Aetiology of Hysteria in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Das Buch Franza



The plot unfolds as Martin Renner receives a confusing telegram from his sister Franza, who begs him to help her. She has been married to an aged psychiatrist, her “großartiges Fossil” of a husband who has begun to psychologically torture her, like a subject in one of his experiments. Martin finds her in their hometown, Galicia, a former Austro-Hungarian empire now known only as a border-region, and attempts to help his tormented sister by inviting her on his vacation to Egypt. On the way to Egypt, first on a boat to Alexandria, and then by bus, Martin and Franza discuss the origins of her perceived illness. Suddenly, Franza begins a hysteria that leads to her death. The first chapter provides background for Franza’s ultimate death, with a retrospective on her youth during the Austrian Anschluß, the Nazi annexation of Vienna in 1938. The second part is a collection of fragmentary (but chronological) thoughts that are analytical of the world but introspective at the same time.

With two distinct genders, a polarization between families and lovers, set in the first generation post-War era, with a travelling period between the northern and southern hemispheres, and ending in death, the dualities of Ingeborg Bachmann’s Das Buch Franza are many. Criticized and analyzed in the discourses of colonialism, feminism and identity politics, Bachmann’s post-mortem publication has received critical attention that is often related to its position as the second part of her unfinished novel series Todesarten. Bachmann’s unexpected death by apartment fire did not prevent Das Buch Franza from being completed, rather, as she notes in a letter to Klaus Piper in November, 1970, she shelfed (or rather, drawerd) the transcript for “different reasons”:

Das Buch Franza ist zudem in einer Schublade verschwunden und wird von mir, aus verschiedenen Gründen, noch lange  nicht oder überhaupt night veröffentlicht werden, ich weiß es selber noch nicht,” (Women Writers, 13)


From a letter written to Bachmann from Giséle Celan, Bachmann’s close friend and ex-wife

to her extra-marital lover, Paul Celan, it is possible to see that content of Das Buch Franza

was likely not the only thing troubling Bachmann. On May 13th, 1970, Giséle Celan states,

“Paul threw himself into the Seine. He chose the most anonymous, lonely death.”[1] Between

these letters in 1970 and Bachmann’s early death in Rome, 1973, Das Buch Franza was never

published, but its narrative predecessor (though written as a successor to Das Buch Franza) in

the Todesarten series was – Malina (1971).

Das Buch Franza was written around 1966[2], almost 15 years after Paul Celan dedicates his poem “In Egypt” (In Ägypten) to Bachmann[3], and only one year after Paul Celan attempted to murder his wife, Giséle[4]. In the ‘Poetological Afterward’ of Hans Höller and Andrea Stoll’s compilation of Bachmann’s Correspondence (2008) they note, “Bachmann views the title character’s journey to Egypt in Der Fall Franza (TA II: Das Buch Franza ) as a “journey through an illness,”” citing her Büchner Prize acceptance speech for Todesarten, “[…] she uses it [the word illness] in a sense invoked by Paul Celan in order to render visible the word’s implicit dialectic between the outer and inner situations of a first person.” (335) Because of these close connections between Bachmann and Celan’s verbiage and orientation towards Egypt, and because Das Buch Franza is the earliest finished transcript in the Todesarten Projekt, this research will focus exclusively on Das Buch Franza without relation to reoccurring themes throughout Todesarten.

In light of the connection between Celan’s poem In Ägypten, one of his earliest pieces of correspondence with Bachmann, and Das Buch Franza’s plot crescendo at her hysterical episode in Egypt, as well as Bachmann’s own commentary that the book is about illness, this research will focus on the duality of sickness and health, concluding that Bachmann situates Egypt in its duality as Franza’s wellness vacation and her cause of death. I analyze the aetiology of Franza’s death, maintaining the importance of Austrian historical background in as much as Bachmann insists upon it in her unpublished introduction to Das Buch Franza:

“I come from a country, without showing off about its geniuses, which has always concerned itself with those unknown beings, human beings their unfathomability, profundity. I also don’t have any explanation for why a number of revolutionary discoveries have taken place in my country. I’m just acknowledging it. From the undiscovered Sacher Masoch to the greatest pioneer, Sigmund Freud, however historical he may also have been, this line has never broken off, this recherche.” (TP 2:16)


Following the line of Austrian authors, I insist that Das Buch Franza follows the paradigm of hysteria in Sigmund Freud’s Seduction Theory, as outlined in “The Aetiology of Hysteria” (1896) by three groups of hysterics: 1. assaults by adults, concerning Franza’s infatuation with “Sire” in “der schönste Frühling” during the first chapter; 2. relationships between an adult and child, concerning Franza’s marriage to her “großartiges Fossil” Leo Jordan in the second section, “Jordanische Zeit”; and 3. Relationships between two children, usually brother and sister, presuming that one child has already had a relationship with an adult, like Franza and Martin in Egypt.[5] Bachmann’s Das Buch Franza is a piece of literature produced in the wake of Freud’s theories and the death of her own love affair at the hands of Celan’s mental illness.

