Traumnovelle, Eyes Wide Shut and the Vehmic Judges

Go to Table of Contents of the analysis (which has also a statement on purpose and manner of analysis and a disclaimer as to caveat emptor and my knowing anything authoritatively, which I do not, but I do try to not know earnestly, with some discretion, and considerable thought).

Thought I'd go ahead and make a brief comparison of certain aspects of the scene in the costume shop in Arthur Schnitzler's Dream Story/Traumnovelle, Glück‘s Traumnovelle and Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.

From the novel:

"I want a dark monk's habit and a black mask, that's all."

At that moment a sound of glasses clinking came from the end of the gallery. Startled, Fridolin looked at the costumier, as though he owed him an immediate explanation. Gibiser had stopped short, however, and was reaching for some hidden switch--immediately a dazzling light spread to the far end of the gallery, where a small table decked with plates, glasses and bottles could be seen. Two masked figures in the red robes of Vehmic court judges rose from their chairs to the left and right of it, while simultaneously a glittering dainty creature disappeared from sight. Taking long strides, Gibiser rushed towards them, reached across the table and snatched up a white wig, while at the same time a charming young girl, still almost a child, wearing a Pierrette's costume and white silk stockings, wriggled out from under it and came running down the gallery to Fridolin, who was thus obliged to receive her in his arms. Gibiser had dropped the wig on to the table and he was holding the two judges on either side of him firmly by their pleated robes.

Schnitzler specifies the costumes of Vehmic judges are worn by men who are illicitly present in Gibiser's shop, partying with his daughter. Gibiser, indignant, says he will call the police on them.

The Vehmic court was a medieval vigilante organization known for great secrecy, coming packaged with secret initiations and passwords, and Fridolin is on his way to a secret party for which a password is required.

Not being Austrian from that time period, I'm at a disadvantage as far as having a a sense of all the flavors of meaning that would come packed with this image for individuals of Schnitzler's time and place. Fridolin's reactions don't say anything about the costumes in particular, and yet we have that specific garb in this situation.

One could view the scene at the costumer's as partly remarking on Fridolin's hypocrisy. He sees what he believes to be wrong, the possible prostituting of the girl, and does nothing about it himself. We have the same problem with Bill in Eyes Wide Shut. But I also feel that a reason Bill doesn't do anything (as well as Fridolin) is that much of the way he behaves corresponds to a dream state in which things mostly happen to one. Though his journey takes him many places, he displays very little initiative except falling into what is there before him. A story about the Vehmic Court, which I will give a little later, displays the same kind of dream sensibility though the reader is reassured that the individual was not dreaming.

Now, to talk a bit about the Vehmic court, which is expressly referred to in Schnitzler's novella, which was retained in the 1969 film Traumnovelle, and which Kubrick also seems to retain if in a veiled way.

The Westphalian Vehmic courts developed from the High Medieval "free courts" (German: Freigerichte), which had jurisdiction within a free county (German: Freigrafschaft). As a result of the 14th century imperial reform of the Holy Roman Empire (Golden Bull of 1356), the Landgraviates lost much of their power, and the Freigerichte disappeared, with the exception of Westphalia, where they retained their authority and transformed into the Vehmic court.

Source: Wikipedia

All this is iffy territory as far as sound facts. I've read they were begun in the 8th century. More frequently I've read they were begun in the 13th century. The Vehmic court has been highly romanticized and the information that's had is debated.

The Vehmic courts were the regional courts of Westphalia which, in turn, were based on the county courts of Franconia. They received their jurisdiction from the Holy Roman Emperor, from whom they also received the capacity to pronounce capital punishment (German: Blutgericht) which they exercised in his name. Everywhere else the power of life and death, originally reserved to the Emperor alone, had been usurped by the territorial nobles; only in Westphalia, called the Red Earth because here the imperial Blutbann was still valid, were capital sentences passed and executed by the Fehmic courts in the Emperor's name alone.

