7 minute read

Marianne Hauser Biography

Marianne Hauser comments:

Nationality: American (originally French; granted U.S. citizenship, 1944). Born: Sreasbourg, Alsace, France, 1910. Education: University of Berlin; Sorbonne. Career: Journalist, French and Swiss newspapers and periodicals; lecturer, Department of English, Queens College, New York, 1962-79; held various teaching positions, including positions at New York University and New School until 1988. Awards: Rockefeller grant; National Endowment for the Arts grant. Agent: Perry Knowlton, Curtis Brown, 1 Astor Pl., New York, New York, U.S.A.



Monique. Zurich, n.p., 1934.

Shadow Play in India. Vienna, n.p., 1937.

Dark Dominion. New York, Random House, 1947.

The Choir Invisible. London, Gollancz, 1958; New York, McDowellObolensky, 1959.

Prince Ishmael. New York, Stein and Day, 1963; London, MichaelJoseph, 1964.

The Talking Room. New York, Fiction Collective, 1976.

The Memoirs of the Late Mr. Ashley: An American Comedy. N.p., Sun and Moon Press, 1986.

Me and My Mom. N.p., Sun and Moon Classics, 1993.

Short Stories

A Lesson in Music. N.p., 1964.

Uncollected Short Stories

"The Colonel's Daughter," in Tiger's Eye, March 1948.

"The Rubber Doll," in Mademoiselle, 1951.

"Mimoun of the Mellah," in Harper's Bazaar, 1966.

"The Seersucker Suit," in Carleton Miscellany, 1968.

"O-To-Le-Do," in Parnassus, 14(1).

"Weeds," in Denver Quarterly, 1983.

"It Isn't So Bad That It Couldn't Be Worse," in City, 9, 1984.

"Blatant Artifice," in Hallwalls, 1986.

"Heartlands Beat," in Fiction International, 1988.

"The Missing Page," in Witness, 1989.

"No Name on the Bullet," in Fiction International, 1991.

"Scandal at the Bide-a-Wee Nursing Home for Mature Seniors," inFiction International, 1992.


Manuscript Collections:

Florida University, Gainsville.

To write without compromise or an eye on the market.

* * *

Early on in Marianne Hauser's first major work, Prince Ishmael—an historical novel based on the legend of Caspar Hauser—the narrator observes, "I wasn't ready for reality black or white." This same inability to relate to a world of dizzying complexity and ambiguity through linguistic systems that reduce experience to simple binary categories is evident in all of Hauser's fiction; it also expresses Hauser's personal conviction that "reality" is a dynamic, multilayered process for which the conventions of traditional realism—with its empirical biases and emphasis on causal relationships and logic—are ill-equipped to represent. This conviction has resulted in a series of novels and stories that weave together dream and waking reality, the known and unknown, the perverse and banal, and the poetic and idiomatic into darkly humorous fables of great emotional power, uniqueness, and universal relevancy. Yet ironically enough it has been precisely the uniqueness and poetic intensity of Hauser's fiction that has thus far relegated her work to relative popular and critical obscurity—a situation that is almost certain to change as feminist and postmodern critics discover her works.

In a career that now spans some six decades, Marianne Hauser has published a total of eight books of fiction; these include an early novel written in German, Shadow Play in India, and seven subsequent English-language works: a story collection, A Lesson in Music, and five novels—Dark Dominion, The Choir Invisible, Prince Ishmael, The Talking Room, Memoirs of the Late Mr. Ashley: An American Comedy, and Me and My Mom. In the most extended and perceptive analysis of Hauser's work to date, Ewa Ziarek, writing in the Fall 1992 issue of Contemporary Literature, noted: "Marianne Hauser's fiction represents an interesting intersection between experimentation challenging literary conventions and feminist concerns. Significantly, both interests converge on the issue of articulating specifically feminine desires—sexual, reproductive, and linguistic." Yet, despite such recurrent themes—which have found their expression in remarkably rich, subtle, and evocative prose mannerisms—it would be a mistake to view her works solely or even primarily as feminist documents. Although several of her major novels—for example, Me and My Mom and The Talking Room—have been narrated by women and have focused on psychological issues peculiar to women's experiences, others have male narrators and can't be said to be specifically feminist in orientation. This isn't to deny the importance of Hauser's work from feminist perspectives—indeed, The Talking Room ranks with Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping and Toni Morrison's Beloved as among the most significant and original feminist novels of the past 20 years; rather what needs to be stressed is that although Hauser's work has naturally always expressed viewpoints and concerns central to her own experiences as a woman, it has also consistently been concerned with expressing larger, more universal issues. Central to all her works, for example, has been an emphasis on human loneliness and the need for people to escape from isolation, understand their origins, and find erotic fulfillment. There is also a persistent fascination with epistemological and metaphysical issues—the role of dreams, fantasy, and language in constructing memory and our sense of the waking world; a suspicion of empiricism and linguistic categories and a corresponding appreciation of storytelling and personal reverie in making sense of our lives.

