Bertha von Suttner
Lay Down Your Arms!
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To this day Bertha von Suttner’s novel, first published in 1889, has remained one of literature’s most harrowing and convincing descriptions of the horrors of war and one of its most urgent appeals for peace.
Bertha von Suttner, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905, proves herself not only to be a passionate advocate of peace, but also as an enthralling novelist. In addition, this novel, the fictitious memoirs of an Austrian lady of the aristocracy, gives interesting insights into the social life and into the history and political developments of the third quarter of the 19th century.
Even if the specifics of war have changed, the descriptions of its horrors, in all their excruciating details, are valid today as much as they had been at the time when this book was written. Still, with all its radical denunciation of war, this book also has an enthralling and eminently readable story to tell.
As we know, there has been no happy ending. One month after Bertha von Suttner’s death, despite all the efforts of the international peace movement, the First World War broke out, even more murderous than all the wars before it, soon followed by another war that surpassed even the barbarity of this one.
Still, despite all these setbacks, at least in Europe war today is not any longer considered to be a natural and inevitable part of the interaction of people and states, and to a considerable degree we owe this to the peace movement of the 19th and early 20th century, of which Bertha von Suttner was one of the most outstanding representatives.
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About the Author
June 9, 1843: Bertha von Suttner is born as Countess Kinsky in Prague into an aristocratic family with military background. Her father, who dies at the age of 74 before she is born, had been a general, her grandfather on her mother’s side a captain of the cavalry. In her youth Bertha learns several languages, concerns herself with music, science and philosophy, and travels extensively.
1873, when her father’s wealth has been used up, she finds work as the governess of the industrialist von Suttner’s four children, to whom she teaches languages and music. She falls in love with Arthur Gundaccar von Suttner, the youngest of the children, seven years her junior.
1876 she is dismissed by the Suttner family, who disapprove of her relationship with Arthur, but through their mediation she obtains the position as Alfred Nobel’s private secretary in Paris. Soon after her arrival in Paris Nobel returns to Sweden, and she goes back to Vienna. They stay in contact until his death in 1896.
June 12, 1876: Secret marriage with Arthur von Suttner, who thereupon is disinherited by his parents.
1876 to 1885: Bertha and Arthur von Suttner live in difficult financial circumstances with a friend, an aristocrat lady, in Georgia (then part of Russia). Both work as journalists, Bertha has success with her essays and with her first novel, “Inventarium einer Seele” (Inventory of a Soul, 1883).
1885 they return to Austria and reconcile with Arthur’s family. In her writings Bertha von Suttner promotes emancipatory and pacifist ideas; among others, “Daniela Dormes” (1886) and “Das Maschinenzeitalter: Zukunftsvorlesungen über unsere Zeit” (The Machine Age: Futuristic Lectures about our Time, 1889) are published.
1889 the novel “Die Waffen nieder!” (Lay Down Your Arms!) is published, winning Bertha von Suttner international recognition and making her one of the most prominent exponents of the peace movement. Until the end of her life Bertha von Suttner stays active in the peace movement, organizes and supports peace projects, takes part in numerous international peace events, publishes in newspapers and magazines, and writes many more books.
1891 the “Österreichische Gesellschaft der Friedensfreunde” (Austrian Society of Friends of Peace) is founded upon her initiative; she becomes its president and stays in this position until her death. On the International Peace Conference in Rome in November 1891 she is elected vice president of the International Peace Bureau. In 1892 she founds the German Peace Society.
1902 Arthur von Suttner dies. While grieving, she continues their common work. The same year, her novel “Marthas Kinder” (Martha’s Children) is published as a sequel to “Die Waffen nieder!”
1904, after participating in the International Peace Conference at Boston, Bertha von Suttner goes on a seven-months lecture tour through the United States, where she is met with great interest and approval. President Theodore Roosevelt invites her to the White House.
December 10, 1905: Bertha von Suttner is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which Alfred Nobel, it is assumed, had established upon her suggestion.
1906 Bertha von Suttner’s “Gesammelte Schriften” (Collected Works) are published, 1908 her “Memoires.”
1912: Bertha von Suttner’s second tour through the United States, during which she gives lectures in more than 50 towns from the East Coast to the West Coast. 1913, already marked by illness, she is acclaimed at the World Peace Congress at The Hague.
June 12, 1914: Bertha von Suttner succumbs to cancer, during the preparations for the World Peace Congress planned for September in Vienna.
July 28, 1914: Austria declares war on Serbia. The First World War begins, the wholesale war of extermination that Bertha von Suttner had warned against for many years and which she had tried to prevent with all her power. About 20 million people will die in this war, and millions more from its aftermath.