Biography of Max Frisch

Max Frisch, born in Zurich, made his living as a novelist, playwright, diarist, and essayist. Plays made up the bulk of his work (all of which was written in German), but today he is probably best known as a novelist. Frisch is considered one of the most influential Swiss writers of the twentieth century. He was honored with numerous awards and honorary doctoral degrees in Europe and the United States.

At Zurich University, Frisch studied literature, art history, and philosophy, and two philosophers who influenced him were Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. Several of their ideas are clearly present in his work. Most people consider Frisch a modernist, though others disagree. He has been compared to the Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt and the German novelist Heinrich Böll.

After his father's death in 1932, Frisch could no longer afford to continue his studies. Surviving on freelance work for newspapers, Frisch traveled extensively in eastern and southeastern Europe. During these years Frisch wrote a novel and a narrative work, but he discarded them both as failures.

Frisch decided to give up writing and to follow his father into architecture. He studied once again in Zurich and graduated in 1941. He joined an architect's firm--and continued to write, but he felt he was getting nowhere. As an architect, his most famous project was the design of a public swimming pool for the city of Zurich. In 1942 he married Constanze von Mayenburg. (They would separate in 1954 and divorce in 1959. In 1968 Frisch married Marianne Oellers, whom he divorced in 1979.)

Frisch finally overcame his writing obstacles as he wrote his first drama, Santa Cruz, 1947, in 1944. With this play Frisch introduced the structure that he would later name the "dramaturgy of permutation." This term describes the ways that Fritsch's characters attempt to rewrite or re-envision their lives. Frisch contrasts the traditionally active role of fate with the idea that chance or coincidence is what drives human lives. But in Frisch's works, intentionally or unintentionally, he never fully manages to distinguish coincidences from fate.

Frisch's novels, three of which are considered significant literary achievements, explore questions of identity, especially the alienation of the individual in modern society (he and the French existentialist Camus explored similar themes). Frisch's plays were more political than his novels; he was extremely committed to pacifism, which he clearly expresses in his dramas.

Frisch began life as a conservative, and such viewpoints are present in his writings. But his experiences of the war, Nazi Germany, and marriage slowly liberalized him until he became extremely left-wing with respect to Swiss political parties. Frisch's work was not didactic but presented contemporary issues in ways that both revealed their complexity and supported a general tendency towards openness and pacifism. Frisch's second play, Now They are Singing Again: Attempts at a Requiem, 1945, illustrates another important quality of Frisch's work: timeliness. Now They are Singing Again reflects upon war, racism, fascism and the contemporary state of humanity. After 1955 he was able to support himself exclusively through royalties and prizes.

Frisch traveled extensively, often in conjunction with the production of his plays. He visited many cities in Europe as well as the United States, Mexico, Cuba, and the Middle East. Later in his life, after returning permanently to Switzerland, Frisch would travel to Israel, the USSR, Japan and China.

Frisch died of cancer in 1991.

Study Guides on Works by Max Frisch

Though Frisch published nine novels in his lifetime, three clearly stand out as his most masterful works. Among these, Homo Faber (1957) is often linked with its predecessor Stiller (1954; translated as I'm Not Stiller), primarily because Oedipal...