Gustav Meyrink

Gustav Meyrink (January 19 1868December 4 1932) was an Austrian author, storyteller, dramatist, translator, banker and Buddhist, most famous for his novel The Golem.


Gustav Meyrink was born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary (now Austria) on January 19th (sixty years earlier another mystic writer, Edgar Allan Poe, had been born, as emphasized by some admirers) 1868. He was the illegitimate son of Baron Karl von Varnbüler von und zu Hemmingen and actress Maria Wilhelmina Adelheyd Meier. (In 1919, when Meyrink had already become a renowned writer, the Varnbülers are said to have offered Meyrink the use of the family name. The offer was politely rejected.). Meyrink's role in Austrian literature is similar to that of Poe in American literature. Until thirteen years of age Meyrink lived in Munich, where he completed elementary school. He then stayed in Hamburg for a short time. Then his mother moved to Prague in 1883.


Meyrink lived in Prague for twenty years and has depicted it many times in his works . Prague does not appear as background, but as a character in most of the short stories of The German Philistine's Horn cycle, as well as the novels The Golem and Walpurgis Night, and determines the tone of the most important part of the novel The Angel of the West Window. It is clearly visible through slightly abstract architecture of The White Dominican.

In Prague an event occurred which played a providential role in Meyrink's life. Meyrink described it in the autobiographical short story "The Pilot". That day, August 14, 1892, on Assumption Eve, Meyrink, 24 years old, was standing at his table with a gun at his head, strongly determined to shoot himself. At that moment he heard a strange scratch and someone's hand put a tiny booklet under his door. The booklet was called Afterlife. Meyrink was shocked by this dramatic coincidence and started to study the literature of the occult. Having studied theosophy, Kabbala, christian Sophiology and Eastern mysticism, he also tried to practise and he was successful... Until his death Meyrink practiced yoga and other occult exercises with remarkable success. Results of these studies and practices are clearly seen in Meyrink's works, which almost always deal with various occult traditions. Gershom Sholem, an expert in Jewish mysticism, has stated that Meyrink's works are based on superficial sources and have no ties with any authentic tradition. But others don't agree with his opinion.

In 1889, together with the nephew of poet Christian Morgenstern, Meyrink established his own bank, called "Meier & Morgenstern".

At that time Meyrink also was a member of the famous Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in London. This is proved by the letter from William Wynn Westcott (1893), which has remained in Meyrink's private archives. He was also member of the Theosophical Society, but only temporarily.

In 1902 Meyrink was charged with fraud. He was charged with using spiritualism in order to benefit from banking operations. Though in two months he was released from jail, his banking career was over. His jailhouse experiences are depicted in his most famous novel, The Golem.

Early works

In the 1900s Meyrink started publishing satiric short stories in the Simplicissimus magazine, signing it under his mother's surname. In spring 1903 Meyrink's first book, The Hot Soldier and Other Stories was released. Approximately at the same time he moved to Vienna. Almost immediately after his arrival another compilation of his short stories, The Orchid. Strange stories, was released. On May 8, 1905 Meyrink married Philomene Bernt, whom he had known since 1896. On July 16, 1906 his daughter Sybil Felizata was born.

In 1908 the third compilation of short stories, Waxworks, was published.

On January 17, 1908, just the day before Meyrink's fortieth birthday, the second son, Harro Fortunat, was born. Subsequently the main character in the second Meyrink's novel The Green Face was given the same name.

Being in dire straits, Meyrink started working as a translator and he became a prolific one; in five years he managed to translate into German fifteen volumes of Charles Dickens. He continued translating until his death, including various occult works and even Book of the Dead.

In 1911 Meyrink with his family moved to the little Bavarian town Starnberg, and in 1913 in Munich the book called The German Philistine's Horn was released. It was a compilation of short stories from the previous three books and several new ones.


In 1915 the first and the most famous Meyrink's novel, The Golem, was published, though its drafts may be traced back to 1908. The novel is rooted in Jewish legend about a rabbi who made a living being called golem (גולם) out of clay and animated him with a Kabbalistic spell. The main character is Athanasius Pernath, a contemporary artist from Prague. It is left to the reader to decide whether Pernath is simply writing down his hallucinations or gradually turning into a real golem. The novel was a huge success and an unprecedented amount of copies were published. In 1916 one more compilation of short stories, Bats, and soon the second novel, The Green Face, came into the world. The number of copies sold of The Green Face reached 40,000, and 100,000 of The Golem.

The next year the third novel, Walpurgis Night, was written. It was a strange coincidence that a novel about popular riots instigated by forces of evil to flood Prague with blood, was released in 1917.

By 1920 Meyrink's financial affairs improved so that he managed to buy a villa in Starnberg. The villa became known as "The House at the Last Lantern" after the name of the house from The Golem. There he and his family lived for the next eight years and two more masterpieces — The White Dominican and Meyrink's biggest novel The Angel of the West Window — were written.


The name "Fortunat" did not bring much luck to Meyrink's son: in the winter of 1932, while skiing, he terribly injured his backbone. That meant that for the rest of his life he would be confined to his armchair. On July 12, at the age of 24 he committed suicide — at the same age as his father was going to do it. Meyrink survived his son by half a year. He died on December 4, 1932 in Starnberg, Bavaria, Germany. He is buried in Starnberg Cemetery.


  • The Hot Soldier (Der heiße Soldat) 1903,
  • The Waxworks 1907,
  • The German Philistine's Horn 1909,
  • The Golem (Der Golem) 1914,
  • The Green Face (Das grüne Gesicht) 1916,
  • Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht) 1917,
  • The Land of the Time-Leeches 1920,
  • The White Dominican (Der weiße Dominikaner) 1921
  • At the Threshold of the Beyond 1923,
  • The Angel of the West Window (Der Engel vom westlichen Fenster) 1927,

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