Elfriede Jelinek

Elfriede Jelinek (German: [ɛlˈfʁiːdə ˈjɛlinɛk]; born 20 October 1946) is an Austrian playwright and novelist. She is one of the most decorated authors writing in German today and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2004 for her "musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that, with extraordinary linguistic zeal, reveal the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power".[1] Next to Peter Handke and Botho Strauss she is considered to be the most important living playwright of the German language.

Elfriede Jelinek
Elfriede Jelinek in 2004
Born (1946-10-20) 20 October 1946
Mürzzuschlag, Styria, Austria
Occupationplaywright, novelist
GenreFeminism, social criticism, postdramatic theatre
Notable worksThe Piano Teacher, Die Kinder der Toten, Greed, Lust
Notable awardsNobel Prize in Literature
Years active1963–present


Elfriede Jelinek was born on 20 October 1946 in Mürzzuschlag, Styria, Austria, the daughter of Olga Ilona (née Buchner), a personnel director, and Friedrich Jelinek.[2] She was raised in Vienna by her Romanian-German Catholic mother and a non-observant Czech Jewish father (whose surname "Jelinek" means "little deer" in Czech).[2][3][4] Her mother came from a bourgeois background, while her father was a working-class socialist.[5]

Her father was a chemist, who managed to avoid persecution during the Second World War by working in strategically important industrial production. However, many of his relatives became victims of the Holocaust. Her mother, with whom she had a strained relationship, was from a formerly prosperous Vienna family. As a child, Elfriede attended a Roman Catholic convent school in Vienna. Her mother planned a career for her as a musical "wunderkind". She was instructed in piano, organ, guitar, violin, viola, and recorder from an early age. Later, she went on to study at the Vienna Conservatory, where she graduated with an organist diploma; during this time, she tried to meet her mother's high expectations, while coping with her psychologically ill father.[6] She studied art history and theater at the University of Vienna. However, she had to discontinue her studies due to an anxiety disorder, which resulted in self-isolation at her parents' house for a year. During this time, she began serious literary work as a form of therapy. After a year, she began to feel comfortable leaving the house, often with her mother.[6] She began writing poetry at a young age. She made her literary debut with Lisas Schatten (Lisa's Shadow) in 1967, and received her first literary prize in 1969. During the 1960s, she became active politically, read a great deal, and "spent an enormous amount of time watching television".[6]


She married Gottfried Hüngsberg on 12 June 1974.[7][8]

I was 27; he was 29. I knew enough men. Sexuality was, strangely, the only area where I emancipated myself early on. Our marriage takes place in two cities. It's a kind of Tale of Two Cities in the Dickensian sense. I've always commuted between Vienna and Munich. Vienna is where I've always lived because my friends are here and because I've never wanted to leave Vienna. In the end I've been caught up here. Munich is my husband's city and so I've always traveled to and from, and that's been good for our marriage.[7]

Work and political engagement

Despite the author's own differentiation from Austria (due to her criticism of Austria's Nazi past), Jelinek's writing is deeply rooted in the tradition of Austrian literature, showing the influence of Austrian writers such as Ingeborg Bachmann, Marlen Haushofer, and Robert Musil.[9]

Jelinek's political positions, in particular her feminist stance and her Communist Party affiliations, are of vital importance to any assessment of her work. They are also a part of the reason for the controversy directed at Jelinek and her work. Editor Friederike Eigler states that Jelinek has three major and inter-related "targets" in her writing: what she views as capitalist consumer society and its commodification of all human beings and relationships, what she views as the remnants of Austria's fascist past in public and private life, and what she views as the systematic exploitation and oppression of women in a capitalist-patriarchal society.[10] Jelinek has claimed in multiple interviews that the Austrian-Jewish satirical tradition has been a formative influence on her writing, citing Karl Kraus, Elias Canetti, and Jewish cabaret in particular. In an interview with Sigrid Löffler, Jelinek claimed that her work is considered an oddity in contemporary Austria, where she claims satire is unappreciated and misunderstood, "because the Jews are dead." She has stressed her Jewish identity as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, claiming a continuity with a Jewish-Viennese tradition that she believes has been destroyed by fascism and is dying out.[11][12][13]


