Friedrich Glauser: Father of the German Crime Novel

Friedrich Glauser was a writer whose work has only really been discovered in recent times. His work was a brutal testimony to his own suffering, but, above all, to his impressive ingenuity.
Friedrich Glauser: Father of the German Crime Novel
Sergio De Dios González

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 07 June, 2023

Friedrich Glauser was one of those tormented geniuses who went through his life suffering yet, after his death, became a teacher. Today, he’s considered to be the father of the German crime novel and one of the most stark and moving writers of all time. Indeed, in recent decades, his wonderful work has become even more renowned.

This Swiss author wrote poems at a really young age, but couldn’t get them published. As often happens, the texts were only released after his death. However, Glauser expressed his true acuity in the narrative genre. Yet, sadly, he only had a chance to cultivate it for six years before he passed away.

One of the most interesting aspects of his character is that he began his work in what was then known as an insane asylum (now called a psychiatric hospital). It’s fascinating that an individual who was apparently submerged in so much contradictory behavior was capable of such originality and creative intensity.

“I am an official diver, the one who scrubs the pots. So I’m a kind of a sailor. And the sailors love rum. They drink rum all their lives and grow old if the sea doesn’t swallow them first. On the other hand, my teachers, the teetotalers, were dirt rats: surely that is why they preached sobriety with such conviction.”

-Friedrich Glauser-

The early life of Friedrich Glauser

Friedrich Glauser was born in Vienna on February 4, 1896. His father was a Swiss teacher named Charles Pierre Glauser. His mother, Theresia Scubitz, was Austrian. Unfortunately, she died when Friedrich was only four years old. His father remarried two years later.

Glauser’s upbringing was extremely severe and there were few displays of affection. It’s said that, from a really young age he became accustomed to lying to achieve what he set out to do. Many saw him as a rather aimless wandering boy, who often went hungry but didn’t appear to care.

He was far from a good student. As a consequence, he had constant clashes with his father who divorced in 1909 and remarried in 1911. By then, Friedrich was 15 years old, and his father entrusted the rest of his education to his grandmother. However, the teenager escaped to Hungary. Once his father found him, he enrolled him in a Swiss boarding school.

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Open door and desolate corridor of a psychiatric hospital
Glauser was interned in different psychiatric hospitals. They form the origins of his work.

A complex life

However, the boarding school didn’t achieve what his father had hoped: to discipline him and turn him into an ordinary boy. In fact, during his stay, he was involved in a serious altercation with one of his teachers, who was beaten by Glauser.

Meanwhile, he was in debt to many people from neighboring towns and couldn’t pay any of them. Eventually, he was expelled from the institution.

After this, his father sent him to study at the Collège de Genève (Geneva, Switzerland). While there, he wrote a strong critical review of the poetry book of one of his teachers. Although he did so anonymously, he was soon found out and expelled from the school. Finally, he finished his secondary studies at the Minerva Institute in Zurich.

In 1916, he began studying chemistry but this only lasted for one year. He withdrew and started to mix with some Dada artists. A couple of years later he was placed in a ward for licentious conduct. He was accused of concubinage, using drugs, and having numerous debts. By this time, he was also addicted to morphine and opium.

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A string of psychiatric confinements

In 1919, Friedrich Glauser evaded his tutelage and went to Geneva. There, he was confined in the Münsingen psychiatric center. He escaped and ended up in the city of Ascona.

Shortly afterward, he was caught for morphine use and taken to the Zurich psychiatric hospital. An article in the Associación Colegial de Escritores de España explains how Glauser suffered from mental disorders, morphine addiction, and maladjustment.

In fact, Glauser was admitted to various establishments but managed to escape from all of them. He made five suicide attempts and was in trouble with the authorities several times for petty crimes. In 1921, he entered the French Foreign Legion, under the orders of his father. There, he achieved some stability. However, he was medically dismissed due to heart problems in 1923.

Following further psychiatric hospitalizations, Friedrich Glauser underwent psychoanalysis. Apparently, this was the deciding factor for him to commit himself to writing. During his last internment in Münsingen, he began to write his most famous novels. He also met Berthe Bendel, a nurse with whom he later lived in Chartres.

Syringe and vial of morphine on a wooden table alluding to the addictions of the writer Friedrich Glauser
The life of the Swiss writer was plagued by addictions and psychological disorders.

Friedrich Glauser and his paradoxical end

In 1938, Glauser and Bendel decided to get married. But, on the evening before the wedding, Friedrich suffered a stroke. He died two days later, aged 42. His works have a really authentic seal since they take the form of detective stories but are written with the sharp gaze of a psychoanalyst.

Extraordinarily, in Glauser’s stories, the exploration of the human soul is far more interesting than the crimes themselves. Indeed, his genius is the reason why Germany’s most prestigious crime novel award (the Friedrich Glauser Prize) bears his name.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.