The House of Wittgenstein - Family at War
Having only read Ray Monk's biography of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, I was a little disappointed that Alexander Waugh, in his House of Wittgenstein - Family at War, chose to portray Ludwig in an unnecessarily harsh light compared to his brother, Paul. Paul was obsessive about music, although this is no surprise when we learn that the piano was this eminent Austrian family's way of dealing with violent and undiscussed emotion, brought about by an overbearing father, Karl, who piled undue pressure on his sons, and a passive mother. Yet one feels that Waugh, just as mad about music, as he is also the Chief Opera Critic for the Mail on Sunday and the London Evening Standard, was using what was supposed to be the biography of a family, because that is what the title implies, as the opportunity only to put Paul in the most favourable light. This is hardly a surprise, for the inside of the book jacket states that it is concerned ultimately with Paul, yet I was also left wanting to know more about those brothers who had committed suicide, Kurt, Rudi and Hans. Instead we are left only with an impression of Kurt as some sort of simpleton, although this probably means that he just wasn't as intense and neurotic as his siblings, ergo, a bit more mentally balanced. Kurt Wittgenstein seems to have done quite well going off to America to work as well as returning to Austria to fight. Waugh also annoyingly refers to Leopoldine, the mother, as Mrs. Wittgenstein, when he doesn't refer to her husband, Karl, as Mr. Wittgenstein. I would also have liked to know more about her, as well as about the three sisters, although we know more about Gretl than Helene and Hermina. Waugh could have done with providing much more psychological insight, instead it is as if he has approached the family with the same skimming mentality to feelings that they had. Adam Phillips in his review of the book from late last year in the London Review of Books, really draws attention to Waugh's focus on the money and the 'stuff' and the houses, and not enough on the people and their tumultuous feelings and dynamics with one another. There is also Waugh's terrible neglect and even disdain for Ludwig's works, brushing them aside with a mocking sneer like the family seemed to do. I wasn't keen on the structure either, consisting of small sections which were unbalanced and which often jumped back and forth without good cause, and there is a lot of repetition of information throughout. Despite all this, which is not minor, if it was Waugh's intention to create a readable book about the tragedies of this family through the two world wars, and helped us to know Paul the pianist better, then he succeeded.