Have you read John Irving’s brilliant novel The 158 Pound Marriage? It is about the joy and the tragedy of a “menage a quatre” in New England, but parts of the story take place in Vienna.
Two of the characters in the novel are Viennese, who lived in Vienna during the occupation (1945-1955) of the city by the Allies (American, Soviet, British and French) after World War II. John Irving gives a picture of the capital during this period seen through the eyes of a guest for one year visiting Vienna in the 1960s. He describes coffee houses, like Demel on Kohlmarkt; the life of students in a Studentenheim (Students’ dormitory); the grey and small-town atmosphere of the city at that time.
Severin Winter lives close to Schwarzenbergplatz (at Schwindgasse, where Irving lived when he was in Vienna). The name of the square derives from the Schwarzenberg Palace, summer residence of the noble family Schwarzenberg. It was built at the beginning of the 18th century and at present it is under renovation. The fountain in the square was constructed for the occasion of introducing a water system in the capital at the end of the 19th century. It is illuminated in colours at night. Just after World War II, the Soviets erected a monument behind the fountain, dedicated to the Red Army soldiers fallen during the liberation of Vienna.
The story continues in the nearby Belvedere Palace, which was the summer residence of Prince Eugene from the first half of the 18th century. Today it dispays collections of Austrian art. Most famous are the paintings of Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), like The Kiss, Judith, landscapes at Attersee and Egon Schiele’s (1890-1918) Sunflowers, Edit Schiele, The Wife of the Artist, The Family.
The main character, a historical novelist, describes a visit to the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Fine Arts Museum) and focuses on the paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-1569). Most of the works of this artist are to be admired only in Vienna. Read here about other Unique Pieces of Art in Vienna.
Today Vienna is a cosmopolitan city, but life still goes at a slower pace, gemütlich, as we Viennese say. It has a special charm based on its historical heritage and traditions.
Book my Half Day Walking Tour Vienna to see the places described in John Irving’s The 158 Pound Marriage.