With his walrus moustache, the disheveled, baggy clothes he designed himself, sandals on bare feet in all weather, and exquisite walking sticks, Peter Altenberg was a fixture in the cultural life of fin de siècle Vienna. He was a master of the vignette, a diviner of the telling detail, a prose poet of the demimonde. Altenberg was a Baudelaire with only a touch of spleen. Elegant, arch, and concise, his snapshots of life on the margins were not without bite. In cheerful disillusion, he deflated the hypocrisy and social niceties that were so important to the refined Gemütlichkeit of the middle and upper classes, but he did so with enough wit to amuse rather than insult his audience.
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