Marlen Haushofer's "We Murder Stella"

Marlen Haushofer's "We Murder Stella"

We Murder Stella is a short novel written by Austria writer Marlen Haushofer in 1990. The novella tells the story of Stella, a country girl, who comes to live with husband-and-wife Anna and Richard in the big city. Stella isn’t a very attractive houseguest—she isn’t very polite to her hosts and doesn’t understand the attire necessary in the city. Anna helps Stella transform into a woman of the city, helping her buy more appropriate clothes.

Richard cheats on his wife any chance that he gets. He isn’t careful, either, often coming home with lipstick on his shirt and perfume on his skin. Anna and Richard’s son Wolfgang knows that his father often betrays his mother, but he doesn’t bring up the topic for fear of his father’s wrath. His sister, Annette, hasn’t figured out her father’s liaisons.

Richard, seeing Stella’s change, has an affair with the girl. She gets pregnant and Richard asks a gynecologist doctor friend to perform an abortion on Stella. Even after this, Stella doesn’t want Richard to drop her—she thinks that he loves her. But Richard doesn’t pay any attention to Stella; instead, he pursues a new affair. In consequence, Stella throws herself in front of a car and dies.  

Based on the resurgence of the traditional family, the control of man in society, and Haushofer’s use of the family as a metaphor for the Holocaust, Anna is the helpless bystander in her own life as well as a metaphor for the helpless bystander in World War II.   

After World War II, the traditional family again became the normal unit of society no matter the cost—which, in this story, is high.  The traditional family was regarded as important perhaps because if Austrian troops couldn’t succeed on the war front, they must succeed on the home front. This is illustrated especially well in the relationship between Anna and Richard. Richard didn’t love specifically Anna—he loved her as a woman who was his possession and familial relations must appear successful at any cost.

In addition, even though Anna knew of her husband’s infidelities, she couldn’t disrupt her family because not only would her husband not accept it, but the rest of society would reject her as well. In this regard, Anna seems to represent the oppressed wife who bears the brunt of a crumbling family so her children and husband don’t have to.

Men seemed to be the power holder in society and familial relationships at this time.  This seems to be in relation to the resurgence of traditional family values in which the man was the head of the household, as well as to the bruised egos of the generation who were losers in the war. Anna is portrayed as the silent woman both literally and figuratively in this societal scenario. First, Anna doesn’t speak out about her husband’s mistreatment because she knows no one would take her word over her husband’s. Next, Haushofer says Anna dislikes Cassandra-- the Greek mythological figure who knew prophesies but is not believed. Anna seems to hate Cassandra because they both know the truth and that no one would believe them, but at least Cassandra had the gumption to try. Finally, Haushofer uses the idea of the nameless woman—Anna states her family’s names before her own, even then giving her own name little significance. In this way, Anna places herself in the same place her husband places her—she is a generic cog in the traditional family machine. 

Haushofer uses the family as an extended metaphor for the Holocaust. In this situation, Anna seems to represent the bystander who knew about the Holocaust but did nothing to stop it, as well as the silent woman who couldn’t/didn’t want to see outside her realm of domestic duty to even consider help as an option. Haushofer immediately implicates Anna in the killing of Stella, or the Jews in the Holocaust, with the title of the piece. Anna also seems to view Stella as a nuisance more than anything else. Finally, Haushofer uses the bird to represent Stella to illustrate how Anna, and other women in the Holocaust, couldn’t disobey their husbands or were too involved with their domestic lives to help the Jews.