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Considered her greatest literary achievement, Marlen Haushofer's The Wall is the story of one quite ordinary, unnamed middle-aged woman who awakens to find she is the last living human on Earth. Surmising her solitude to be the result of a too successful military experiment, she begins the terrifying work of not only survival, but self-renewal. Variously interpreted as an ironic Robinson Crusoe story, a philosophical parable of human isolation and as dystopian fiction, The Wall is at once a simple survival story and a disturbing mediation on 20th century history.
Marlen Haushofer was born on April 11, 1920 in Frauenstein, a region in Upper Austria. She attended Catholic boarding school in Linz, and studied German literature in Vienna and Graz. Her adult life was spent in Steyr, an old industrial city with a strong working class culture and a history of militancy. She died in 1970.
Haushofer published the novella “The Fifth Year” in 1952 and earned her first literar award in 1953. Her first novel, A Handful of Life, was published in 1955. The Wall, published in 1962, is considered her greatest literary achievement. Variously interpreted as an ironic Robinson Crusoe story, a philosophical parable of human isolation, and as dystopian fiction, The Wall is currently recognized for its important place in traditions of feminist fiction. Haushofers’s last novel, The Attic, was published in 1969. Her last short story collection, Terrible Faithfulness, brought her the Austrian state prize for literature. She has been translated into several European languages. The Wall is Haushofer’s only work available in English.
I sat down on a tree-trunk at the side of the road and tried to think. I couldn't. It was as if all my thoughts had abandoned me all at once. Lynx crept closer, and his bloody saliva dripped on to my coat. I stroked him until he calmed down. And then we both looked over to the road, so quiet and glistening in the morning light.
I stood up three more times and convinced myself that here, three yards from me, there really was something invisible, smooth and cool blocking my path. I thought it might be a hallucination, but of course I knew that it was nothing of the the kind. I could have coped much more easily with a momentary insanity than with this terrible, invisible thing. But there was Lynx with his bleeding mouth, and there was the bump on my head, which was begging to ache.
I don't know how long I stayed sitting on the tree-trunk, but I remember my thoughts kept hovering around quit trivial matters, as if they wanted to keep away at all costs from this incomprehensible experience.
The sun rose higher and warmed my back. Lynx licked and licked and finally stopped bleeding. He couldn't have hurt himself too badly.
I realized I had to do something, and ordered Lynx to sit. Then I carefully approached the invisible obstruction with outstretched hands and felt my way along it until I bumped into the last rock of the gorge. I couldn't get any further on that side. On the other side of the road I got as far as the stream, and only now did I notice that the stream was slightly dammed and was flooding its banks. Yet it wasn't carrying that much water. It had been dry all April and the snow had already thawed. On the other side of the wall - I've grown used to calling the thing the wall, because I had to give it some name or other now that it was there - on the other side, then, the bed of the stream was almost dry, and then the water flowed on in a trickle. t had obviously burrowed its way through the porous limestone. So the wall couldn't extend deep into the earth. A fleeting relief flashed through me. I didn't want to cross the blocked stream. There was no reason to believe the wall suddenly stopped, because then it would have been easy for Hugo and Luise to get back.
Suddenly I was struck by what might have been unconsciously worrying me the whole time: the fact that the road was entirely deserted. Someone would have raised the alarm ages ago. IT would have been natural for the villagers to gather inquisitively by the wall. Even if none of them had discovered the wall, Hugo and Luise would surely have bumped into it. The fact that there was not a single person to be seen struck me as even more puzzling than the wall.
I began to shiver in the bright sunshine. The first little farmhouse, only a cottage, in fact, was just around the next corner. If I crossed the stream and climbed up the mountain pasture a little, I would be able to see it.
I went back to Lynx and gave him a good talking to. He was very sensible, of course, and encouragement would have been much more appropriate. It was suddenly a great source of comfort to me that I had Lynx with me. I took off my shoes and socks and waded into the stream. On the other side the wall ran along the foot of the mountain pasture. At last I could see the cottage. It lay very still in the sunlight; a peaceful, familiar scene. A man stood by the spring, holding his right hand cupped halfway between the flowing water and his face. A clean old man. His braces hung around him like snakes, and he had rolled up his shirtsleeves. But his hand didn't get to his face. He wasn't moving at all.
I closed my eyes and waited, then looked again. The clean old man still stood motionless. I now saw that his knees and his left hand were resting on the edge of the stone trough; perhaps that was what stopped him falling over. Beside the house there was a little garden in which herbs grew along with peonies and bleeding-hearts. There was also a thin, tousled lilac bush that had already faded. It had been almost summery that April, even up here in the mountains. In the city even the peonies had faded. No smoke rose from the chimney.
I beat on the wall with my fist. It hurt a little, but nothing happened. And suddenly I no longer felt any desire to break down the wall separating me from the incomprehensible thing that had happened to the old man by the spring. Taking great care, I crossed the stream back to Lynx, who was sniffing at something and seemed to have forgotten his fear. It was a dead nuthatch, its head caved in and its breast flecked with blood. That nuthatch was the first in the long succession of little birds that met their deaths so pitifully one radiant May morning. For some reason I can never forget that nuthatch. While I was contemplating it, I noticed the plaintive cries of the birds. I must have been able to hear them for a long time before I was aware of them.
All of a sudden, all I wanted was to leave that place and get back to the hunting-lodge, away from those pitiful cries and the tiny, blood-smeared corpses. Lynx too had grown worried again, and pressed himself whining against me. On the way back through the forge he stayed close by my side, and I spoke to him reassuringly. I can't remember what I said, it just seemed important to break the silence in the murky, damp gorge, where greenish light seeped through the beech-tree leaves and tiny streams trickled down from the bare rocks on my left. We were in a bad situation, Lynx and I, and at the time we didn't know how bad it was. But we weren't lost entirely, because there were two of us.