Source: Wikipedia

A fun bit of information to break up this history: Jacob Grimm, the same as the Brothers Grimm, wrote on the possibly etymology of vehm. Karlheinz Böhm, who played Fridolin in Gluck's Traumnovelle, also played Jacob Grimm in 1962′s The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, listed as Karl Boehm. I saw that movie on the big screen when I was a child and loved it--was amazed and fascinated by it, certain images sticking with me through to adulthood.

Now back to the world of the Vehm.

A dreadful punishment also awaited any one of them who should forget his vow and reveal the secrets of the society; he was to be seized, a cloth bound over his eyes, his hands tied behind his back, a halter put about his neck; he was to be thrown upon his belly, his tongue pulled out behind by the nape of his neck, and he was then to be hung seven feet higher than any other felon. It is doubtful, however, if there ever was a necessity for inflicting this punishment, for Æneas Sylvius, who wrote at the time when the society had degenerated, assures us that no member had ever been induced, by any motives whatever, to betray its secrets; and he describes the initiated as grave men and lovers of right and justice. Similar language is employed concerning them by other writers of the time.

Source: Secret Societies of the Middle Ages, by Thomas Keightley

This reminds of the extreme punishment with which Bill is threatened, but these threats of extreme punishments seem to be standard for secret societies.

Besides the count and the assessors, there were required, for the due holding a Fehm-court, the officers named Frohnboten *, or serjeants, or messengers, and a clerk to enter the decisions in what was called the blood-book (Liber sanguinis).

These were, of course, initiated, or they could not be present. It was required that the messengers should be freemen belonging to the county, and have all the qualifications of the simple schöppen. Their duty was to attend on the court when sitting, and to take care that the ignorant, against whom there was any charge, were duly cited.

The count was to hold two kinds of courts, the one public, named the Open or Public Court (Offenbare Ding), to which every freeman had access; the other private, called the Secret Tribunal (Heimliche Acht), at which no one who was not initiated could venture to appear.

The former court was held at stated periods, and at least three times in each year. It was announced fourteen days previously by the messengers (Frohnboten), and every householder in the county, whether initiated or not, free or servile, was bound under a penalty of four heavy shillings, to appear at it and declare on oath what crimes he knew to have been committed in the county.

When the count held the Secret Court, the clergy, who had received the tonsure and ordination, women and children, Jews and Heathens *, and, as it would appear, the higher nobility, were exempted from its jurisdiction. The clergy were exempted, probably, from prudential motives, as it was not deemed safe to irritate the members of so powerful a body, by encroaching on their privileges; they might, however, voluntarily subject themselves to the Fehm-gerichte if they were desirous of partaking of the advantages of initiation. Women and children were exempt on account of their sex and age, and the period of infancy was extended, in the citations, to fourteen, eighteen, and sometimes twenty years of age. Jews, Heathens, and such like, were exempted on account of their unworthiness. The higher nobility were exempted (if such was really the case) in compliance with the maxim of German law that each person should be judged by his peers, as it was scarcely possible that in any county there could be found a count and seven assessors of equal rank with accused persons of that class.

In their original constitution the Fehm-gerichte, agreeably to the derivation of the name from Fem, condemnation, were purely criminal courts, and had no jurisdiction in civil matters. They took cognizance of all offences against the Christian faith, the holy gospel, the holy ten commandments, the public peace, and private honour--a category, however, which might easily be made to include almost every transgression and crime that could be committed. We accordingly find in the laws of the Fehm-gerichte, sacrilege, robbery, rape, murder, apostacy, treason, perjury, coining, &c., &c., enumerated; and the courts, by an astute interpretation of the law, eventually managed to make matters which. had not even the most remote appearance of criminality Fehmbar, or within their jurisdiction.

Source: Secret Societies of the Middle Ages, by Thomas Keightley

The courts were not formally abolished until 1811, by the decree of Jerome Bonaparte, king of Westphalia.