Despite such thematic commonalties, the language, style, and tone of her work has undergone significant transformations over the last five decades. The precise, almost classical prose of Dark Dominion—which depicts a strange, haunting relationship between a nondreaming New York psychiatrist, his wife (whom he wins when he analyzes her dreams), her obsessively devoted brother, and her lover—has loosened; and Hauser has increasing incorporated American idioms, slapstick, and absurdist humor. She has also been increasingly adventurous in devising experimental formal strategies suited for portraying her sense of the permeability of dream and waking reality. The obsessions explored in Dark Dominion—the role of the imagination in shaping one's response to life, the search for and discovery in the "dark dominion" of the unconscious as a multilayered space in which phantom and reality coexist to create the drama of the self, and the difficulty in inhabiting a coherent "self"—continue through her next two books, The Choir Invisible, which is set in a small town in the Midwest, and Prince Ishmael, a fictional account of the Caspar Hauser legend.

Her most recent novels, The Talking Room, The Memoirs of the Late Mr. Ashley: An American Comedy, and Me and My Mom all display a command of American lingoes and cultural references that range effortlessly from urban to rural, straight to gay, highbrow to lowbrow—all the voices a chorus of pathos, absurdity, lyricism, and beauty that sing the bittersweet song of the America Hauser found herself living when she took up permanent residency there beginning in 1937. From her earliest work, Hauser has explored how dreams, the unconscious, and the irrational affect our perception of the "real"; but with her last three novels (as well as her more recent short stories), this notion is no longer so much an element of "theme" but finds its expression as a fully integrated aspect of her style. Thus, to enter her recent fiction is to find oneself in a unsettling landscape where the strange becomes familiar and the familiar strange—a realm where people, events, and associations ebb and flow with the logic of dreams. Partly this effect comes from connections that make no rational sense but which are brought together by Hauser's ability to ground her fiction in details that are vivid and sensual; it arises too from the playfulness of her language and her willingness to let go of the linear in favor of something wilder and less predictable.

It was Hauser's 1976 novel, The Talking Room, where she first found a voice and a method uniquely her own. The plot of The Talking Room is as simple as it is outrageous. The book is narrated by B, a pregnant thirteen-year-old girl who is the daughter of a lesbian couple (her mother, V, and her lover J) who are living in a deserted neighborhood of New York City. Fearful of being forced by her "Aunt" J to have an abortion, B hides her pregnancy under the pretense of being fat and stays in her room. There she attempts to uncover the mystery of her origins (was she perhaps a test-tube baby?) by sifting through the many voices that drift up into her "talking room." These voices—which include those of her own imagination, the turbulent sounds of V and J arguing and reminiscing from downstairs, the funny and surrealistic chitchat of their eccentric friends, and the radio (which provides political and pop culture references)—combine to form what Ewa Ziarek described as a "polyphonic composition" that "makes it impossible to uncover the simplicity of origin in the maternal body." Ziarek goes on to note the ways that B's search for a matrilineal genealogy reinforces a metafictional critique of the "traditional idea of authorship as a conscious begetting, grounded in the intentionality of the author." This critique, in turn, links up to Hauser's ongoing presentation of the limitations of rationality and the ways that the search for one's self and one's origins are ultimately limited by the fact that the self is never a discrete entity but a plurality of different selves whose "essences" are themselves shifting perpetually in a state of transformation.

—Sinda Gregory

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Bob Graham (1942-) Biography - Awards to Francis Hendy Biography - Born to Sew