In the published introduction, Bachmann writes that “This book, however, is not simply about a journey though illness. Ways of death also include crimes. This book is about a crime.”[6] She then suggests that it is the virus of the crime remains even after the end of the Second World War. Bachmann scholar Sara Lennox says, “Instead, in our society, the attitudes of the mind which produced National Socialism now exercise their brutality in the realm of consciousness,” (Murdered Daughters, 162), she quotes Das Buch Franza, “the slaughter is granted a place within the morals and customs of society,” (Franza, 4). The aetiology of the hysteria that caused Franza’s death is, for Bachmann, a crime that manifests in “morals and customs of society”; this situates Todesarten in its literary importance as a psychological case-study, and more importantly, sheds light on Bachmann’s configuration of narrators. Killing one off at a time, Das Buch Franza begins in the first chapter with three narrators: Franza, Martin, and the omniscient narrator, who is intermixed between the two. Martin’s narration drops off in the second chapter, likely because it is a reflection on her time with Jordan. She answers questions from Martin, but it is her and the narrator’s perspective. In the first two chapters, the narrator recounts the “schönsten Frühling” and her marriage to Jordan, about which Sabine Grimkowski suggests that the narrator is in fact another voice of Franza herself. This unity-yet division becomes increasingly noticeable throughout the novel, as the distance between I-narration and omniscient narration becomes unclear. When considering this in a Freudian context, we can relate the birth of the narrator to the initiation of latent hysterical systems, “triggered” by the psychoanalysis of her psychiatrist husband’s experiment. This unconscious memory begins to narrate, ending in Franza’s narration dissolved into the fragmented omniscient narrator.

The narration of Martin’s thoughts aside the hysterical Franza set the scene. His thoughts are narrated as reflections on life situations, “thinking about warts as a reason for marriage” (22), chewing some bread, and reflecting on the value of his parents’ old house, and the type of fossil the professor would be. Suggesting his training as a geologist, the narrator hints at memories “traces” through feldspar fossils, then immediately saying: “his sister was cut through by pain and by something he was unable to explore, given his specialty, for he had no desire to identify or describe his sister’s dissected soul, which was from the Modern Era and not form the Mesozoic.” (29) Immediately we are aware of the tension between the dawn of the Modern Era, and a conflict happening within Franza; Bachmann asks us to think of themes of the Modern Era surrounding Franza’s erratic return to Galicia.

How does Galicia relate to the theme of Egypt, or to hysteria? In both cases, Galicia was during the time before the traumatic event that caused or triggered the hysteria and the dying in Egypt. The narrator establishes spatial information that relate to Franza’s aetiology of hysteria: “The point where three countries converge. Three languages. From here we can retrace our steps backward…” (21); “she had married her father, or at least that’s how he thought of it on first impression, reducing things to the lowest denominator, though later he revised it to “father figure”,” (22). Suddenly Franza’s world is apparent to us, her hometown of Galicia is a retraced step, and her marriage to someone older is referred to by the Freudian Father Complex. Martin even notices the mirrored image of warts on the father’s face and wart on Jordan’s face, a mark of repetition compulsion at the hands of Franza (22). This opens up two possible avenues towards hysteria, both not exclusive of the other: 1. Galicia no longer exists as a city, removing her from her identity and producing a mourning that could end up as melancholy, one form of which would be the Father Complex and ultimately hysteria[7]; 2. she was sexually abused by her father, or perhaps he was absent, hence her attraction to Jordan as Father Complex. The first, suggesting her object-cathexis, is alluded to as both caused by the loss of her Galician culture due to war, and her need to acquire that of the victor: “He was then eighteen and she was twenty-three, about to give up her studies, allegedly having fainted in a hall of anatomy, or in an equally romantic tale she fell into the Fossil’s arms,” (7)  and later, after narrating that there are things in her “tyrannical brain” that she cannot fully uncover, she reverts to solace in her marriage to Jordan, “he’s more contemporary than I am, for I, I, I am from a lower race, and I have known it since it began that it’s one that has wiped itself out. That’s what I am, and he is the type that rules today,” (79). Her distrust of herself as a result of the Father Complex is later alluded to in the novel, when she knows for the first time why she feels “such angst”:

“I saw a graveyard at sunset, and the dream told me: That is the Graveyard of Daughters. And I looked down at my own grave, for I was one of the daughters, and my father was not there. But because of him I was dead and buried there. Maybe in your waking life you know something about a graveyard of children and who is guilty of your death. You’ll never know for sure, but you think about it, as hard as you can, though it will never come to you,” (78)


It is clear in this paragraph that Bachmann has situated fathers in opposition to daughters and responsible for the deaths of some, encouraging a reflection about the real world by using “you” to address the reader, and the ultimately fictive, that of dreams. This passage is ultimately striking because of its attention to patriarchal structures as potential causes for her “angst” and “death”, but also in its allusion to a daughter’s latent memory of fatherly abuse or fatherly neglect.

Franza’s “sickness of the past” (34) is another que to an aetiology of hysteria, placing Franza’s illness (and “destruction”) distinctly on the possibilities of trauma and identity politics:

“She still insisted on keeping hold of Galicia, despite so much having been taken from her, an inclination that was revealed by her forged passport… [he] promised himself to acknowledge who she was, even her faults, because she was being destroyed, yet he hoped she would discover just what had caused her destruction.” (35)


Just as Freud’s subject Dora tells stories in order to “excavate” her hysterical symptoms, so does Franza as they walk in the graveyard, where their father’s grave is absent. After noting that this spring was not the nicest, “but the second nicest,” (34) Franza collapses in a way Martin regards as symptomatic of the past. She is unable to walk, a cue of the expression of a repressed memory, and a textbook hysterical symptom for the traumatic eroticization of the foot, with the dormancy period called the “condition of suitability”. This instance, coupled with the baths she received from her brother, just like the one’s she used to give him, suggest that her repression is triggered towards hysteria. Freud notes that baths from already-sexualized children can also be considered sexual experiences. The brother-sister relationship as the third type of hysteria is assigned here. After the graveyard and her leg paralysis, her “dreamlike trance” changes the narration to be omniscient and retrospective, reflecting on when she met “Sire”. Here, Bachmann adds greater spatial dimension to the narrated past, giving more evidence that Franza is experiencing hysteria.

“Sire”, a British soldier that secured the area of Galicia, was the “first time in her life, [that she] demonstrated her instinctive discernment, a quality that later would help her make her way outside of Galicia… she said to him with confidence and for the third time: Sire!” (41) Her confidence and her pubescent romance come at the same time. “Sire” was the “first man in her life” (42), “who didn’t want her, or to rape her, there was no thought of that” (ibid.), though he did “violently” kiss her mouth before leaving back to England. After Franza sees “Sire” again at a conference in London, the narrator adds:

“And no one stood anymore at the edge of a road, somewhere in Europe, feeling as if she would collapse while trembling, or simply stand there forever in a cloud of dust, as the four tanks rolled on – which could no longer be seen” (48)


Here we can read the encounter between “Sire” and Franza as one of the childhood memories that is related to hysterical symptoms later in life. Could she no longer remember the sexual abuse, or was she experiencing object-cathexis because “Sire” didn’t remember her? Franza’s retrospective narration about eventual sexual approval by an older man is opposite Dora’s Case; Franza is aware that she desired the kisses, awarding her more cognitive agency than Freud allowed Dora, though she, like Dora, still experienced the kissing passively, a requirement for the Freudian idea of hysteria.

The case of Franza and “Sire” could be read as a polemic against Freud’s abandonment of the Seduction Theory in 1897. After protests from his colleagues and the general populace at the idea that childhood sexual experiences with adults were so widespread, Freud dropped the theory by suggesting that the pathological effects from sexual trauma can also be products of imagined encounters. In the Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis Freud says, “The phantasies possess psychical as contrasted with material reality, and we gradually learn to understand that in the world of neuroses it is psychical reality which is the decisive kind.” In the book Assault on Truth (1984) Jeffrey Masson suggests that Freud’s abandonment of the theory also “abandoned the scientific basis of his own work”[8]. In my opinion, Bachmann’s Das Buch Franza also presents a non-definitive answer to the question of rape and by leaving this question open within the context of Modernity, she references the patriarchal demand for Seduction Theory to be silenced.