Whether they were good or bad depends on who does the talking and what era of Vehm they are talking about. It changes. Wikipedia (I know, I know) does offer the following for Schnitzler's period:

Within the politically heated turmoil of the early German Weimar Republic after World War I, the media frequently used the term Fememord to refer to right-wing political homicides, e.g. the murder of Jewish politicians such as Kurt Eisner (1919), Matthias Erzberger (1921), or Walther Rathenau (1922) by right-wing groups such as Organisation Consul. In 1926, the 27th Reichstag commission officially differed the contemporarily common Fememorde from political assassination in such that assassination was by definition exerted upon open political opponents, whereas a Fememord was a form of lethal vengeance committed upon former or current members of an organization that they had become a traitor of. This definition is also found in the common pseudo-archaic, alliterating right-wing phrase, "Verräter verfallen der Feme!" ("Traitors shall be ostracized!", i. e. killed), as it was often quoted throughout the 1920s in mass media reports regarding violent acts of vengeance among the German Right.

Below is a supposed Vehmic court as depicted by R. de los Rios in Sir Walter Scott's Anne of Geirestein, published in 1829. The events in the fictional book occurred in the 15th century.

The novel has individuals involved with the Swiss Confederation, as does the William Tell Opera from which Kubrick pulled music for Clockwork Orange.

Glück has Pierrette's visitors at the costumers dressed, with the exception of color, as the Vehmic judges depicted in Scott's book. They wear the same peaked capirotes which are currently best known for their use in Easter Holy Week festivities in Spain, intended to symbolize penitence and displayed by fraternities connected with churches sponsoring processions. Normal penitents do not wear the capirotes that hide one's identity.

As for the history of the hat, in short form it is given as having first been a fool's hat, and for this reason was later used for prisoners.

So, what about these individuals costumed as Vehmic judges, essentially a secret police of old, being ironically held as prisoners in the costume shop until the police arrive?

Kubrick leaves out the Vehmic court but may keep a hint of the judges with red reflections cast over black robes on a wall and the wigs worn by the two men in the private office at Rainbow Fashions. Millich tears a black wig off the man on the left (over whom is cast the seeming reflection of a red robe, but is actually the reflection of a red curtain falling upon a black robe) and a blond wig off the man on the right. In the foreground is the coffee table upon which is laid out their dinner, which can be compared with the table at the costumer's in Traumnovelle and may be perhaps based on the idea of the presence of the altar at the meetings of the Vehm.

But the complexity of things is amped up significantly when one considers that the rug under the coffee table is the same as in Bill's dressing room at home. The seeming, open closet on the left, in which is hidden one of the men, also returns us to the clothes closet on the left of the screen in the dressing room at the home of Bill and Alice.

Knowing that the rug on the floor of the dressing room in Bill's home is the same as in the costumer's private office, one wonders if the two Vehmic judges in red in Traumnovelle may be also suggested in the red curtains in the Harford dressing room.

I'll go further and say that we certainly, in those red curtains bowed over Bill's head, have Traumnovelle's Vehmic judges in Bill's dressing room.

That same rug isn't in the dressing room when Alice is dressing. And we only have the black encased objects in the left corner when Bill is dressing, which remind of black robes.

One could almost look at these things from Bill's dressing room as being reframed, much as in a dream, at the costumer's. In 2001, when Bowman is in the "hotel room" beyond infinity, certain things within the room are drawn from earlier scenes in the film and reframed with much the same dream sensibility. For this reason I don't think we are looking at a literal dream that Bill is having but an artistic representation of a story that is dream-like in the manner it has a protagonist drawn into adventures that function on a mythical level.

If you return to the illustration of the Vehmic court in Walter Scott's book, one will see an opening in the ceiling of the chamber and that the court occurs around a bed. That is because the room in which the novel's principle character was staying turned out to be above an underground chamber in which the court took place. He was shown to his room and given the key so he could lock it from the inside as protection against thieves and was told that this was special treatment not given everyone. Presumably he should be safe from intruders. But when he was asleep he found himself, while still in his bed, lowered into the court in a subterranean chamber. In Scott's book, we are assured that the character was not sleeping, so what he experienced is not a dream. After his interrogation by the court, the bed is raised back to the room, and for some reason the character is so overcome by exhaustion that he falls back to sleep. Though we are told he was not asleep, an otherworldly, secret dream reality is conveyed.

