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Franz Werfel (1890-1945)
Authors in German Literature


DVD The expressionist novelist and poet Franz Werfel was born in Prague on 10 September 1890 in what was then Bohemia (Böhmen, today the Czech Republic) in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Werfel's father was a wealthy merchant and factory owner. Franz grew up and was educated in Prague as a member of the city's Jewish, German-speaking community. As a young high school student, Werfel became acquainted with other German-Jewish writers in Prague, including Franz Kafka and Max Brod.

In the English-speaking world, Werfel is probably best known for his novel The Song of Bernadette (Das Lied von Bernadette, 1941), which he wrote during his exile in southern California. Later a Hollywood film (1943) starring Jennifer Jones, the novel had been inspired by Werfel's experiences in France when he and his wife were fleeing Nazi-controlled Austria. The movie, with a screenplay by Walter and Jean Kerr, won four Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Jones.

Werfel published his first works of poetry in 1911. After serving his compulsory military duty from 1911-12, Werfel went to Leipzig where he worked as an editor for the Kurt Wolff publishing house that specialized in expressionist literature. With the outbreak of the First World War, Werfel was back in the army. After 1917 he worked in the army's press office in Vienna, and following the war he remained in Austria, working as a freelance writer.

Although he wrote poetry and dramas, Werfel's biggest success was with his novels and short stories. He wrote his first novella in 1920 (Nicht der Mörder, der Ermordete ist der Schuldige) and other fictional works followed over the years. In his literary works he often expressed his beliefs in pacificism and the brotherhood of man.

In 1929, following a torrid love affair, Werfel became Alma Mahler's third husband. In 1933 Werfel published the novel Vierzig Tage des Musa Dagh, recounting the struggle of the Armenians against the Turks in World War I. But after the Anschluss in 1938 the couple was forced to leave Austria, finally ending up in California in 1940 via France, Portugal, and Spain. His bestselling novel Song of Bernadette (1941), about Bernadette Soubirous, the Catholic saint of Lourdes, was written in California. Werfel died of a heart attack in Beverly Hills on 26 August 1945. His works include:

  • Der Besuch aus dem Elysium (1911, one-act play)
  • Nicht der Mörder, der Ermordete ist der Schuldige (1920, novella)
  • Bockgesang (1921, drama; Goat Song, 1926)
  • Juarez und Maximilian (1924, drama; tr. 1926)
  • Verdi. Roman der Oper (1924, novel)
  • Paulus unter den Juden (1926, drama; Paul among the Jews, 1928)
  • Vierzig Tage des Musa Dagh (1933, novel; The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, 1934)
  • Das Lied von Bernadette (1941, novel; The Song of Bernadette, 1942)
  • Jacobowsky und der Oberst (1945, comedy; adaptation by S. N. Behrman, Jacobowsky and the Colonel, 1944)
  • Stern der Ungeborenen (1946, novel)

For more about Franz Werfel, see the links below.

WEB > Franz Werfel - Goethe-Institut - Bibliography, links
WEB > Alma Mahler & Franz Werfel - Werfel was Alma's third husband
WEB > Franz Werfel - An overview from Books & Writers
WEB > Franz Werfel - Wikipedia - Biography, works - in German (English)

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