6: Novellen
KW 7: Dramen
KW 8: Gedichte
KW 9/ 1+2: Schriften zur Literatur
KW 10/ 1+2: Philosophische Schriften
KW 11: Politische Schriften
KW 12: Massenwahntheorie
KW 13/ 1+2+3: Briefe.

See also


  1. ^ Lützeler 1985, p. 51.
  2. ^ Hermann Broch – Daniel Brody Briefwechsel 1930–1951
  3. ^ Bartram, Graham; McGaughey, Sarah (2019). A Companion to the Works of Hermann Broch. Camden House. p. 8.
  4. ^ Lützeler, Paul Michael (2011). Hermann Broch: eine Biographie. Suhrkamp Verlag. p. 251. ISBN 9783518751015. (Late in the summer of 1939, Einstein rented a cottage on Nassau Point in Cutchogue, New York so that he could put his sailboat in Horshoe Cove.)
  5. ^ "In Exile". Princeton University Department of German.
  6. ^ "Nomination%20archive". April 2020.
  7. ^ Lützeler 1985, pp. 294–295.
  8. ^ Lützeler 1985, p. 213.
  9. ^ Lützeler 1985, pp. 218–220.
  10. ^ Lützeler 1985, pp. 235–242.
  11. ^ Lützeler 1985, p. 243.


Further reading