Inspiring Austrian Women: Hilde Spiel

On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2015 we would like to introduce you to a few Austrian women that have impressed and inspired us. Today Elisabeth Koegler writes about Hilde Spiel

hilde-spiel_jpg_573x380_crop_q85I grew up in a small town south of Vienna as a passionate reader. One of my “heros” in public life was Hilde Spiel, a writer, journalist and highly influential critic. She was a real femme de lettres with integrity and dignity completely fearless. I was fascinated by her strong opinions and her poignant yet elegant style. She was at home in two cultures, the Central European and the English one. Her personal story reflected Austrian history of the first half of the 20th century and included long years of exile in London.

Born into an upper class, assimilated Jewish family in 1911, she attended the progressive Schwarzwald Schule and went on to study Philosophy with Moritz Schlick at Vienna University. She joined the Social Democratic Party in 1933. In 1936, together with her husband the German writer Peter de Mendelssohn, they left the stifling atmosphere of Austro-fascist Austria for London. There she dived into literary and journalistic activities and had two children.

Among Hilde Spiel’s work, just to refer to the most important ones, her memories in “The Dark and the Bright” and “Return to Vienna: A Journal” and the “Fanny Von Arnstein: Daughter of the Enlightenment”, a brilliant biography of the Berlin born Jewish Salonnière in Vienna around 1800, and portrait of an era (all translated by Hilde Spiel’s daughter, Christine Shuttleworth). 

Hilde Spiel worked as the correspondent for the “FAZ” as well as the “New Statesman” and published in numerous other newspapers. She promoted writers as different as (or not?) Thomas Bernhard and Heimito von Doderer, and had big fights with some members of the Austrian P.E.N. Club, who disliked this independent and successful woman who did not hide her ambitions.

Elisabeth Koegler is Director of the Austrian Cultural Forum London. Previously she was Deputy Ambassador at the Austrian Embassy in London.

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