Act I Scene 26


South-western front[1]. Observation post at an altitude of over three and a half thousand feet. The table is adorned with flowers and trophies of war.

OBSERVER:    Here they come!

ALICE SCHALEK[2] (at the head of a gaggle of war correspondents):    I see that festive preparations have been made to welcome us. Flowers! They must be intended for my male colleagues, the trophies are for me! Thank you, my brave warriors! We have pushed ahead to this observation post, it’s not a lot, but it’s something anyway. We must be content that at least it can be seen by the enemy. The commander could not satisfy my dearest wish, to be able to visit an exposed position, he says that might arouse the enemy.

RIFLEMAN (spits and says):    God bless you.

ALICE SCHALEK:    God, so captivating. He sits as if painted, if he didn’t show signs of life he’d have to be the work of Defregger[3] , his gorgeous Tyrolean peasants, his antique battle scenes; what am I saying, more like Egger-Lienz[4] painting our broad-shouldered soldiers now! It seems this one even has a cunning, crafty twinkle in his eye. As he lives and breathes, the Common Man! Let me tell you, brave soldiers, what we went through to reach you. The normally bustling valley road is indisputably under the command of the War Press Corps now. Up on the mountain pass I felt something like satisfaction for the very first time, seeing a Dolomite hotel metamorphosed into military accommodation. Where are they now, those over-made-up, lace-bedecked signoras, that Italian hotelier? Vanished into thin air! Ah, it does you good! The officer who acted as our guide had to consider for a moment which mountain top would suit us. He proposed the least-bombarded and naturally my male colleagues agreed, but I said: no, I won’t go along with that; and so in the end we came up here. The very least we could do. So answer me one question: How come before the war I never saw these magnificent physiques I now encounter every day? The Common Man is a glorious sight to behold! In a city – God how uninspiring! But here every one of them is an unforgettable phenomenon. Where is the officer?

OFFICER (from inside):    Busy.

ALICE SCHALEK:    That doesn’t matter. (He appears.  He is tight-lipped as she tries to draw out information. Then she says:) Where is the lookout point? Surely you have a lookout point? Wherever I’ve been before, in the observer’s trench, amongst the mossy camouflage, a five centimetre lookout point just for me. Ah, here it is! (She positions herself at the lookout point.)

OFFICER (shouting):    Duck! (Schalek ducks.)  They don’t know where the observer’s position is, right, the tip of your nose could give us away. (The male war correspondents take out handkerchiefs and hold over their noses.)

ALICE SCHALEK (aside):    Cowards! (The guns begin to fire.) Thank God, we’ve come just in time. Now the spectacle begins – so tell me, Lieutenant, if any artist’s skill could create a more dramatic, a more passionate spectacle. Those who stay at home may incessantly call this war the shame of our century – didn’t I do it too, while I was sitting in the rear – but those who are really here are gripped by the fever of lived experience. Isn’t it true, Lieutenant, you stand in the cockpit of this war and yet many of you, admit it, many of you don’t really want it to end!

(The sound of a projectile: Ssss—)

ALICE SCHALEK:    Ssss – ! A screamer.

OFFICER:    No, shrapnel. Can’t you tell?

ALICE SCHALEK:    Evidently it’s not easy for you to realise that I am, as yet, unable to separate the finer tonal colours. But I have learned so much in the time I’ve been out here, and I will learn that too. – I think the show is at an end now. What a shame! It was first-class.

OFFICER:    You’re satisfied?

ALICE SCHALEK:    Satisfied? Satisfied is not the word! Call it love of the fatherland, you idealists; hatred of the foe, you nationalists; call it sport, you modernists; adventure, you romantics; call it the rapture of power, you readers of men’s souls – I call it mankind set free.

OFFICER:    You call it what?

ALICE SCHALEK:    Mankind set free.

OFFICER:    Maybe, if a man could get some leave once in a blue moon!

ALICE SCHALEK:    But surely you’re compensated for it by the hourly danger of death, which is truly living! You know what interests me most? What is it you think, what kind of feelings do you have? It’s astonishing how easily men at three and a half thousand metres up can cope, not only without any support from women, but without any women at all.

ORDERLY (enters):    Beg to report, sir, Sergeant Hofer is dead.

ALICE SCHALEK:    How simply this simple man makes his report! He is white as a sheet. Call it love of the fatherland, hatred of the foe, sport, adventure or the rapture of power – I call it mankind set free. I am gripped by the fever of lived experience! Lieutenant, tell me, what are you thinking now, what are you feeling now?


[1] Now Northern Italy.

[2] The War Press Corps’ only female correspondent. (I n.219)

[3] Franz Defregger (1835 – 1921), born in the Tyrol, a farmer’s son, ennobled 1883; lived most of his later life in Munich (professor of the history of painting at the Academy of Art); he painted portraits, genre scenes of Tyrolean peasant life; also romanticised scenes of the 1809 Tyrolean uprising against Napoleon.

[4] Albin Egger-Lienz (1868-1926), born in what is now the Italian Tyrol; studied in Munich under Defregger, though a much more modern artist than him; also a painter of Tyrolean peasant scenes; Austro-Hungarian war artist 1914-1918; some of his early war work seems to glorify the common soldier in a way Alice Schalek would approve of, but one of his last war paintings Die Leichenfelt, ‘The Field of Corpses’, could serve as a chilling illustration to Die letzten Tage der Menschheit. In Schalek’s references to both artists it has seemed appropriate to add a few more words to the text to explain their significance to her.