Kubrick's blending of the private office and the dressing room instead keeps us in the territory of a confused magical reality.

Now, I'm going to mess with things even more via Bill's having already been confronted with a fraternal organization (the students), one of whom jostled him and told him to return to San Francisco.

Schnitzler's Fridolin, early in the evening, has a run-in with a fraternal organization. He recognizes them as being Alemannians from their blue colors. This occurs immediately after Fridolin passes by a homeless man on a bench and talks himself out of giving him money. He also passes by couples kissing on the benches which returns him to thoughts on lust etc.

He himself had never belonged to a fraternity, but he had taken part in a few fencing matches in his time. And the memory of his student days put him in mind of the dominoes in red, who had enticed him into their box the night before and contemptuously abandoned him again so soon.

One of the students who collides with Fridolin has a black patch over a white bandage on his left eye and this is kept in the Traumnovelle film.

The Alemannian fraternity is retained in Eyes Wide Shut through Kurbrick showing us the letters ALE, YALE being assumed.

The building that will in a later scene be Sharkey's is just beyond, and though it has here a different awning, if one looks closely the Sharkey's sign is still above. The encounter occurs before an empty lot, but Bill has just passed a grocery store where we have a similar bleed-through of the place as another entity. Next to and running under the Groceries lettering we see perhaps the letters fre, as if they have not been completely removed. Another allusion to the Freigerichte, the secret free courts of the Vehmic judges? It's something to entertain.

Now, why would Kubrick's ruffians call Bill a switch-hitter and order him back to San Francisco? As this is said by fraternity brothers, are we to think in terms of fraternal organizations? We can at least play with this idea. The Franciscans and Dominicans are Holy Orders that were founded in the 13th century and became rivals. Both were involved in the ruthless inquisition through it was principally undertaken by the Dominicans. With the Vehmic court making an appearance, we may want to consider this reference to Frisco, and the name Domino, and how we've possibly allusions to the orders of the Franciscans and the Dominicans.

In the novel, just before Fridolin comes upon the ruffians, he has just passed by a homeless man sleeping on a bench and has talked himself and his conscience out of giving the man money for a bed for the night. His struggles of conscience often enough lead him to think upon death, and he buoys himself with reflecting upon his good fortune, his being a young man who has not only his wife at his disposal for sex but any number of women if he should desire them.

Fridolin struggles with his conscience over the course of the night and his encounters with Vehmic judges, Franciscans and Dominicans make for apt metaphors for this.

I've discussed elsewhere how Bill lives at the San Remo and how, coincidentally, there is a San Remo hotel located in San Francisco at 2237 Mason Street. Coincidence, when 237 is a number Kubrick not only uses in The Shining but in other films? Possibly. However, Kubrick does use 237 intentionally in Eyes Wide Shut as the street number of the Verona restaurant, as the assumed street number of the hospital (the street number across from it is 236) and is unobserved as the real life street number of the hotel immediately behind the building that serves as a facade for Victor's party. So is this purely coincidence that a San Remo "twin" has the street number of 2237? Or is it not? And is it also coincidental that we're here talking about fraternal religious orders and fraternal organizations and that other San Remo is on Mason Street? Perhaps.

Though certain rituals are common to Freemasonry and the Vehmic courts, as well as other fraternal organizations, to try to trace a reliable history connecting or showing no connection seems to be beyond all except for "maybe but how is the question and what does it mean and maybe not anything but some borrowings or old common roots". I'm not going to get into that time trap here. No. All I'm doing is tossing some stuff about and seeing if anything eventually sticks.

I suppose, if one is inclined, the switch-hitter remark could possibly bring in the conversos, Jews who during the inquisition had converted to Christianity but were suspected of adhering to Judaism in secret. And this *can* be reliably discussed as it has been postulated that one of the layers of Schnitzler's book is what it was to live as a Jew during that time in Austria. The piano player is given as being Jewish in the novella.