After the ambiguous attempt to drown herself, from which she was saved (unlike Paul Celan), Franza exhibits another sign of Freudian hysteria, promiscuity, by leaving with the man on a motorcycle for the night. This counts for Freud as a “trigger”; Franza’s condition worsens considerably after that night. In chapter two, “Jordanian Time”, Martin’s narration drops out and Franza’s becomes deeply introspective, and wound together with the omniscient narrator: “Why was I hated so much? No, not me, the other within me. There are many possible explanations, and you’ll have them as soon as I tell you three stories, but as yet I don’t have them myself.” (62) In this instance, the omniscient narrator’s voice takes over for Franza’s self-talk. This shift in narration is particularly striking because it comes right after another “talking cure” narration episode, in which she thinks critically about Jordan’s ex-wives for the first time:

“Only now do I wonder about the other women and why all of them disappeared without a sound, why one no longer left the house, why another turned on the gas, while I myself am the third who amended herself with this name, becoming the third Frau Jordan. It’s as if over the entire time that lies sunken in the darkness a spotlight now shines… full of evidence that can’t be overlooked, and yet how willing I was to believe them dumb, ignorant, at fault-” (62)


Bachmann’s subject Franza cites Jordan as the cause of her breakdown, with evidence that victimizes herself and other women, effectively making Jorden the perpetrator. She describes her condition, with choke marks and peeling skin, claiming to not know where it is coming from except the, “result of a diabolical experiment. Oh, why didn’t he simply kill me. It’s just so unjust.” (63)

The second chapter draws out Bachmann’s attention to historical trauma, particularly the problem of patriarchy. Her explanations of in-house trauma depend on her husband’s mistreatment and because of her own latent condition of “suitability” as a “lesser race”. She says to him, “I think completely differently than you do.” To which he replies, “Ah an enemy in my own house.” (65) Polarizing the high-class Viennese man, to whom Martin describes by his “haughty tone” (18), ascribing the responsibility for Franza’s “changed hairstyle, dropped Galician accent, exchanging it for a different accent in Vienna.” (20) Jordan’s apparent insufferability alongside his cultural superiority forced Franza to conform. This still conforms with a traumatic latency, until her ego is shaken by her perceived erasure from the work she had been helping him with. Would this mean that he was going to divorce her, like the others?  In her article “Female Subjectivity”, author Ingrid Stipa adds to the discourse on Franza experiencing object-cathexis. She says:

“Franza’s psychic destruction in The Franza Case, her social exclusion, begins with the elimination of her name from the manuscript on which she and her psychiatrist husband has been working on together. In addition, Jordan begins to take notes on Franza’s behavior. With these two gestures, he effectively reduces Franza from the status of an autonomous individual participating in public-discourse, to an object of scientific observation or to a psychoanalytic case-study” (Tracing Bachmann, 164)


Even Franza herself notices that her ego is in trouble, she narrates, “my own zeal and sense of conviction had given meaning to my life” (64). By addressing Franza’s status within the public-discourse, Stipa suggests that the loss of perceived “place” in the world objectifies Franza as a case-study. After her husband’s questioning, she stood up and noticed her teeth chattering, and knew she had to leave because she would not get human sympathy from him. This is also a hysterical event listed in Aetiology of Hysteria that is symptomatic of unwanted oral stimulation, and brought up in Das Buch Franza as a conversation and glass of whiskey, then a bout of him screaming at her, all of which she took passively.

Her objectification in this chapter carries on through an invitation to the movies with Prohaska, Jordan’s colleague, which she declines but then accepts after he says it would bring him pleasure. Bachmann’s discussion of Franza’s loneliness is quickly evident of her hysterical condition going untreated. About her husband’s negative treatment of her, she says:

“The wolf doesn’t kill a humiliated opponent, for he simply can’t kill him. Did you know that? He’s simply incapable of biting the throat when it’s held up to him. How wise, how lovely. Yet mankind, possessing the strongest weapons, the strongest beast of prey, has no such qualms.” (70)


Her depiction of the wolf opposite mankind harkens back to Bachmann’s introductory remarks for Das Buch Franza, when she says that these crimes are so subtle that we can hardly perceive them, but we can certainly feel them[9]. Aligning Franza’s dehumanization with death in a gas chamber, Bachmann writes of Franza dreaming Jordan is turning on the gas. In this way, she is exploring female narrative within the context of the Holocaust. Jordan has deemed Franza unfit, no matter what she does, and for this reason he is terminating her, potentially from their marriage. On this topic, author Kirsten Kirk approaches Bachmann’s Todesarten with an idea that Franza’s psychiatric case is here more important than the male-female discourse. She says, “It becomes evident that Bachmann’s primary concern was not only the plight of those murdered in war, but the situation of psychiatric cases, as well as the mentally ill and the insane.” (Bachmann’s Death Styles, 117) The motif of fascism within interpersonal relationships, the husband divorcing the wife for her societal inadequacies and deeming her as “insane” reminds us of the history of hysteria as a disease. Franza herself references the female nature of hysteria: “The flight from reality, female behavior, typical woman.” (The Book of Franza, 69)

