Discrimination and degradation of women at work, at home and in society are not new. #metoo and other recent campaigns are twenty first century manifestations of the the problems that have confronted ordinary women across millennia. One group of workers live their lives at the very jagged, transaction edge of exploitative relation. In 1908 Else Jerusalem wrote an exposé of prostitution in Vienna, which became a best seller. Whilst its many readers were possibly better informed there are no signs that the world these workers improved.
1908 – A Dark Austrian Fairy Tale.or is it?
It is Vienna’s golden age, Franz Joseph marks his diamond year.
The Great exhibition shrouds the underbelly, the hate and fear.
Klimt’s shimmering “Kiss” marks the embrace of art and politic.
Look again, that is no kiss, it is forced attention, painfully graphic.
Elsa glides in, attracts attention, welcome to the Café Central.
Full of academic frustration, these times, for women, it’s natural.
This cornucopia of creation draws her in, entices and excites her.
She does not know it yet, but she is the object of three voyeurs.
To Sigmund she is a subject, he meticulously records her action.
His grasp of psychology drives theorem, prompts reaction.
His published “Oedipus Theory” delves deep, as does his conceit.
Is she another Little Hans? Surely it cannot be that neat?
A nervous Austrian artist sits quietly reading print media.
Adolf admires the racism of Karl Lueger the Mayor of Vienna.
He spies Elsa Jerusalem gliding from the corner of his eye.
All he hates about Jews he focuses, for him, she personifies.
And then there is Lev Bronstein, a Jewish, Ukrainian dissident
Imprisoned, expelled, on revenge through “Pravda” he is intent.
He sees a kindred being, repressed, but so strong in spirit.
The future Leon Trotsky foresees the world about to pivot.
Art mirrors life, child prodigy Egon Schiele’s limbless self portrait.
Schoenberg’s string quartet screeches discordantly in complaint.
The clean lines of the Loos Haus, rejecting “Ornament and Crime”.
The lust and violence of Kokoschka’s Dreaming Boys is not mime.
Elsa’s mind is turning, she’s ambivalent to the attention she draws.
An epoch shot through with torment, peoples’ plight, she abhors.
She steals herself to comment, to record, to publicise and address.
Prostitution her target, this wicked embrace, Vienna must confess.
So the Red House is born, a work depicting women’s’ degradation.
The inheritance of service, from mother to daughter, a violation.
Vienna acknowledges its fatal neurosis, led by the story of a girl.
And from this moment forth it is an end to the Viennese Whirl.
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Image: The Red House, Harold Riley (b. 1934)
This poem is narrated by Lorraine Ansell, a British female voiceover professional.