Act I Scene 14


The apartment of Elfriede Ritter[1], an actress who has recently returned from Russia. Half-unpacked cases. Journalists Füchsl, Feigl and Halberstam[2] hold her arms and press her with questions.

ALL THREE (simultaneously):    Are there scars from the Cossack whips? Show us!  We need all the particulars, every detail! What about the people in Moscow?  What impression did you get? You must have suffered terribly, you must, really

FÜCHSL:    Tell us how they treated you like a prisoner!

FEIGL:    We want every detail of your sojourn in the evening edition!

HALBERSTAM:    We need to get the real feel of your journey home for the morning edition!

ELFRIEDE RITTER (the accent of North Germany, smiling):    Gentlemen, thank you for being so interested and so concerned, it is so sweet that my oh so darling Viennese have retained all their affection for me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for going to all the trouble of coming personally. I’m happy to wait to unpack my suitcases, but with the best will in the world, gentlemen, I can say no more than it was very, very interesting, nothing happened to me, what else, the journey home was arduous, but not in the least stressful and (mischievous) I am delighted to be back in dear Vienna.

HALBERSTAM:    Interesting – an arduous journey, she admits –

FEIGL:    Stressful she said –

FÜCHSL:    Hang on, I wrote the first part of this in the office – just a second – (writing) Rescued from the torments of Russian bondage, after the completion of an arduous and stressful journey, actress Elfriede Ritter wept tears of joy at the thought of being, once again, in her beloved Vienna.

ELFRIEDE RITTER (wagging a scolding finger):   My dear Herr Füchsl, you write for a newspaper of record[3], that’s not what I said, quite the opposite, I said I had nothing to complain about, nothing at all –

FÜCHSL:    Ah! (Writing) Today the actress can look back on her ordeal with stoicism.

ELFRIEDE RITTER:    What – I simply have to protest – a man of the press like you, this is outrageous –

FÜCHSL (writing):    However, when the visitor jogs her memory, she is once again in the grip of outrage. In affecting words Fräulein Ritter describes how she was denied even the opportunity of complaining about the treatment meted out to her.

ELFRIEDE RITTER:    What are you trying to do – I still can’t tell you –

FÜCHSL:    She hardly dares say it –

ELFRIEDE RITTER:    No, the truth is – I simply cannot say –

HALBERSTAM:    Oh, come on, you don’t realise just how much there is to say! My dear Fräulein, look, the public wants to read this, can’t you understand that? And I’m telling you, you can speak out. Here, perhaps not in Russia, but here thank God freedom of speech prevails, unlike Russia, here thank goodness you can say anything at all about conditions in Russia! Did any Russian newspaper pay you the kind of attention we are? Exactly!

FEIGL:    Fräulein Ritter, be sensible; do you imagine a little publicity will do any harm, now you’re going to be appearing on stage again, come on!

ELFRIEDE RITTER:    Please, gentlemen – I just can’t – this is ridiculous – if you’d seen it – the crowds in the streets, the government officials – if I had grounds for the slightest complaint, about harassment and so on, do you really think I’d keep it a secret?

FÜCHSL (writing):    Still shaking with anger, Fräulein Ritter describes how she was ridiculed by a mob in the street, how she was harassed by government officials, even over the slightest complaint, and how she was forced to keep all these incidents secret.

ELFRIEDE RITTER:    This is a joke, isn’t it? I have to tell you even the police were extremely obliging, they offered me a helping hand whenever they could, I could go out whenever I wanted to, come home when I wanted to, I assure you, if I had felt like a prisoner even for a moment –

FÜCHSL (writing):    The actress recounts that when she made any attempt to go out the police immediately forced her back, grabbing her by the hands and dragging her home, so she was literally leading the life of a prisoner –

ELFRIEDE RITTER:    I’m very angry – it’s untrue, gentlemen, I protest –

FÜCHSL (writing):    She becomes very angry if anyone reminds her of these incidents, of her futile protests –

ELFRIEDE RITTER:    But it’s not true!

FÜCHSL (looking up):    Not – true? What do you mean not true, when I’m taking down your every word?

FEIGL:    Do you suggest our papers would carry something that isn’t true?

HALBERSTAM:    You know, I’ve never come across anything like this before. It’s extraordinary!

FEIGL:    She’s quite capable of demanding a retraction!

FÜCHSL:    Making a fuss could do you a lot of damage!

FEIGL:   Don’t screw things up for yourself.

HALBERSTAM:    When’s she up for her next part?

FÜCHSL:    The casting committee will be meeting at the Burgtheater on Saturday, for Faust, and if I say anything about this to the director it will be Fräulein Berger who ends up playing Gretchen[4], I promise you!