Jelinek's output has included radio plays, poetry, theatre texts, polemical essays, anthologies, novels, translations, screenplays, musical compositions, libretti and ballets, film and video art.[14] Jelinek's work is multi-faceted, and highly controversial. It has been praised and condemned by leading literary critics.[15] In the wake of the Fritzl case, for example, she was accused of "executing 'hysterical' portraits of Austrian perversity".[16] Likewise, her political activism has encountered divergent and often heated reactions. Despite the controversy surrounding her work, Jelinek has won many distinguished awards; among them are the Georg Büchner Prize in 1998; the Mülheim Dramatists Prize in 2002 and 2004; the Franz Kafka Prize in 2004; and the Nobel Prize in Literature, also in 2004.[15]

Female sexuality, sexual abuse, and the battle of the sexes in general are prominent topics in her work. Texts such as Wir sind Lockvögel, Baby! (We are Decoys, Baby!), Die Liebhaberinnen (Women as Lovers) and Die Klavierspielerin (The Piano Teacher) showcase the brutality and power play inherent in human relations in a style that is, at times, ironically formal and tightly controlled. According to Jelinek, power and aggression are often the principal driving forces of relationships. Likewise Ein Sportstück (Sports Play) explores the darker side of competitive sports.[17] Her provocative novel Lust contains graphic description of sexuality, aggression and abuse. It received poor reviews by many critics, some of whom likened it to pornography. But others, who noted the power of the cold descriptions of moral failures, considered it to have been misunderstood and undervalued by them.[15]

Her novel The Piano Teacher was the basis for the 2001 film of the same title by Austrian director Michael Haneke, starring Isabelle Huppert as the protagonist. In April 2006, Jelinek spoke out to support Peter Handke, whose play Die Kunst des Fragens (The Art of Asking) was removed from the repertoire of the Comédie-Française for his alleged support of Slobodan Milošević. Her work is less known in English-speaking countries. However, in July and August 2012, a major English language premiere of her play Ein Sportstück by Just a Must theatre company brought her dramatic work to the attention of English-speaking audiences.[18][19][20] The following year, in February and March 2013, the Women's Project in New York staged the North American premiere of Jackie, one of her Princess Dramas.[21]

Political engagement

Jelinek was a member of Austria's Communist Party from 1974 to 1991. She became a household name during the 1990s due to her vociferous clash with Jörg Haider's Freedom Party.[22] Following the 1999 National Council elections, and the subsequent formation of a coalition cabinet consisting of the Freedom Party and the Austrian People's Party, Jelinek became one of the new cabinet's more vocal critics.[23]

Many foreign governments moved swiftly to ostracize Austria's administration, citing the Freedom Party's alleged nationalism and authoritarianism.[24][25] The cabinet construed the sanctions against it as directed against Austria as such, and attempted to prod the nation into a national rallying (Nationaler Schulterschluss) behind the coalition parties.[26][27]

This provoked a temporary heating of the political climate severe enough for dissidents such as Jelinek to be accused of treason by coalition supporters.[24][25]

In the mid- to late-1980s, Jelinek was one of many Austrian intellectuals who signed a petition for the release of Jack Unterweger, who was imprisoned for the murder of a prostitute, and who was regarded by intellectuals and politicians as an example of successful rehabilitation. Unterweger was later found guilty of murdering nine more women within two years of his release, and committed suicide after his arrest.[28]

The Nobel Prize

Jelinek said she felt very happy to receive the Nobel Prize, but felt "despair for becoming a known, a person of the public". Known for her modesty and subtle self-irony, she – a reputed feminist writer – wondered if she had been awarded the prize mainly for "being a woman", and suggested that among authors writing in German, Peter Handke, whom she praises as a "living classic", would have been a more worthy recipient.[9]

Jelinek was criticized for not accepting the prize in person; instead, a video message[29] was presented at the ceremony. Others appreciated how Jelinek revealed that she suffers from agoraphobia and social phobia, paranoid conditions that developed when she first decided to write seriously.[7]

She has said her anxiety disorders make it impossible for her to go to the cinema or board an airplane (in an interview she wished to be able to fly to New York to see the skyscrapers one day before dying), and incapable of taking part in any ceremony.