The prostitute Fridolin meets in the book, rather than being Domino, is named Mizzi, the movie Traumnovelle also keeping this name for her. Kubrick changes this to Domino. The names Mizzi and Domino seem to have nothing to do with one another. However, if one looks up the etymology of the name Mizzi it is given as having perhaps originated from the Latin Domitius. Both Domino and Domitius appear to derive from domus. If nothing else there is a phonetic similarity retained. And perhaps we have here multiple allusions, not just to the domino mask etc. but also to the Dominicans.

People have wondered why Bill is a WASP. Again, could switch-hitter perhaps allude to a converso, a Jew who baptized into the Catholicism in order to escape the inquisition, but was suspected of still practicing Judaism?

The terms Marrano and converso were applied in Spain and Portugal to the descendants of baptized Jews suspected of secret adherence to Judaism. Converso, from the Latin conversus, meant literally the converted. Various origins for the term marrano have been suggested, which include the Hebrew marit ayin ("the appearance of the eye"), referring to the fact that the Marranos were ostensibly Christian but actually Jews; mohoram attah ("you are excommunicated"); the Aramaic-Hebrew Mar Anus ("forced convert"); the Hebrew mumar ("apostate") with the Spanish ending ano; the Arabic mura'in ("hypocrite"); and the second word of the ecclesiastical imprecation anathema maranatha. All such derivations, however, are unlikely. The most probable is from the Spanish word meaning swine or pig, derived from the Latin verres "wild boar." The term probably did not originally refer to the Jews' reluctance to eat pork, as some scholars hold; from its earliest use, it was intended to impart the sense of loathing conveyed by the word. Although romanticized and regarded by later Jewry as a badge of honor, the term was not as widely used, especially in official circles, as is often believed. In Latin America, as a rule, it is not found in official documents, and there is little evidence of its unofficial use in most places. It is not clear if the "Old Christians" only, or the secretly practicing Jews also called themselves "marrano."


Schnitzler never gave Fridolin a last name and, as I earlier stated, it's been wondered if Dream Story/Traumnovelle was also about the experience of being Jewish in Viennese society.

To consider this further we perhaps need to look at the last few pages of Schnitzler's work. The pathologist who shows Fridolin the body of the suicide in the morgue is a former student of Fridolin's by the name of Adler. As Fridolin prepares to leave, Adler asks if he wants to take a look through the microscope at a culture. Why? "Well, to satisfy your conscience," Adler replies, which is taken as having to do with Fridolin's visit being medical and scientific. "Can you interpret it?" he asks Fridolin. "It's a fairly recent colour-contrastive method." Fridolin says it's perfect, a splendid colour picture "you might say".

We can see in this a play on words and that we are being invited to look at the culture of the time.

Adler, by the way, is the typewriter Jack uses in The Shining, which changes colors from a light to a dark gray. In a previous posting I have discussed ways in which we can see the influence of Dream Novel/Traumnovelle, to which the rights were purchased by 1971, on The Shining.

Postscript Concerning Schnitzler's Possible Exploration of the Place of Jewishness in European Society and Attending Anxiety

The place of Jewishness in European society, in Schnitzler's time, seems in some ways, with Kubrick, to have been replaced by anxieties concerning class. In many ways Kubrick was faithful to the book, and I think he also used Gluck's film's interpretation of it as a kind of shadow filler, in other words Gluck's movie informs Kubrick's take rather than Kubrick denying it, a lot of the psychological interpretation being in Gluck, which left Kubrick free to explore other veins, spiritually and class-wise. A frequent question brought up to me concerns whether or not Kubrick was implying Bill was gay with the casting of Tom Cruise. I know nothing about Cruise's sexuality but it has been a gossipy concern of the media. I rather feel that if Tom Cruise was partly used because of the media questioning if he was hiding his sexuality, this was as an inverse of a blend of the films Crossfire and Gentleman's Agreement, and a reframing of Schnitzler's concerns with the place of Jewishness in European society. The victim in "Crossfire" was originally gay, and was changed to Jewish, so it became a film about antisemitism as with "Gentleman's Agreement". Bill is WASP, and is played by an actor about which the public was greatly concerned with his secret sexuality. Is he or isn't he? And I think that is where Kubrick veils Jewish concerns. I don't mean that Bill is literally Jewish and hiding it, but that he and Tom combined represent that anxiety, which also blends with simple class anxiety in the film.

