Larry Wolff

 

On his book The Idea of Galicia: History and Fantasy in Habsburg Political Culture

Cover Interview of August 16, 2010

A close-up

A fascinating cast of characters populate the pages of the book—individuals who contributed to shaping the idea of Galicia over the course of two centuries.

I write about Habsburg emperors like Joseph II, who sought to bring about a messianic transformation of Galicia in the 1780s, and undertook, for instance, the reform and recasting of its Jewish population—who received last names from the emperor.  Or like Franz Joseph, who, ruling for almost 70 years (from 1848 to 1916), became a semi-mythological figure in his own lifetime, and was then fully mythologized in literature and fantasy after his death.

I hope my readers will notice the Galician experiences and perspectives of Mozart’s son, Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart, who decided that he would rather pursue his musical career as a composer in Galicia instead of in Vienna under the shadow of his father’s legendary genius.

No less intriguing are such Galician writers as Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who wrote the notorious novella Venus in Furs about Galicia, and later left his name to the sexual temperament of masochism.  Or Karl Emil Franzos, the author of Halb-Asien, who fictionalized the world of the Galician Jews.  Or the greatest comic dramatist of Polish literature, Alexander Fredro, who built his comedies upon the tensions and contradictions of Galician life.  Or the great Ukrainian writer. Ivan Franko, who wrote about the Galician oil fields in his novella Boa Constrictor.

There were also great 20th-century Galician writers who wrote about Galicia after the province ceased to exist.  Joseph Roth, Bruno Schulz, and Shmuel Yosef Agnon, all born in Galicia, survived the abolition of their native province and later became great writers in the German, Polish, and Hebrew languages respectively, thus illustrating the cultural complexity of Galicia.

One random thing I’d like my readers to notice is the brief discussion of Billy Wilder, the great Hollywood genius of cinema, who was actually born in Galicia.