Thomas Bernhard, Austria’s finest postwar writer, was born in Holland in 1931, the illegitimate son of a housemaid, and died at his home in Upper Austria in 1989. His childhood was spent mainly with his maternal grandparents near Salzburg – his grandfather Johannes Freumbichler was a minor Austrian writer and, Bernhard claimed, one of the two most important figures in his life. The other, whom he sometimes referred to as his “Lebensmensch” or “life companion” and sometimes as his aunt, was a woman 37 years his senior, the widow of a civil servant, whom he met at a sanatorium for tuberculosis in 1949. Bernhard had always had a weak chest and the deprivations of the war years, exacerbated by having to lug sacks of potatoes from the cellar to the grocery where he had been apprenticed after leaving school, led to his hospitalisation in 1948. His “aunt” Hedwig helped him escape what he felt would be certain death in the sanatorium. After that, he briefly trained as a singer (abandoned because of his bad lungs) and then took a job as a crime reporter, before turning to writing full-time.
more from Gabriel Josipovici at The New Statesman here.