Behind the Glitter: the Critique of the Cultural Mass Market in Vicki Baum’s Menschen im Hotel

Geoff Wilkes (University of Queensland, Australia)

As a child of the late nineteenth-century Viennese bourgeoisie, a classically trained concert harpist and a life-long admirer of Thomas Mann, Vicki Baum was steeped in traditional ‘high’ culture. After she was employed by the Ullstein publishing conglomerate in Berlin in 1926, Baum became an exemplar of contemporary mass culture, not simply as an author of magazine articles and serialised fiction, but also as a celebrity whose exploits in nightclubs and views on the ‘New Woman’ were heavily publicised by Ullsteins’, partly to cross-promote her novels.

This paper examines Baum’s runaway bestseller Menschen im Hotel (1929), which bore the secondary title ‘Ein Kolportageroman mit Hintergründen,’ and which has often been interpreted as parodying the formulae of mass-market fiction. I extend that interpretation to argue that Menschen im Hotel parodies the cultural mass market itself, and Baum’s adaptation to it, by critiquing both Ullsteins’ creation of Baum’s media persona and her acceptance of that persona.


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