Tales of the Vienna woods

The Austrians, A Thousand Year Odyssey by Gordon Brook-Shepherd, HarperCollins, pounds 25; From Charlemagne to Kurt Waldheim, the history of Austria is a nasty chronicle. By Edward Pearce

First, this is not "A Thousand Year Odyssey.'' We move from Charlemagne to Metternich in 52 pages. The text proper runs from Franz Josef's accession to 1994. But "A Hundred and Forty-Six Year Odyssey'' lacks impact. Don't blame Mr Shepherd. I wrote a book about the quite douce 1992 election, and a hype-intoxicated lady subtitled it, "The fiercest election battle ever fought". Truth, among publishers, is prized only above literacy.

But no publisher wrote this footnote about Franz Ferdinand: "King George and Queen Mary had a private reason for sorrow over the Archduke's death. Only seven months before, in November, 1913, Francis Ferdinand had notched up a great protocol triumph by being invited to Windsor Castle with Sophie for a pheasant shoot. (Renowned sportsman though he was, he found England's equally renowned high pheasants hard to cope with at first.)"

When Shepherd couples that long social cringe with a dedication, "To the memory of 'Nata,' Princess Natalia Hohenlohe-Schillingsfirst, a true Austrian and a much loved friend," frankly, you expect a worse book than this is.

There is indeed quite a lot of Richard Wattis's Foreign Office man from The Prince and the Showgirl walking backwards from a Serene Ducal Highness in this study. But Mr Shepherd tries to be fair. His tendresse for Habsburgs and nobility does not distort a largely melancholy chronicle.

Honest by its deferential lights, the book should only be read in conjunction with Ilse Barea's superb history, Vienna which chronicles working-class Favoriten and Ottakring, as well as the Schoenbrunn.

Even here, disillusion keeps breaking into the Barbara Cartland impulses. Apparently the root cause of the deaths at Mayerling was gonorrhoea. That lower-middle class venereal disease, lacking the grandeur of syphilis, apparently reduced Crown Prince Rudolf to serial pursuit of a suicide partner. It makes one grateful for the Prince of Wales.

A tougher girlfriend, Mitzi Caspar, laughed in Rudolf's face when in 1888 he suggested joint tragedy in the Vienna Woods. But for Mary Vetsera, "a pretty girl of such parvenu background....to go to bed with the heir to the throne was the peak of romance, to go to her death with him was to scale an even higher pinnacle." (Irony and Richard Wattis seem to be battling it out in that sentence).

If he is a snob, Mr Shepherd is a civilised snob. He detests the Nazis, and tries vaguely to be fair to the socialists. But if Franz Schunmeier, the moving spirit and teacher of the workers, doesn't rate a mention among all those Counts, his vision is one-eyed. Again, he shouldn't castigate the socialists' unruliness in parliament in the Twenties without pointing out that they were starting from scratch on a democracy the Habsburgs never let past the Rathaus.

Inspector Bretschneider, in The Good Soldier Schweik, hauls an innkeeper off to jail for saying that the flies had left their marks on the Emperor's portrait, was a good Austrian. So too was Engelbert Dollfuss, who smashed the workers with troops. Here Mr Shepherd is uneasy but exculpatory. A handy, if violent, corrective are the reports of Hugh Gaitskell, who was in the thick of it in the mid-Thirties and was revolted by what he saw.

Shepherd has some sensible heroes, such as Stephen Tisza with his instinct against war in 1914, and Leopold Figl, the genial, post-war Chancellor (from the anti-Nazi minority of Christian Socialists). But good guys are for contrast. Austria is as awful as fascinating - ringed by Slavs, some hating, some joining (and hating other Slavs) - and responding to German mastery with a voyeur's reverence for the ability to smash and conquer. Vienna was a multi-racial society all right, raising anti-semitism to levels unknown in north Germany.

The Church judged and was judged at the Anschluss, when Cardinal Innitzec said: "It is an obvious duty for we Bishops to declare ourselves as Germans for the German Empire, and we expect that all faithful Christians will also know what they owe to their people." As for the Habsburgs, they were the original selfish gene. The Imperial and Royal family judged everything for its Habsburg-friendly qualities. Witness the response of Franz Josef when Karl Luegere was elected Major of Vienna in 1895. The Emperor vetoed him, "persuaded that Lueger was nothing better than a dangerous demogogue." But meeting him after another electoral victory, Franz "soon recognised in the handsome, black-bearded orator precisely the "black-yellow" populist whom the dynasty needed in its capital." Is he a dangerous demagogue for me?

Luegere was a mixed evil. Incorruptible and energetic in social policy, he spouted a crass anti-semitism without belief because that was how you got elected in Vienna. And he was elected every time. There is a horrible Austrian continuity not always served by such insincerity. After 1945, early opinion polls showed 33-40 per cent assent to the proposition that Nazism was a good idea badly carried out. Last year, after 40 years of recovery, 22 per cent voted for the not-quite-not-fascism of Haider. But then Adolf Hitler was also, quite as much as Princess Von Hohenlohe-Schillingsfirst, "a true Austrian."

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine