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Interview: Jennifer Haworth talks about Vienna: Behind the Façades

Updated: Aug 18, 2022


Historian Jennifer Haworth began her writing career as a travel writer and for more than twenty years she travelled the world and wrote travel stories for leading newspapers and magazines in New Zealand and overseas. She is the published author of eight books on history and travel and three novels. Jennifer talks to NZ Booklovers.


Tell us a little about Vienna: Behind the Façades

Vienna takes you beyond the city’s facades and into the colourful world of its past imperial grandeur and the tragedy of its destruction in two World Wars. In its heyday there were few European cities that contributed more to European culture and history. Its Habsburg rulers were a major world power and uts musicians, painters, writers and scientists were drawn to the city and flourished there. But it is also a city of secrets and sadness. Today there are parts of its story that the Viennese find hard to acknowledge. This book tells many of these stories.


What inspired you to write this book?

From my first visit to Vienna in 1975 I was intrigued by its stories. Here was a once great imperial city that had suffered after the collapse of the Empire. The Habsburgs, its Imperial rulers, had once been the dominant power in Europe ruling a vast multicultural Empire but this had been shattered in World War I and it is only very recent years has been prepared to acknowledge what happened in those years. As I learnt more I became intrigued by the city and I eventually fell in love with its rich heritage in music, the fine arts and literature. It was desire to tell this story that led me to write this book.


What research was involved?

The first thing was to get to know the city very well. I have been visiting there for 47 years and have watched Vienna change from a poor, crushed city to one that has come to acknowledge its special Austrian heritage. Once I decided to write the book interviewing media people in all the major museums, art galleries and historic sites and palaces was important as was reading the city’s major authors. I also kept travel notes of all my visits to the city and these allowed me to add many personal reminiscences to the story.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I always worked through all my travel notes carefully before I started writing each section, I then cross-checked these with any references from books that I had . If there were gaps I then emailed contacts in Vienna, Usually I wrote three or more drafts before I was satisfied with the section. Once I had finished the chapter I gave it all a very careful edit looking for gaps or repetition. The completed manuscript received the same treatment.


If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

This is really hard to answer because there is so much music that just epitomised Vienna at the time when it was composed. I would have to include some Mozart as so much of his later work was composed there. Among them would be some of his concertos which were often written for local musicians, the operas particularly the Magic Flute which records his involvement with the Free Masons and the Requiem. Then there is Beethoven particularly the 6th – the Pastoral- and the 9th and so much else. It is the same with Schubert and Haydn. There music is part of the fabric of the Viennese experience. I would have to include some of the waltzes composed by of the Strauss family – the Blue Danube, the Gold and Silver waltz and the Radetzky March. Lehar’s wonderful operetta The Merry Widow has so many memorable songs to include. AS well there are Mahler’s song cycles and symphonies and even Rickard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier which is a real satire on the last years of the empire.


What did you enjoy the most about writing Vienna?

In particular I enjoyed reliving my experiences there. I loved reading memoirs and novels about the city and I got great pleasure from piecing all the stories together so than they developed the historical character of those who were involved in the city’s story.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I had a little holiday away and on September 20th in Christchurch we are having a Viennese evening to celebrate the book to locals.


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I have been concentrating on books on Hungary because I am writing a similar study of Budapest and Hungary called Budapest Behind the Facades. Pal Lendvai’s, The Hungarians is excellent on the history and trauma this country has endured. Among the novels are Goodbye to Budapest by Margarita Morri : Magda Szabo’s the Door and Karalin Street: Imre Kertesz’s, Fateless. Also memoirs like the Gleaming Taper by Klara Richards and amazing tales like The Gikd Train by by Ronald Zweig.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

I want to complete the companion memoir on Budapest and Hungary. I have written nearly half of it and it will probably take me another year to complete it.


Wily Publications

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