Franza herself admits to having “post-traumatic stress” (70) and that her memory is like a bumpy, scratched record – that is, unable to reveal the real music. But, Franza also thinks that her trauma began with Jordan, she says: “I wasn’t sick at all, I didn’t come to him as a patient.” (ibid.) Bachmann scholar Stephanie Bird argues that it is in the second chapter that the narrator invites the reader to adopt a critical position in relation to Franza questioning the validity of her values (Women Writers, 18), which I argue ultimately reflects on Franza’s need to idealize and project a higher moral authority than her perceived own. She recognizes the “norm” that everyone, even those with eczema, are pressed into (73) and says, “I tried to do it, I tried to understand it all, though such attempts were bound up with pain.” (ibid.) Her attempts to be what he wants are futile because he has already planned her destruction: “F.’s self-confidence, something that still needs to be shaken.” (77)

After finding the Fossil’s notes about her, Franza’s narrated sentences become more hectic, and more often in the form of questions. The omniscient narrator suddenly comes in, revealing that she’s talking to Martin. She is telling stories of coughing and choking, two more signs of latent oral trauma, and taking pills to negate the hysterical symptoms. Despite Martin’s self-proclaimed inability to think of things in the Modern Era, he is in the position of her psychologist, letting her talk through the trauma she has experienced. She asks Martin to forgive her for crying, relating it to the forgiveness requested at the Nuremberg Trails in their “disgusting banality” (86). Should Martin be compared to the men who are violent to Franza? I don’t think so, because although he is skeptical about taking Franza with him to Egypt, he still does, and has also promised to take her for who she is. He is also not indoctrinated into the patriarchal ring of psychology that Franza is now afraid of. Egypt is positioned as an offering by her brother in order to leave the fascist society for a while, a sort of cleansing.

In the first two chapters of Das Buch Franza, Bachmann checks off every symptom of hysteria mentioned by Freud in Aetiology of Hysteria, every possible source of the traumatic memory or cathexis, and even veils it under the sub-conscious, the omniscient narrator, as latent and death-causing. Psychoanalysis for Bachmann marks not only traumatic memory, but also the psychological terror that comes from Jordan’s will to power over his object of study, Franza. The motif of a “cure” is also at the same time wrapped up with an institutionalization of her ailment, which Franza reflects on as the displacement of fascism into personal relationships (The Book of Franza, 75). Franza’s panic attacks continue in the third chapter, characterized by trembling, difficulty breathing, moving, and speaking: “The Nile rose and sank quickly, the entire length of it. Franza leanes hard against the small table, her knees feeling weak, and then sat herself down on the stool that Martin shoved beneath her.” (122)

Discussing the way fear operates within her fragile state, scholar Simone Klapper addresses Franza’s inability to “name or judge” her illness symptoms, because she is afraid of conforming to features that would make her abnormal[10]. Lennox also describes the fact that both Franza and the narrator avoid diagnosing the protagonist, making them “unable to transcend racist discourses” (Murdered Daughters, 51). On the other hand, Klapper suggests that the aesthetic experience of Bachmann’s reflexive writing crosses the border of the symbolical order (Aesthetics, 10).  She also points out that the third chapter, “The Egyptian Darkness” alludes to Frued’s statement of the ‘woman as dark as the continent’. She cites Derrida, “Indeed, the desert resembles the characterization of the female (poststructuralist) theory as the open, structureless and indescribable”. It does seem that the desert allows Franza some control over her hysteria: “There was no doubt that her skin had begun to heal as a result of experiencing real necessity. Something (what?) was helping her to gain control over herself, for she no longer trembled for hours on end and was becoming brown and fit.” (103) And: “everything is empty and yet more immediate than anything that claims to exist. Not simply nothingness speculated on by the holders of endowed professorships. It escapes definition.” (89) The desert is not long her cure, but exists in its “otherness” as a safe place for her for some time. Franza is momentarily able to free herself from the experience of the professor, until she encounters the “crimes” she had experienced also in Vienna. Many texts try to localize her psychoanalytic condition in this change, concerning Franza as anorexic, hysterical, neurotic and suicidal[11]. Other texts accuse Bachmann as “othering” Egypt as a cure for the European banality of evil; Monika Albrecht argues that she is pre-destined to die, and the trip to Egypt evokes her lethal spirit[12]; Hermann Weber call her trip to Egypt “Überhöhung und Zelebration der Krankengeschichte einer Europäerin[13] ; Professor Sabine Wilke writes:

