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Elias Canetti ( ; 25 July 1905–14 August 1994) was a Bulgarianmarker-born novelist and non-fiction writer of Sephardi Jewish ancestry who wrote in German. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1981.


Born to Jacques Canetti and Mathilde née Arditti in Rusemarker, a city on the Danube in Bulgariamarker, Elias Canetti was the eldest of three sons in a Jewish merchant family. His ancestors were Sephardi Jews who had been expelled from Spainmarker in 1492. His paternal ancestors had settled in Ruse from Ottoman Adrianoplemarker. The original family name was Cañete, named after a village in Spain. In Ruse, Elias' father and grandfather were successful merchants who operated out of a commercial building, which they had built in 1898. Canetti's mother descended from one of the oldest Sephardi families in Bulgaria, Arditti, who were among the founders of the Ruse Jewish colony in the late 18th century. The Ardittis can be traced back to the 14th century, when they were court physicians and astronomers to the Aragonesemarker royal court of Alfonso IV and Pedro IV. Before settling in Ruse, they had lived in Livornomarker in the 17th century.

Elias spent his childhood years, from 1905 to 1911, in Ruse until the family moved to Englandmarker. In 1912 his father died suddenly, and his mother moved with their children to Viennamarker in the same year.

They lived in Vienna from the time Canetti was aged seven onwards. His mother insisted that he speak German, and taught it to him. By this time Canetti already spoke Ladino (his mother tongue), Bulgarian, English and some French (he studied the latter two in the one year in England). Subsequently the family moved first (from 1916 to 1921) to Zürichmarker and then (until 1924) to Frankfurtmarker, where Canetti graduated from high school.

Canetti went back to Vienna in 1924 in order to study chemistry. However, his primary interests during his years in Vienna became philosophy and literature. Introduced into the literary circles of first-republic-Viennamarker, he started writing. Politically leaning towards the left, he participated in the July Revolt of 1927. He gained a degree in chemistry from the University of Viennamarker in 1929, but never worked as a chemist. In 1938, after the Anschluss of Austria to greater Germany, Canetti moved to Londonmarker where he became closely involved with the painter Marie-Louise von Motesiczky, who was to remain a close companion for many years to come. His name has also been linked with that of the author Iris Murdoch (see John Bayley's Iris, A Memoir of Iris Murdoch, where there are several references to an author, referred to as "the Dichter", who was a Nobel Laureate and whose works included Die Blendung (English title Auto-da-Fé).

Despite being a German writer, Canetti settled and stayed in England until the 1970s, receiving British citizenship in 1952. For his last 20 years, Canetti mostly lived in Zürichmarker.

In 1981, Canetti won the Nobel Prize in Literature "for writings marked by a broad outlook, a wealth of ideas and artistic power". He is known chiefly for his novel Auto-da-Fé (Die Blendung), and for Crowds and Power, a study of crowd behavior as it manifests itself in human activities ranging from mob violence to religious congregations.

He died in Zürich.

One of the best studies on Canetti's life and work was done by the French psychoanalyst Dr. Roger Gentis [1109], "La folie Canetti", published by Maurice Nadeau (Paris, 1993).


  • Komödie der Eitelkeit 1934 (The Comedy of Vanity)
  • Die Blendung 1935 (Auto-da-Fé, novel, tr.1946)
  • Die Befristeten 1956 (1956 premiere of the play in Oxford) (Their Days are Numbered)
  • Masse und Macht 1960 (Crowds and Power, study, tr. 1962, published in Hamburg)
  • Aufzeichnungen 1942-48 1965 (Sketches)
  • Die Stimmen von Marrakesch 1968 published by Hanser in Munich (The Voices of Marrakesh, travelogue, tr. 1978)
  • Der andere Prozess 1969 Kafkas Briefe an Felice (Kafka's Other Trial, tr. 1974).
  • Hitler nach Speer (Essay)
  • Die Provinz des Menschen Aufzeichnungen 1942-1972 (The Human Province, tr. 1978)
  • Der Ohrenzeuge. Fünfzig Charaktere 1974 ("Ear Witness: Fifty Characters", tr. 1979).
  • Das Gewissen der Worte 1975. Essays (The Conscience of Words)
  • Die Gerettete Zunge 1977 (The Tongue Set Free, memoir, tr. 1979)
  • Die Fackel im Ohr 1980 Lebensgeschichte 1921-1931 (The Torch in My Ear, memoir, tr. 1982)
  • Das Augenspiel 1985 Lebensgeschichte 1931-1937 (The Play of the Eyes, memoir, tr. 1990)
  • Das Geheimherz der Uhr: Aufzeichnungen 1987 (The Secret Heart of the Clock, tr. 1989)
  • Die Fliegenpein (The Agony of Flies, 1992)
  • Nachträge aus Hampstead (Notes from Hampstead, 1994)
  • The Voices of Marrakesh (published posthumously, Arion Press 2001, with photographs by Karl Bissinger and etchings by William T. Wiley )
  • Party im Blitz; Die englischen Jahre 2003 (Party in the Blitz, memoir, published posthumously, tr. 2005)
  • Aufzeichnungen für Marie-Louise (written 1942, compiled and published posthumously, 2005)


See also


  • Lesley Brill, " Terrorism, Crowds and Power, and the Dogs of War," Anthropological Quarterly 76(1), Winter 2003: 87-94.
  • William Collins Donahue, The End of Modernism: Elias Canetti’s Auto-da-Fé (University of North Carolina Press, 2001).
  • William Collins Donahue and Julian Preece (eds), The Worlds of Elias Canetti: Centenary Essays (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007).

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