Thomas Bernhard (9 February 1931 12 February 1989) was an Austrian author, and is widely regarded as being one of the most important Germanic authors of the 20th century. His novels take the form of a loners monologue in a single unbroken paragraph, and go on vitriolic tirades against everything Austrian, such as it's artists, it's Nazi past and it's politicians and people. His narrators are frequently physically and mentally ill people who feel as though they are being persecuted by their contemporaries.
By most accounts his upbringing was a hard one. He was born in the Netherlands as an illegitimate child to a father he never met and to a mother who never hid her contempt for him. He was a very reluctant part of the Hitler Youth Party, a movement which disgusted him and which would appear frequently in his writing. He was also bullied by many of his pro-fascist Austrian peers and was treated as an outcast throughout his teenage years.
Originally training to be a theatre actor and singer, ill health forced him to discontinue that career and focus instead upon his writing. Chronic lung problems including Tuberculosis resulted in a prolonged stay in a Sanitarium, where the illness and death imprinted itself upon his mind and became recurring themes throughout his work. When he was released, he became a journalist for a period. A harsh review of a local theatre piece resulted in the first of many lawsuits that he was subjected to throughout his life. He soon became a full-time writer, publishing his first novel Frost in 1963.
Despite being scorned by some Austrians for his unrelentingly critical views, and often characterised as a "Nestbeschmutzer"(one who dirties his own nest), Bernhard was nevertheless highly acclaimed and won many literary prizes. He was also a major influence on many later Germanic authors such as W G Sebald. In Austria he quickly became notorious for causing many scandals in the literary scene, once famously declaring in his speech for a minor award: "Everything is ridiculous, when one thinks of death."
He also caused the biggest theatre scandal in Austrian history in 1988, when his play Heldenplatz outraged both critics and audiences for it's savage attack against Austria's continuing antisemitism and obsession with nationalist causes. One particularly notorious line referred to Austria as: "a brutal and stupid nation ... a mindless, cultureless sewer which spreads its penetrating stench all over Europe."
Thomas Bernhard died by assisted suicide in 1989, and in his will forbade the continuing publication or performance of his work in Austria.
Books written by Bernhard:
- Frost (1963)
- Gargoyles (1967)
- The Lime Works (1970)
- Correction (1975),
- Yes (1978)
- The Cheap-Eaters (1980)
- Concrete (1982)
- Wittgenstein's Nephew (1982)
- The Loser (1983))
- Woodcutters (1984)
- Old Masters: A Comedy (1985))
- Extinction (1986)
- On the Mountain (written 1959, published 1989)