In many ways, Kubrick was faithful to the novel, and in both the novel and Gluck's movie, there is the encounter with these frat types. In the book it was the Alemannia fraternity, and I don't know its history but some fraternities became right-wing in the latter 19th century. As has been pointed out to me in discussion, Harford is very close to Harford. Whether or not they are etymologically entwined seems up for debate, but the are close, so we again have, in the opposing universities of Yale and Harvard (Harford), a veil for other concerns. In the book, whether or not the encounter is an aggressive one is left up for grabs. It could be. It may not be. It may be pure accident. But Fridolin, who was never a fraternity member, can't help but feel that it is aggression that hides behind the possible accident. The man who jostles him wears an eye patch--and this really strikes Fridolin. That eye patch also keeps open the question, in the book, if the bump was accidental, the man's depth perception being hindered by the patch. Fridolin's specialty is the eyes and he's aware of this. So he can't decide what is what, if it was aggression, like he felt it to be, was it overt, is it camouflaged aggression, or has he misinterpreted the incident? He doesn't know. All of these are questions that would stand out to someone in a position to experience prejudice. Sometimes one will wonder was it overt aggression, camouflaged aggression, or has an event been misinterpreted? In the film, Kubrick removes the question of whether the aggression is overt. It is, absolutely. The question Kubrick leaves open is the "why". In the book, the aggression brings up for Fridolin questions concerning youth. These are young, athletic men, and Fridolin feels some bruised masculinity with the encounter.

There's also the symbolism with the eyes. And that has to be considered psychologically and spiritually. In the book, as I stated, Fridolin's specialty is eye disease. Bill's is not and Kubrick discards the eye patch. Kubrick places the emphasis on Bill's own eyes being opened, even if Bill's uncertain as to what.

The encounter with the frat guys isn't isolated but a part of a series of incidents that strive to awaken Fridolin to his deep anxieties, his own hypocrisy, his own blindness. For instance, he has just passed a bum on a bench (in the film he becomes the character on the bench outside the Harford's apartment building) and here he is a doctor who feels he should relieve the bum by giving him some money, but talks himself out of it with multiple anxieties of how this will affect his own life--what if the bum has a disease and he gets it, what if this act of kindness forges a social relationship with the bum which he doesn't want, what if the bum might expect more money from him in the future. He decides against helping the bum, though he knows the bum could freeze to death, because just giving him a couple of dollars may eventually, he doesn't know how, impinge on his own life and even possibly destroy it. He could even eventually die from the encounter, such as if he got a disease.

Kubrick left this the direct encounter with the bum out of the film, instead presenting the question of a blank figure of a man resting on the bench across from the building where Bill and Alice live. Many people this as possibly being Kubrick, though he wasn't in NY, or at least representing Kubrick. At the film's beginning we are given the impression that Bill is gazing down toward this figure that, in the book, helped start off much of Fridolin's soul-searching, at least in a particular vein, revealing his selfishness, his anxieties and fear of one small gesture potentially destroying his life. When Bill looks out of the dressing room window at the very beginning of the movie, via editing, his eye-line is responding to that figure on the bench, which is how Kubrick does work the bum in. This shadow that is ever on that bench. Where we end up seeing the potential destruction of his life is set in motion with the good deed he does in Victor's bathroom, saving Amanda.

First posted on Tumblr April 2015. Has been revised here. Other posts on "Traumnovelle" can be found in the supplemental sections of the analyses of "Eyes Wide Shut" as well "The Shining".

Next: The Sonata Jazz Cafe, Madame Jojo's, Number 10, The Rainbow, and Downing Street
Go to Table of Contents for Analysis of Eyes Wide Shut
Go to Table of Contents of the analysis
Link to the main Kubrick page for all the analyses