diese Genre stelle sich nähmlich heraus, dass es für die (allein oder auch mit Begleitung) reisende weiße Frau nur eine Stellung gibt, die beiderseits (von den weißen Reisenden wie auch vonden afrikanischen Eingeboren) als akzeptable empfunden wird,” (“Wenn Du nach Afrika gehst, vergiss die Peitsche nicht”, 58)


and even criticizes Bachmann’s allusions to colonialism in the context of feminism:

wenn sich der gebildete Wiener, Martin, über die ungebildete, laute, penetrante, rosa Hüte tragende amerikanische Kolonie in Kairo mokiert, ohne auf die europäische Verwicklung mit der kolonialen Geschichte diese Landes zu reflektieren. Que Opferidentifikation wird Franza zu einer Kolonisierten, ihr Mann Jordan zum Kolonisator – ein position, die in der feministischen Kritik der achtziger Jahre noch vollkommen unproblematisch als Beschreibung einer patriarchalischen Prealität rezipiert wurde.” (ibid., 60)


I agree with the critiques of Albrecht, Weber and Wilke about the overuse of Egypt to serve a Western plot, especially concerning the appropriation of Egyptian burial as a metaphor for self-reflection of the white woman’s experience of being judged. When she approaches the “scratched-out symbols of Deir al-Bahari within the temple of Queen Hatshepsut” it dawns upon her that “though [the pharaoh] had deleted her, she was still there. It [the hieroglyph] can still be read, because nothing is there where in fact something should be” (109), that is, by being erased she has already earned her place there. The tombs provoke her as a relatable act of violence, of being read and dissected to the point of destruction just for the idea of science, and for the pleasure of the scientist.

The third chapter’s archeological metaphors of expeditions, ruins, artifacts, ancient signs and digging all relate to the book’s commentary on psychoanalysis. They also express a shift from her foreign privilege of interest in the culture, until the Nile mud bath, during which she was reminded of some rules to prevent her skin from burning and suddenly had an attack. At this point in the book, the reader is invited to question Franza’s status as a victim; is she unable to live in a world with rules? Freud would notice here that Martin had been rubbing the mud on her body, an indication of sexual contact that would result in Franza’s complete paralysis. Author Shanmuganathan draws attention to this episode in the mud as Freud’s consideration of people being buried alive to be the most “uncanny” (unheimlich), because it is a transformation of the fantasy to live in the womb.[14] After participating in the womb with her, the symbolism expressing the brother-sister relationship that occurs in the latter third of hysteria patients in Aetiology of Hysteria just as it occurs in the latter third of this novel, Martin considers either himself or another having sex with her as the cure: “He had to get rid of the Fossil” (108) Her body, fossilized in mud, is undergoing narrative dissociating the body from Franza’s mind. The eroding structures of her mind during the reiteration of birth in the mud suggest that in Egypt she no longer lives under the pressure of memory, or her identity or otherwise, but now under the pressure of her status to Martin as a fossil that needs to be gotten rid of, rather than helped.

“This urge to destroy, carried out with great chisels, this desire to erase a great figure. […] She only said, he was not able to destroy her.” (110) After Martin’s assumption that Franza needed sex, the patriarchal nature of the story becomes vivid; the theme of death among ruins and among weddings both mirrors and perpetuates the theme of scientific maintenance of ruins. The narrator has taken over for both Martin and Franza, expressing details about their surroundings’ hopelessness against the “whites” (112), referring to a building project that was occurring along the Nile at the time. These dualities of death and life are more predominant in the third chapter, and between the two so is blame. As Franza charges the “whites” as the cause of suffering, she is also referring to the “white” of a fossil, the intricate past structures that make up its sturdy core, and if broken, cannot be reassembled.[15]

While Martin is partying with his friends instead of concerning himself with Franza, he becomes a violent actor. By allowing her to be raped by the beach cretin, and insisting that she smoke hash, he negates her needs and instead imposes his ideas upon her. “She began again to smoke, obedient, sensing nothing,” (115) “the hemp had taken them to different places.” (117) The world of patriarchal dominance existed in Cairo, too, and without Martin’s help, he was effectively participating. This resonates as a conversation about guilt during National Fascism. In this particular wave of hysterics, the narrator begins to focus not on the Egyptians, but on the Europeans around Franza. As her subconscious, the narrator exposes Franza’s distance from the world and her seeking to understand it. Wilke writes:

