Dream Story, Arthur Schnitzler?s novella from 1926, seemed like a quick read to kill some time before taking up a longer book, but its story gripped me with its blend of eroticism, mysteries, dreams, introspection and love, a rich combination that, with the novella?s frenzied pacing, truly resembles a feverish dream.
Fridolin, a doctor, and his wife, Albertine, decide, after a party where each was importuned by strangers, to confess moments where each was almost unfaithful to the other. Fridolin is shocked by his wife?s confessions and leaves for his usual round visiting his patients. And so a proverbial dark night of the soul begins for Fridolin.
In a night that seems unnaturally longer and full of ominous happenings, the daughter of a deceased patient confesses her love for Fridolin, two students behave rudely to the doctor, he follows a young prostitute to her apartment, although he gets cold feet at the last moment, he meets a former college mate who?s become a pianist, meets a man who may be prostituting his young daughter, who may be demented or not, sneaks into a secret party where sexual rituals go on, is discovered and saved by a woman who sacrifices herself for him, and returns home to listen to Albertine tell a dream in which she has sex with a man from her past while Fridolin is crucified in front of her, which only strengthens his belief that she doesn?t love him anymore.
The events just unfold, one after another, without a break for Fridolin to catch his breath. Next day Fridolin tries to tie up some loose ends, with unsatisfactory results. Returning to the prostitute?s apartment, he discovers she had to go to the hospital. His pianist has left his hotel, taken away by two men who probably belonged to the secret party. At the mansion where he attended the party, he receives a letter warning him to give up his investigations. And in the newspapers a woman is reported to have died from poisoning around the same time Fridolin arrived home. At the morgue he sees her body but he can?t tell, from the decomposition, whether or not is the same woman he met at the party. At night he returns to confront his wife with everything that happened to him in the past 48 hours.
I don?t know why I loved this novella so much. It seems to be about nothing important, but at the same time it poses essential questions: what is reality? How much can we know or control reality? How much can we know of others? What is happiness? Shouldn?t we be grateful for what we have? It also helps to give the novella a feeling of urgency the panic that haunts Fridolin as his life?s domestic stability unravels. I thought of Marlow returning to Europe from Africa, privy to a heightened perception of society and reality.
Anyone who has a couple of hours to kill should read this mysterious, unsettling little book.