Elias Canetti was the eldest son in a Jewish merchant family in Rustchuk (present-day Rousse). His ancestors were Sephardi Jews who had been expelled from Spain in 1492. The original family name was Cañete, named after a village in Spain. Elias spent his childhood years, from 1905 to 1911, in Rustchuk until the family moved to England. In 1912 his father died suddenly, and his mother moved with their children to Vienna in the same year.
Read Elias Canetti's speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1981, free from Nobelprize.org.
They lived in Vienna from the time Canetti was aged 7 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 Zurich and then (until 1924) to Germany, 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-Vienna, 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 Vienna in 1929, but never worked as a chemist. In 1938, after the Anschluss of Austria to greater Germany, Canetti moved to London 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.
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 Zurich.
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 Crowds and Power, a study of crowd behavior as it manifests itself in human activities ranging from mob violence to religious congregations.
One of the best studies on Canetti's life and work was done by the French psychoanalyst Dr. Roger Gentis , "La folie Canetti", published by Maurice Nadeau (Paris, 1993).