In 2005, Knut Ahnlund left the Swedish Academy in protest, describing Jelinek's work as "whining, unenjoyable public pornography", as well as "a mass of text shovelled together without artistic structure". He said later that her selection for the prize "has not only done irreparable damage to all progressive forces, it has also confused the general view of literature as an art".[30]

In an interview Jelinek gave to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung after receiving the Nobel Prize, Jelinek said that until then, she had written against great inner resistance (“like constantly having to vomit”) out of a sense of social and political obligation. [31]

Awards and honors

  • 1996: Literaturpreis der Stadt Bremen for Die Kinder der Toten
  • 1998: Georg Büchner Prize
  • 2002: Mülheimer Dramatikerpreis for Macht Nichts
  • 2004: Hörspielpreis der Kriegsblinden for Jackie
  • 2004: Franz Kafka Prize
  • 2004: Nobel Prize in Literature
  • 2004: Stig Dagerman Prize
  • 2004: Mülheimer Dramatikerpreis for Das Werk
  • 2009: Mülheimer Dramatikerpreis for Reichnitz (Der Würgeengel)
  • 2011: Mülheimer Dramatikerpreis for Winterreise



  • Lisas Schatten; München 1967
  • ende: gedichte von 1966–1968; München 2000 ISBN 978-3-935284-29-5


  • Bukolit, audiobook (1969); Rhombus Verlag, Wien 1979 ISBN 978-3-85394-023-5
  • wir sind lockvögel baby!; Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1970 ISBN 978-3-499-12341-2
  • Michael. Ein Jugendbuch für die Infantilgesellschaft; Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1972 ISBN 978-3-499-25012-5
  • Die Liebhaberinnen; Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1975 ISBN 978-3-499-25064-4
  • Die Ausgesperrten; Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1980 ISBN 978-3-498-03314-9
  • Die Klavierspielerin; Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1983 ISBN 978-3-498-03316-3
  • Oh Wildnis, oh Schutz vor ihr; Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1985 ISBN 978-3-499-13407-4
  • Lust; Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1989 ISBN 978-3-498-03323-1
  • Die Kinder der Toten; Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1995 ISBN 978-3-499-22161-3
  • Greed; Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2000 ISBN 978-3-499-23131-5
  • Neid. Privatroman (Envy. Private novel published only on the author's website); 2007/2008. Online in html, PDF-Downloads for PCs, Tablets and Smartphones, Radio play MP3, Part 1 of 10, Bayerischer Rundfunk, 2011.
  • rein GOLD. ein bühnenessay. Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2013 ISBN 978-3-498-03339-2