“Die Erzählerin fantisiert sich in eine Welt hinein, in der die Ich-Grenzen verschwimmen und stattdessen eine Verschmelzung der einzelnen Körper im sexuellen Akt stattfindet, als die Heilung von der individualisierten europäischen Kultur empfunden wird.” (64)


This particular distortion, of finding one’s self in a stranger as a process towards healing is significant by way of Franza’s recognition of the Egyptian woman who is seemingly enslaved by the man, and also in its Freudian context, as a “healing” from the iron cage of individualized European culture through the dissolution of her own body. Her attention to the strange woman and the narrator’s attention to the flooding and the “whites” coming cannot be discussed without the contribution of Paul Celan’s poem In Ägypten. He writes:

‘In Egypt’
For Ingeborg

June, 1948

Thou shalt say to the eye of the woman stranger: Be the water!
Thou shalt seek in the stranger’s eye those whom thou knowest are in the water.
Thou shalt summon them from the water: Ruth! Naomi! Miriam!
Thou shalt adorn them when thou liest with the stranger.
Thou shalt adorn them with the stranger’s cloud-hair.
Thou shalt say to Ruth and Miriam and Naomi:
Behold, I sleep next to her!
Thou shalt most beautifully adorn the woman stranger near thee.
Thou shalt adorn her with the pain for Ruth, for Miriam and Naomi.
Thou shalt say to the stranger:
Behold, I slept next to these!


The poem sets up the feminine, Torah- abiding heroines of Jewish literature, Ruth and Naomi. Ruth, who inspires us to transcend the negativity in life after losing her husband, represents feminine grace[16]. Naomi, her friend, seeks to marry Ruth to her brother, a similar story to Martin’s desire to find someone to sleep with Franza. And Miriam, a separate story, is the sister of Moses who is “associated with bringing husband and wife back together again” through the ritual of Mitveh, which purifies the body[17]. Her name, as well, means “bitter sea”, connected with the bitter salt water that killed the traveling Israelites and drowned the Egyptians. This resonates with us as the conversation about water and flooding, which I will address briefly.

The beloved Jewish figures are set against the “stranger” who saves as vessel for them. There is no point of recognition of the stranger except through the identification of these three – even the acknowledgment “Behold, I sleep next to her” of the stranger is made directly to the three spirits. The poem is a process of conjuring – it is not the stranger who is talked to, but the “strange woman’s eye” which is commanded to be the water. It is this water, perhaps the water of the unconscious given that the eye reflects us back to ourselves, which allows for the interaction to take place. The poem moves from the command to acts – seeking, calling forth, adorning… it is in lying with the stranger that the three spirits are adorned, which reads as both a ceremonial and an act of love. They are adorned with the “cloud-hair” moving from the eyes in which they are to the frame, making the stranger an instrument to them and incidental in herself. “Behold I sleep next to her” follows – an act of giving, of conquering, for the sake of the spirits. But the poem ends with a focus turned back on the stranger, as she is beautified more with the presence of the pain over Ruth, Miriam and Noemi than her hair could provide for them. The importance is in the memories, in the subconscious the speaker is bringing to sleeping with this strange woman, and she is lit up in the beauty of his own imaginings. The poem ends on a declaration made to the stranger – still a stranger – after having lain with her. “Behold, I slept next to these.” The spirits have left, the moment is gone, but there is beauty in what has happened and the revelation is able to take place now that the spell is broken.

Coming across Dr. Körner, a man who ascribes to the Western treatment of illness and wears a white coat like her husband, Franza participates in her own subjugation by asking him to complete her process of death. Martin symbolically facilitates this process because she stels $300 from him to bribe the doctor with. Dr. Körner didn’t know her husband in the tight Viennese circles after having fled before denazification, so Franza began to feel agency due to her knowledge from her husband’s work, but her independence without his reputation. She already had the notes on Dr. Köner, but he did not have them on her; she knew that he had murdered sick women in the camps, “the immediate eradication of the unwanted sick, the assisted deaths, the mercy killings.” (The Book of Franza, 129) Rambling on to him only facilitates his aggression towards her, as he shirks off responsibility by saying, “I was never that high up” (ibid.). Demanding her to specify her illness, she instead demands a lethal injection. He denies her and escapes. She has been rejected by both her brother and the Dr. Kröner while in a hysterical state. The sadism of the oppressive males, and those who traumatize her through rape, cause the masochism of Franza’s suicide. Freud would suggest that we interpret this as an exaggerated and self-brutalizing ego. As readers, we are left only with Franza’s reconstruction of the story, the same as Martin.

