Elias Canetti

(1905—1994) author

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Bulgarian-born writer who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981.

Born in Rutschuk, Bulgaria, into a community of Sephardi Jews, Canetti was educated in Zurich and Frankfurt and took a doctorate in chemistry in Vienna (1929), where he lived before escaping persecution as a Jew in 1937. He finally settled in England, shortly after completing his long novel Die Blendung, which was subsequently translated as Auto da Fé (1946) by the distinguished historian C. V. Wedgwood. The central character is a dedicated Viennese Sinologist who lives for his books but ends by setting fire to his library.

Canetti is better known to academic readers for his study of the psychopathology of public gatherings, Crowds and Power (1960). His other major writings include three volumes of autobiography, The Tongue Set Free (1977), The Torch in My Ear (1982), and The Play of the Eyes (1985). Canetti's view of the world is summarized in his observation: ‘History portrays everything as if it could not have come otherwise. History is on the side of what happened.’

Subjects: Literature.

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