  • Was geschah, nachdem Nora ihren Mann verlassen hatte; oder Stützen der Gesellschaften (What Happened after Nora Left Her Husband; or Pillars of Society) premiered in Graz, Austria (October 1979) With Kurt Josef Schildknecht as director.
  • Clara S, musikalische Tragödie (Clara S, a Musical Tragedy) Premiered at Bonn (1982) OCLC 41445178
  • Burgtheater. Posse mit Gesang (Burgtheater. Farce with Songs) Premiered at Bonn (1985)
  • Begierde und Fahrererlaubnis (eine Pornographie) (Desire and Permission To Drive – Pornography) Premiered at the Styrian Autumn, Graz (1986)
  • Krankheit oder Moderne Frauen. Wie ein Stück (Illness or Modern Women. Like a Play) Premiered at Bonn, (1987) ISBN 978-3-922009-88-7
  • Präsident Abendwind. Ein Dramolett, sehr frei nach Johann Nestroy (President Abendwind. A dramolet, very freely after Johann Nestroy) Premiered at the Tyrol Landestheater, Innsbruck (1992)
  • Wolken. Heim (Clouds. Home) Premiered at Bonn (1988) ISBN 978-3-88243-147-6
  • Totenauberg Premiered at the Vienna Burgtheater (Akademietheater) (1992) ISBN 978-3-498-03326-2
  • Raststätte oder Sie machens alle. Eine Komödie (Service Area or They're All Doing It. A Comedy) Premiered at the Burgtheater, Vienna (1994)
  • Stecken, Stab und Stangl. Eine Handarbeit (Rod, Staff, and Crook – Handmade) Premiered at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus, Hamburg (1996)
  • Ein Sportstück (A Sport Play) Premiered at the Burgtheater, Vienna (1998), the English language premiere as Sports Play was premiered on 11 July 2012 at Live at LICA (Nuffield Theatre), Lancaster, UK, translated by Penny Black and produced by Just a Must theatre company
  • er nicht als er (zu, mit Robert Walser) (him not himself – about/with Robert Walser) Premiered at the Salzburg Festival in conjunction with the Deutsches Schauspielhaus, Hamburg (1998)
  • Das Lebewohl (Les Adieux) Premiered at the Berliner Ensemble (2000)
  • Das Schweigen (Silence) Premiered at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus, Hamburg (2000)
  • Der Tod und das Mädchen II (Death and the Maiden II) Premiered at EXPOL 2000 in Hanover in conjunction with the Saarbrücken Staatstheater and ZKM Karlsruhe (2000) ISBN 978-3-442-76162-3
  • MACHT NICHTS – Eine Kleine Trilogie des Todes (NO PROBLEM – A Little Trilogy of Death) Premiered at the Zürich Schauspielhaus (2001) ISBN 978-3-499-22683-0
  • In den Alpen (In the Alps) Premiered at the Munich Kammerspiele in conjunction with the Zürich Schauspielhaus (2002) Berlin: Berlin Verlag. (2002) 259 pages. ISBN 978-3-8270-0457-4
  • Prinzessinnendramen: Der Tod und das Mädchen I-III und IV-V (Princess Dramas: Death and the Maiden I-III and IV-V) Parts I-III premiered at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus, Hamburg (2002) Parts IV-V premiered at the Deutsches Theater, Berlin (2002)
  • Das Werk. (The Works) Premiered at the Vienna Burgtheater (Akademietheater) (2003)
  • Bambiland Premiered at the Burgtheater, Vienna (2003) ISBN 978-3-498-03225-8
  • Irm und Margit A part of "Attabambi Pornoland" Premiered at the Zürich Schauspielhaus (2004)
  • Ulrike Maria Stuart Premiered at Thalia Theater Hamburg (2006)
  • Über Tiere 2006
  • Rechnitz (Der Würgeengel) 2008
  • Die Kontrakte des Kaufmanns. Eine Wirtschaftskomödie 2009
  • Das Werk/Im Bus/Ein Sturz. 2010, Premiered at Schauspiel Köln 2010
  • Winterreise. 2011, Premiered at Münchner Kammerspiele 2011; Text edition: Winterreise. Ein Theaterstück. Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-498-03236-4
  • Kein Licht. 2011, Premiered at Schauspiel Köln 2011
  • FaustIn and out. Sekundärdrama. Premiered at Schauspielhaus Zürich 2012, Text: FaustIn and out. Sekundärdrama zu Urfaust. 29. April 2011/ 8. Mai 2012, via Jelinek's Website.
  • Die Straße. Die Stadt. Der Überfall. 2012, Premiered at Münchner Kammerspiele 2012
  • Schatten (Eurydike sagt). 2013, Premiered at Burgtheater, Vienna 2013
  • Aber sicher! 2013, Premiered at Theater Bremen 2013
  • Die Schutzbefohlenen 2013, first read in Hamburg, first played in Mannheim


