[This page by Katya Krylova]

Malina (1971)

Malina, published in March 1971, was Bachmann’s eagerly awaited first novel. Although dividing critics, it was an instant bestseller, reaching its third print run by the end of the year, and subsequently gained the status of a proto-feminist classic in the canon of women’s writing. It owes its originality to its reinscription of the Doppelgänger motif into a psychological conflict along clearly gendered lines, in the form of an anonymous female narrator, the Ich, a writer, and her masculine counterpart, Malina, a high-ranking civil servant in Vienna’s Museum of Military History, who share the same apartment in the Ungargasse in Vienna’s third district. This opposition is presented as both ‘realistic’ (Malina and the Ich are described as attending parties together, their friends consider them to be a couple) and symbolic (most obviously illustrated by the Ich’s final disappearance into a crack in the wall). Malina has puzzled and intrigued readers and critics alike from the time of its publication. The conflict has been read as the destruction of feminine subjectivity by a patriarchal society, as a psychological conflict modeled on Jungian lines, as an analyst-analysand dynamic, or as the presentation of the violent sublimation of subjectivity into form that underpins artistic creation. The third central figure of the novel is Ivan, who also lives in the Ungargasse across the road from Malina’s and the Ich’s apartment, with whom the Ich has a passionate but ill-fated relationship.

The novel is divided into three chapters. The first chapter, entitled Glücklich mit Ivan; Happy with Ivan largely focuses on the Ich’s happiness in her relationship with Ivan, but it is clear that the very extremity of her feelings for Ivan masks a desire to escape a traumatic past, which is intimated by the narrator’s uneasiness outside of the confines of the Ungargasse. Almost all public buildings and places in Vienna provoke feelings of extreme anxiety in the narrator, so inscribed are they with the traumatic history of the War. The second chapter entitled Der dritte Mann; The Third Man (an allusion to Graham Greene’s novel and Carol Reed’s 1949 film of the same name set in post-war Vienna) presents a series of nightmare images narrated by the Ich to Malina. All are variations on a theme; nearly all the dream sequences feature a father figure who takes on various guises (by turns opera director, priest, concentration camp guard), but what remains constant is his abuse and violence towards the Ich. The dream images interweave personal trauma (that of incest with the father figure) with a collective history of violence, but they are firmly rooted within Vienna and the Austrian landscape, accounting for the Ich’s unease in the Viennese cityscape. In the last chapter of the novel, entitled Von letzten Dingen; Of Final Things it becomes clear that the Ich’s precarious accommodation with her past is untenable. Perennially haunted by the nightmares and reminiscences which plague her existence, the Ich desires an end to suffering, expressing her wish to become Malina, her well-adjusted and unemotional alter-ego. Whether this is read as an ego/id or anima/animus conflict, the Ich disappears into a crack in the wall at the end of the novel of her own volition, but with the blame laid firmly on Malina. The last lines assert that the Ich’s disappearance is murder, with Malina having deposited his problematic alter ego, the part of him that holds the key to his troubling past, once and for all, similar to his museum deposits.

Malina was turned into a film-script by Elfriede Jelinek in 1991, and made into a film by Werner Schroeter in the same year, starring Isabelle Huppert and Mathieu Carrière.

English Translation

Ingeborg Bachmann, Malina, trans. by Philip Boehm (Teaneck, NJ: Holmes & Meier, 1999)

Further Reading in English

Karen R. Achberger, Understanding Ingeborg Bachmann (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1995), Chapter 5 on Malina and the “Death Styles” Cycle

Stephanie Bird, ‘“What matters who’s speaking?”: Identity, Experience, and Problems with Feminism in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina’, in Gender and Politics in Austrian Fiction. Austrian Studies VII, ed. by Ritchie Robertson and Edward Timms (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1996), pp. 150-65

Stephanie Bird, Women Writers and National Identity: Bachmann, Duden, Özdamar (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), Chapter 3 on Malina

Stephanie Bird, ‘Bachmann, Malina’, in Landmarks in the German Novel (2), ed. by Peter Hutchinson and Michael Minden (Oxford and Bern: Peter Lang, 2010), pp. 25-42

Elizabeth Boa, ‘Unnatural Causes: Modes of Death in Christa Wolf’s Nachdenken über Christa T. and Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina’ in Arthur Williams, Stuart Parkes and Roland Smith (eds.), German Literature at a Time of Change 1989-1990 (Bern: Peter Lang, 1991), pp. 139-54

Allyson Fiddler, ‘Subjectivity and Women's Writing of the 1970s and early 1980s’, in The Cambridge Companion to the Modern German Novel, ed. by Graham Bartram (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 249-65

Sabine Hotho-Jackson, ‘Subversiveness in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Later Prose’, New German Studies 18 (1994), 55-71

Katya Krylova, ‘The Function of the Analyst: Bachmann’s Malina Read Through Lacan’, Focus on German Studies 14 (2007), 37-49

Hans Kundnani, ‘The Story of an Illness: Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina’, German Life and Letters 49:1 (1996), 59-71

Alexandra Kurmann, ‘What is Malina? Decoding Ingeborg Bachmann’s Poetics of Secrecy’, Women in German Yearbook 32 (2016), 76-94

Helgard Mahrdt, ‘“Society Is the Biggest Murder Scene of All": On the Private and Public Spheres in Ingeborg Bachmann's Prose’, Women in German Yearbook 12 (1996), 167-88

Peter M. McIsaac, Museums of the Mind: German Modernity and the Dynamics of Collecting (Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007), Chapter 7 on ‘“Quiet Violence”: The Army Museum in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina’, pp. 187-223

Michael Minden, ‘Modernism’s Struggle for the Soul: Rainer Maria Rilke’s Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge and Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina’, German Life and Letters 67:3 (2014), 320-40

Áine McMurtry, ‘Reading Tristan in Ingeborg Bachmann's Ich weiss keine bessere Welt and Malina’, German Life and Letters 60:4 (2007), 534-55

Georgina Paul, Perspectives on Gender in Post-1945 German Literature (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2009), Chapter 3 on Malina, pp. 67-95

Ernest Schonfield, Business Rhetoric in German Novels: From Buddenbrooks to the Global Corporation (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2018), Chapter 5, ‘Giving an Account of the Self in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina, 1971’, pp. 98-119

Jennifer Marston William, Killing Time: Waiting Hierarchies in the Twentieth-Century German Novel (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2010), Chapter 5 on Malina, pp. 143-67

Further Reading in German

Verena Timmerer-Maier, Wohnen “in Goyas letztem Raum”: Eine intermediale Poetik des Entsetzens. Die Zitierung von Goyas Pinturas Negras in Ingeborg Bachmanns Roman Malina. [Living in “Goya’s Last Room”. An Intermedial Poetics of Dread. Ingeborg Bachmann’s use of Goya’s Pinturas Negras in her novel Malina], PhD Thesis, University of Exeter, 2013

Sigrid Weigel, Ingeborg Bachmann: Hinterlassenschaften unter Wahrung des Briefgeheimnisses (Vienna: Zsolnay, 1999), Chapter 10 on Die ‘Todesarten’, pp. 509-558