What was Francis Bacon's writing style

Summary of The letter from Lord Chandos

Viennese modernism

Around 1900 the k. u. k. (Imperial and royal) Austro-Hungarian monarchy in the process of internal and external disintegration. The Czechs strived for independence, in Hungary one revolt followed another, the state apparatus sank into corruption. Meanwhile, the diffuse end-time mood of the Fin de Siècle dominated artistic life in Vienna: A highly sensitive nervousness developed, and the subtle discrepancies in the modern way of life before the First World War were described. Naturalism with its claim to objectivity was questioned by the so-called Viennese Modernism from the 1890s onwards.

A group of poets who became known as "Jung-Wien" and their members among others Arthur Schnitzler, Stefan Zweig and Hugo von Hofmannsthalziegen, experimented with impressionistic, symbolistic and neo-romantic forms. In the name of aestheticism, the progressive writers demanded that art should be completely free of purpose. They met in restaurants such as Café Central or Café Griensteidl and thus established the famous Viennese coffee house literature: Without being forced to consume, they were able to conduct extensive character and milieu studies, exchange ideas, discuss controversies and write occasional texts on the side. This era ended with the “Anschluss” of Austria to Nazi Germany and the subsequent harassment against Jewish intellectuals.


Hugo von Hofmannsthal wrote the letter from the fictional Lord Chandos to Francis Bacon at the age of 28, in August 1902. In Hofmannsthal's oeuvre it belongs to the series of invented conversations and letters - as does the dialogue About characters in the novel and in the drama, the Conversation about poems and the Letters from the returnee. The earliest model for this literary-essayistic text genre are the dialogues Plato. Walter H. PatersImaginary portraits and Walter S. LandorsImgaginary conversations gave further impetus for experiments with this form. The letter is inspired by the epoch of Francis Bacon - the writing of the text was preceded by reading several of Bacon's writings - and at the same time is based on the author's own experiences. The parallels between the author and Lord Chandos are obvious: only two years of age separate the two, and like Chandos Hofmannsthal had already created a highly acclaimed early work by which he would now be measured. In contrast to his fictional lord, Hofmannsthal never broke off his literary activity. Since his early literary breakthrough, he has continuously written stories and dramas and also worked on his habilitation thesis.

The criticism of language and knowledge expressed in the letter was widespread around 1900. Already Friedrich Nietzsche had in his writing About truth and lies in a non-moral sense Doubts about the veracity of linguistic utterances expressed, later followed him Rainer Maria Rilke, Franz Kafka, Robert Musil and Fritz Mauthner.

Impact history

The Chandos letter was published for the first time in the high-circulation Berlin daily newspaper The day published in two parts on October 18 and 19, 1902. He became instantly famous. The readers recognized their sense of life, yes, of epochs. Doubts about oneself, about the world and about language expressed the general feeling of modernity. The critic Gustav Landauer saw the letter as early as 1903 as a manifesto of a new generation of poets who were turning away from belief in the word and tending towards "rhythm, towards the unspeakable". Still applies today A letter as the founding document of literary-philosophical modernism and as the epitome of the language crisis. Hugo von Hofmannsthal was not the first to express such skepticism about language, but the Chandos letter effectively brings together the concerns previously expressed by other authors. The text is so famous today that some parts of it have become popular words, for example “What is a person that he makes plans!” Or the metaphor of words that crumble like moldy mushrooms in your mouth. Hofmannsthal himself increasingly turned to other art forms in which language plays no or no great role. Significantly, these art forms - dance, ballet, pantomime, silent film, opera, drama - flourished around the turn of the century. The body was now much more likely to express feelings than the language.

To mark the 100th anniversary of the publication of the Chandos letter, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 34 writers asked to write an answer to Lord Chandos. They are available as a book under the title in 2002 Dear Lord Chandos. Reply to a letter published.