  • Die Enden der Parabel (Gravity's Rainbow) novel by Thomas Pynchon; 1976
  • Herrenjagd drama by Georges Feydeau; 1983
  • Floh im Ohr drama by Georges Feydeau; 1986
  • Der Gockel drama by Georges Feydeau; 1986
  • Die Affaire Rue de Lourcine drama by Eugène Labiche; 1988
  • Die Dame vom Maxim drama by Georges Feydeau; 1990
  • Der Jude von Malta drama by Christopher Marlowe; 2001
  • Ernst sein ist alles drama by Oscar Wilde; 2004
  • Der ideale Mann drama by Oscar Wilde; 2011
  • Poetry and short stories from Latin American authors

Opera libretto

  • Lost Highway (2003), adapted from the film by David Lynch, with music by Olga Neuwirth

Jelinek's works in English translation

  • Neugroschel, Joachim (Translator) (1988). The Piano Teacher (Die Klavierspielerin). New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-1-55584-052-5.
  • Hulse, Michael (Translator) (1990). Wonderful, Wonderful Times (Die Ausgesperrten). London: Serpent's Tail. ISBN 978-1-85242-168-7.
  • Hulse, Michael (Translator) (1992). Lust. London: Serpent's Tail. ISBN 978-1-85242-183-0.
  • Chalmers, Martin (Translator) (1994). Women as Lovers (Die Liebhaberinnen). London: Serpent's Tail. ISBN 978-1-85242-237-0.
  • Chalmers, Martin (Translator) (2006). Greed. London: Serpent's Tail. ISBN 978-1-85242-902-7.
  • Chalmers, Martin (Translator) (2007). Greed. New York: Seven Stories Press. ISBN 978-1-58322-757-2.
  • Honegger, Gitta (Translator) (2015). Rechnitz and The Merchant's Contracts. Seagull Books. ISBN 978-0-85742-225-5.
  • Honegger, Gitta (Translator) (June 2016). Charges (The Supplicants). Seagull Books. ISBN 978-0-85742-330-6.
  • Honegger, Gitta (Translator) (2019). Three Plays: Rechnitz, The Merchant's Contracts, Charges (The Supplicants). Seagull Books.