FEIGL:    This is all the thanks Herr Fuchs[5] gets for treating you so well in his reviews? Well, you really don’t know Fuchs then! If he gets wind of this, just watch out on your next first night!

HALBERSTAM:   You’re a sore point with Herr Wolf as it is, since that part in his play. And Wolf’s very anti-Russian, if he hears you haven’t got any grievances against Russia now – he’ll do a hatchet job on you in a flash.

FÜCHSL:    That’s nothing, what about Herr Löw? You don’t want to fall out with him, an actress has to be accommodating, that’s the bottom line.

FEIGL:    On the other hand I promise it would help you enormously, not only with the public but the press too, if you had been ill-treated in Russia.

HALBERSTAM:    Think about it. You come from Berlin but you’ve settled down to a kind of rapport with us here very quickly. Things have always been very good for you here, you’ve been welcomed with open arms –

FÜCHSL:    I can assure you no one makes any jokes about this sort of thing. A famous actress goes to Russia and has nothing to say about the suffering she endured, ridiculous! I tell you, your career is at stake!

ELFRIEDE RITTER (imploringly):    But – but – but – you’re a journalist – I mean I – did believe –  with all due respect  – please, as a gentleman of the press  –  it’s only that I – wanted to tell the truth – forgive me – I’m sorry –

FEIGL (angry):    Call that the truth? So we’re lying, are we?

ELFRIEDE RITTER:    I mean – sorry – that’s to say I did – believe it was the truth – but you’re journalists – you – you must – know better. You see – as a woman I don’t really have the correct perspective sometimes – do I? God – you understand it – it really is war – people like me are simply intimidated – I’m just so glad to have escaped from enemy soil in one piece –

HALBERSTAM:    You see, now you’re remembering, bit by bit –

ELFRIEDE RITTER:    Yes, that’s right, gentlemen. You see, joy is welling up in me, just being back in your beloved Vienna again – made everything I’d survived seem rosier, only for a moment – now – rage and resentment are taking hold of me again –

HALBERSTAM:    There, you see, we knew from the first moment that you –

FÜCHSL (writing):    Rage and resentment still grip the artist as she recalls the torments she endured and her first outpourings of joy at her return to the metropolis give way to dark memories – (turning to her) Isn’t that the truth?

ELFRIEDE RITTER:    Yes, gentlemen, that is the truth – the thing is, I still bore the scars – I was so afraid, so –

FÜCHSL:    Hang on – (writing) Still utterly terrorised, she dares not speak about it. Even in the land of freedom she still succumbs, now and then, to the fear that she is there, in Russia, where she was forced to experience the shameful denial of an individual’s right to freedom of opinion and freedom of expression. (Turning to her) Now, isn’t that the truth?

ELFRIEDE RITTER:    Oh yes, a journalist like you can really see my innermost thoughts –

FÜCHSL:    There you are!

HALBERSTAM:    Now she’s acknowledging what she went through –

FEIGL:    She endured so much!

FÜCHSL:    What do you mean endured?  She suffered veritable torture!

HALBERSTAM:    Well, we’ve got what we need, let’s get on, we’re not here to enjoy ourselves –

FÜCHSL:    Of course not, I’ll finish it in the office. So – we won’t expect any demands for retractions? That’s something we could all do without!

ELFRIEDE RITTER:    Far from it, gentlemen! – Delightful of you to look in on me. Come back soon – Adieu, adieu! (Calling outside) Greta! Gre-ta!

FEIGL:    She’s got her head screwed on after all. God bless you, my dear. (To the others as they leave) She bore the greatest of hardships and yet she didn’t have the courage to tell anyone – poor cow!

(Elfriede Ritter sinks on to a chair, then gets up to unpack her cases.)


[1] Austrian actress, ‘well-known and beloved’, who has just returned from a trip to Russia; she was wheeled out by the War Ministry to give lectures on her ‘captivity’. Kraus has her make a valiant attempt at convenient honesty – no captivity; she was treated quite well. The press isn’t buying.

[2] Foxspawn, Craven, Blockwood.

[3] In Vienna at this time the words ‘journalist’, ‘newspaper’, ‘press’ assume qualities of honesty, probity, intelligence and assiduousness in the pursuit of the truth that were shared by almost everyone except Karl Kraus; since Kraus’s cynical view of the press is now almost universal it has been necessary, in translating these words, to expand on such ideas in places, hence ‘newspaper of record’, itself a very dog-eared term.

[4] Goethe ‘Faust, Pt I’; Gretchen becomes Faust’s lover, tragically ensnared in his pact with the Devil.

[5] The journalists throw up three people who can threaten Elfriede Ritter’s career, a critic, a playwright and, perhaps, a producer; these may be real people, as yet unidentified, but they are also, fortuitously or otherwise, named for carnivorous hunters and scavengers: Fox, Wolf and Lion.