Without a discussed incest-taboo, Martin is a figure not unlike Robert Musil’s Mann Ohne Eigenschaften, Man Without Qualities (1948) or his Ises and Osiris (1923), in which the sister rebuilds her brother’s body[18]. After killing herself, the narrator tells us of Martin: “He hoped that she had not resented staying in the room at the Semiramis or his lack of concern about her condition, and that she did not die conscious of any of these,” (144) proving his guilty feelings, and also reflecting on the intimacy that they maintained. Her relationship with Martin is the only love-relationship in the story with the exception of “Sire”; like Naomi, Martin wants to help Franza find “feminine grace” in her separation from Jordan, potentially through the cleansing effect of going somewhere else, but unlike Ruth and Miriam, the beautiful figures of myth, Franza exists in the Modern Era, fossilized as a victim of trauma.

His further conundrums about lying her back to Galicia speak to the meaning of Egypt as a place for hope but eventual death. He thought that “Wadi Halfa would soon be flooded. That’s where she should lie, because that was where she had been the happiest.” (ibid.) And yet, he says that Egypt would have been a mistake for him, because it is “so similar to the present.” (145) He is rejecting the romanticization of Egypt for himself, but would like her to be in the flood there. Bachmann situates Egypt in its duality as Franza’s wellness vacation and her solidification of death. The narrator continues and ends:

“It wouldn’t be swept away, for nothing can be swept away. It couldn’t be dragged under, for there was no current. Instead, a great flood. Rising.

The Egyptian darkness, after all, is absolute.” (146)


Coming back to Paul Celan’s poem on Ingeborg, the realization of what has happened and what could have been is only apparent once the spirits of Ruth, Naomi and Miriam are gone; once Franza has died, the narration of Egypt’s flood by way of “the whites” who built a canal there is symbolic of the Modern Era’s negation of those who are different. Situating Franza as the fallen hero of this flood myth, Bachmann puts her in conversation with the Jews enslaved in Egypt and achieving Exodus. By recognizing Bachmann’s influence from Paul Celan’s poem, and from his suicidal illness, we are given the framework for understanding Franza’s Aetiology of Hysteria, and also her reflection on fascism and human negation. Bachmann’s illusion to the Jewish heroines written about by Paul Celan is a framework in itself, set within the larger discourse of the crimes of fascism and the illness of hysteria caused from it.


[1] Höller, Hans. Stöll.  Correspondence. Seagull Books. 2010. (295)

[2] Lennox, Sara. Cemetery of the Murdered Daughters. University of Massachusetts. 2006.

[3] Höller, Hans. Stöll.  Correspondence. Seagull Books. 2010. (324)

[4] Timeline. Höller, Hans. Stöll.  Correspondence. Seagull Books. 2010. (351)

[5] Gray, Richard. Lecture Notes. University of Washington. GER 390. Winter 2016.

[6] The Book of Franza and Requiem for Fanny Goldman. 1999. (3)

[7] “Object-cathexis”. Freud, Sigmund, “Mourning and Melancholia”. Pg. 245.

[8] Gray, Richard. Lecture Notes. University of Washington. GER 390. Winter 2016.

[9] Filkins, Peter. Introdcution: “Darkness Spoken”. The Book of Franza and Requiem for Fanny Goldman. ix. January, 1999.

[10] Klapper, Simone. “The Aesthetics of Fear in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Novel Fragment Das Buch Franza” 2000.

[11] C.F. Kunz. Postmoderne Literatur in deutscher Sprache. (142)

[12] Albrecht, Monika. “Esmuss geschrieben werden” Kolonisation und magische Welt-sicht in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Romanfragment Das Buch Franza. Würzburg, 1998. (68)

[13] “Zerbrochene Gottesvorstellungen: Orient und Religion in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Romanfragment Der Fall Franza.” Ingeborg Bachmann – Neue Beitrage zu ihrem Werk. Internationales Symposium Münster. 1991.

[14] Shanmuganathan, V. “Time, pain and myth in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Das Buch Franza and Anne Duden’s Übergang.”

[15] Klapper, Simone. “The Aesthetics of Fear in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Novel Fragment Das Buch Franza” 2000.

[16] Kohn, Leah. “The Book of Ruth: An Exploration of Jewish Femininity” Women in Judaism. ProjectGenesis, Inc. 2000.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Lecture Notes. Professor Henrietta Herwig. GER 297. UC Davis. 23. May 2017.


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