See also


  1. "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2004". NobelPrize.org. Retrieved 23 September 2020.
  2. "Elfriede Jelinek biography". notablebiographies.com. 23 March 2005.
  3. "Elfriede Jelinek: Introduction". eNotes. 15 June 2002.
  4. Elfriede Jelinek profile, The Poetry Foundation website; retrieved 7 September 2013.
  5. ""Obscene Fantasies": Elfriede Jelinek's Generic Perversions". University of Massachusetts Amherst. Retrieved 5 December 2020.
  6. Boiter, Vera (1998). Elfriede Jelinek. Women Writers in German-Speaking Countries. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. pp. 199–207.
  7. "Portrait of the 2004 Nobel Laureate in Literature", nobelprize.org; retrieved 13 July 2010.
  8. Gottfried Hüngsberg profile IMDb.com; accessed 13 July 2010
  9. Honegger, Gitta (2006). "How to Get the Nobel Prize Without Really Trying". Theater. 36 (2): 5–19. doi:10.1215/01610775-36-2-4.
  10. Eigler, Friederike (1997), "Jelinek, Elfriede", in Eigler, Friederike (ed.), The Feminist Encyclopedia of German Literature, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, pp. 263–4
  11. Pizer, John (1994). "Modern vs. Postmodern Satire: Karl Kraus and Elfriede Jelinek". Monatshefte. 86 (4). Retrieved 5 December 2020.
  12. Kremer, S. Lillian (2003). Holocaust Literature: Agosín to Lentin. New York City, New York: Routledge. p. 590. ISBN 978-0-415-92983-7.
  13. Dagmar C. G. Lorenz (2007). Keepers of the Motherland: German texts by Jewish women writers. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 251–252. ISBN 978-0-8032-2917-4. Jewish women's writing likewise employs satirical and grotesque elements when depicting non-Jews... Some do so pointedly, such as Ilse Aichinger, Elfriede Gerstl, and Elifriede Jelinek... Jelinek resumed the techniques of the Jewish interwar satirists... Jelinek stresses her affinity to Karl Krauss and the Jewish Cabaret of the interwar era... She claims her own Jewish identity as the daughter of a Holocaust victim, her father, thereby suggesting that there is a continuity of Vienna's Jewish tradition (Berka 1993, 137f.; Gilman 1995, 3).
  14. Stevens, L. (2016). "Elfriede Jelinek's Bambiland". Anti-War Theatre After Brecht. Springer. pp. 169–199. doi:10.1057/978-1-137-53888-8_7. ISBN 978-1-137-53887-1.
  15. "Elfriede Jelinek". Contemporary Literary Criticism. 169. Gale. March 2003. pp. 67–155.
  16. "Wife of incest dad under suspicion Archived May 8, 2008, at the Wayback Machine". The Australian, 5 May 2008.
  17. "Elfriede Jelinek: Game on". The Stage. 13 July 2012. Retrieved 6 October 2017.
  18. "Accounts". www.thestage.co.uk. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  19. "Postcards from the Gods: Sports Play – Nuffield Theatre, Lancaster". postcardsgods.blogspot.co.uk. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  20. "Sports Play at the Nuffield, Lancaster | The Times". Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  21. "Jackie – Women's Project Theater".
  22. "DAS KOMMEN". www.elfriedejelinek.com. Retrieved 4 September 2020.
  23. Lorenz, Dagmar C. G. (2004). "The Struggle for a Civil Society and beyond: Austrian Writers and Intellectuals Confronting the Political Right". New German Critique (93): 19–41. ISSN 0094-033X. JSTOR 4150478.
  24. Badge, Peter (3 December 2007). Nobel Faces: A Gallery of Nobel Prize Winners. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-3-527-40678-4.
  25. Festić, Fatima (15 November 2011). Gender and Trauma: Interdisciplinary Dialogues. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4438-3533-6.
  26. Wodak, Ruth (19 January 2009). Discursive Construction of National Identity. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0-7486-3735-5.
  27. Waring, Alan (30 March 2019). The New Authoritarianism. BoD – Books on Demand. ISBN 978-3-8382-1263-0.
  28. Johann Unterweger biography, Johann Unterweger. (2014). The Biography.com website. Retrieved 11:10, 22 November 2014.
  29. "Elfriede Jelinek - Nobel Lecture". nobelprize.org. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  30. "Member's abrupt resignation rocks Nobel Prize community". Boston Globe, 12 October 2005.
  31. Agee, Joel. "Greed – Elfriede Jelinek – Books – Review". Retrieved 17 August 2018.

Further reading

  • Bethman, Brenda. 'Obscene Fantasies': Elfriede Jelinek's Generic Perversions. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2011; ISBN 978-1-4331-1060-3
  • Fiddler, Allyson. Rewriting Reality: An Introduction To Elfriede Jelinek. Oxford: Berg, 1994; ISBN 978-0-8549-6776-6
  • Gérard Thiériot (dir.). Elfriede Jelinek et le devenir du drame, Toulouse, Presses universitaires du Mirail, 2006; ISBN 978-2-85816-869-9
  • Flitner, Bettina. Frauen mit Visionen – 48 Europäerinnen (Women with visions – 48 Europeans). With texts by Alice Schwarzer. Munich: Knesebeck, 2004; ISBN 978-3-89660-211-4, 122–125 p.
  • Konzett, Matthias. The Rhetoric Of National Dissent In Thomas Bernhard, Peter Handke, And Elfriede Jelinek. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2000; ISBN 978-1-57113-204-8
  • Rosellini, Jay. "Haider, Jelinek, and the Austrian Culture Wars". CreateSpace.com, 2009. ISBN 978-1-4421-4214-5.
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