THE LAST DAYS OF MANKIND ACT I SCENE 26
South-western front. Observation post at an altitude of over three and a half thousand feet. The table is adorned with flowers and trophies of war.
ALICE SCHALEK (at the head of a gaggle of war correspondents): Flowers! They must be for my male colleagues, the trophies are for me! Thank you, brave warriors! We have pushed on to this observation post. At least it can be seen by the enemy. The commander would not satisfy my wish to visit a more exposed position, he says it might arouse the enemy.
RIFLEMAN (spits and says): God bless you.
ALICE SCHALEK: He sits as if painted, if he showed no signs of life the work of Defregger, his gorgeous Tyrolean peasants, his antique battle scenes; or Egger-Lienz painting broad-shouldered warriors now! As he lives and breathes, the Common Man! Brave soldiers, what we went through to reach you! But up on the mountain pass I felt something like satisfaction for the first time, a Dolomite hotel metamorphosed into military accommodation. Where are they now, those over-made-up, lace-bedecked signoras, that Italian hotelier? Vanished into thin air! The officer considered which mountain top would suit us. He proposed the least-bombarded. My male colleagues agreed of course, but I said: no. O answer me this: Why before the war did I never see these magnificent physiques I now encounter every day? The Common Man is such a glorious sight! In a city – how very uninspiring! But here an unforgettable phenomenon. Where is the officer?
OFFICER (from inside): Busy.
ALICE SCHALEK: That doesn’t matter. (He appears. Tight-lipped as she tries to draw out information.) Where is the lookout point? There’s always a lookout point just for me. In the observer’s trench, amongst the mossy camouflage, a five centimetre (She positions herself at the lookout point.)
OFFICER (shouting): Duck! (Schalek ducks.) They don’t know where the observer’s position is, right, the tip of your nose could give us away.
(The male war correspondents hold handkerchiefs over their noses.)
ALICE SCHALEK (aside): Cowards! (The guns begin to fire.) Now the spectacle begins – tell me, Lieutenant, if any artist’s skill could create a more dramatic, more passionate spectacle. Those at home may call this war the shame of our century – didn’t I too – but here we are gripped by the fever of lived experience. Isn’t it true, Lieutenant, you stand in the cockpit of this war and many of you, admit it, many of you don’t really want it to end!
(The sound of a projectile: Ssss---)
ALICE SCHALEK: Ssss - ! A screamer.
OFFICER: No, shrapnel. Can’t you tell?
ALICE SCHALEK: I am, as yet, unable to separate the finer tonal colours. But I will learn – the show is at an end. What a shame! It was first-class.
OFFICER: You’re satisfied?
ALICE SCHALEK: Satisfied is not the word! Call it love of the fatherland, you idealists; hatred of the foe, you nationalists; adventure, you romantics; the rapture of power, you readers of men’s souls – I call it mankind set free.
OFFICER: You call it what?
ALICE SCHALEK: Set free by the hourly danger of death. True living!
ORDERLY (enters): Beg to report, sir, Sergeant Hofer is dead.
ALICE SCHALEK: How simply this simple man makes his report! White as a sheet. Call it love of the fatherland, hatred of the foe, adventure, the rapture of power – I call it mankind set free. I am gripped by the fever of lived experience! Lieutenant, what are you thinking, what do you feel now?
 Now northern Italy.
 The War Press Bureau’s only female correspondent. See I.21.
 Franz Defregger (1835–1921), born in the Tyrol, a farmer’s son, ennobled 1883; lived most of his later life in Munich (professor of the history of painting at the Academy of Art); he painted portraits, genre scenes of Tyrolean peasant life; also romanticised scenes of the 1809 Tyrolean uprising against Napoleon.
 Albin Egger-Lienz (1868-1926), born in what is now the Italian Tyrol; studied in Munich under Defregger, though a much more modern artist than him; also a painter of Tyrolean peasant scenes; Austro-Hungarian war artist 1914-1918; some of his early war work seems to glorify the common soldier in a way Alice Schalek would approve of, but one of his last war paintings Die Leichenfelt, ‘The Field of Corpses’, could serve as a chilling illustration to Die letzten Tage der Menschheit. In Schalek’s references to both artists it has seemed appropriate to add a few more words to the text to explain their significance to her.