Meaning of GERMAN LITERATURE in English
- GERMAN LITERATURE
body of literary works of the German-speaking peoples of central Europe. Its development having transcended oft-changing political boundaries, it includes not only the writings from Germany but also those from Austria and Switzerland. This article provides a concise historical survey of German literature. Its major periods and movements are discussed in relation to broader cultural developments throughout Europe, and its ties with or indebtedness to other literatures are noted. body of literary works written by the German-speaking peoples of Europe, including those inhabiting the nations of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The first written records of the continental German tribes date back to the 8th century, but there is evidence of an earlier oral tradition. This tradition consisted of Heldenlieder, songs extolling the exploits of heroes, as well as pagan religious hymns and battle songs. The first significant texts in German, often translated from Latin, appeared in the 9th century as the result of efforts by clerics to promulgate Christian teachings. A revival of vernacular literature occurred from about 1050. One of the principal genres of this new period, commonly called the Middle High German period, was the medieval court epic. Works of this type recounted traditional tales of courtly romance and the combats of feudal knights. The prestige of the German court epic rests on three poets: Hartmann von Aue, Wolfram von Eschenbach, and Gottfried von Strassburg. The Nibelungenlied is the most famous Middle High German epic poem. The other important genre of this period was the Minnesang, or love lyric, in which a poet expressed adoration of his beloved lady according to courtly conventions. The most accomplished of the minnesingers was Walther von der Vogelweide. From about 1450 there materialized a new bourgeois realism that embraced humanism and developed a literature of a decidedly satirical or didactic tone, perhaps best exemplified by Sebastian Brant's Das Narrenschiff (1494; The Ship of Fools), which ridiculed all the vices of the age. The Reformation of the 16th century had several effects on German literature. The most lasting was the impact of Martin Luther's translation of the Bible into German. The dialect that he used (namely, the dialect of Meissen) was eventually adopted as the literary language of all Germany. Other important works were the witty verse anecdotes and Fastnachtsspiele (Shrovetide plays) of Hans Sachs. German Baroque literature in the 17th century shared the themes popular in Europe at that time. Life was seen as ruled by the turns of fickle fortune, all earthly things were considered illusory, and man was regarded as an actor merely playing a role on the world's stage. The German novel consisted of long, rambling mixtures of morality and fantasy. Two writers stood outJohann Beer and H.J.C. von Grimmelshausen. The latter's Abenteuerliche Simplicissimus (1669; The Adventurous Simplicissimus), which combined prevailing themes with religious and metaphysical insight, remains one of the finest of German novels. In lyric poetry, Andreas Gryphius, Angelus Silesius (Johann Scheffler), and Paul Fleming expressed with religious ardour the hopes and fears of the age. The same emotional intensity is found in the tragedies of Gryphius. The Enlightenment emerged in Germany in about the mid-1700s. Literature associated with the movement, as, for example, the dramas of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and the prose fiction of Christoph Martin Wieland, manifested a preoccupation with ethical issues and an optimistic belief in human perfectability. By the 1760s there arose a literary movement known as the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress), whose exponents, including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, exalted nature, feeling, originality, and rebellion against authority. The later works of Goethe, such as Iphigenie auf Tauris (1787), and Schiller, including Wallenstein (1800), show an evolution toward Johann Gottfried von Herder's ideal of Humanitt (a reconciliation of intellect and feeling) and epitomize German Neoclassicism. The predominant literary movement of the early 1800s was Romanticism. A yearning for antiquity is particularly evident in the works of the poet Friedrich Hlderlin. The principal theorists of the first Romantic school were the brothers August Wilhelm and Friedrich von Schlegel; the second Romantic school revived interest in folk songs and medieval romances as sources of inspiration for poetry. Later Romantics focused on the darker aspects of life, such as those found in the dramas of Heinrich von Kleist. E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote numerous tales dealing with fantasy and the grotesque. Among the prominent writers of the post-Napoleonic era was the Austrian playwright Franz Grillparzer, who cultivated dramas in the Neoclassical tradition but at the same time introduced a new realism. By the 1820s, Romanticism was the subject of severe criticism by such poets as Heinrich Heine. In the 1830s a movement called Junges Deutschland (Young Germany) sought to utilize literature as a vehicle for political criticism. Of greater significance to German letters was the development of Poetic Realism, which aimed to point up the positive elements of ordinary life itself. Its major exponents included Adalbert Stifter of Austria, Gottfried Keller of Switzerland, and Friedrich Hebbel and Theodor Fontane of Germany. By the last decade of the 19th century, the naturalist movement depicted social reality and the ugly, sordid aspects of life with scientific objectivity. The leading representative of the movement was Gerhart Hauptmann, whose drama Die Weber (1892; The Weavers) portrayed the plight of the Silesian weavers. During the early 1900s various writers, including the Viennese Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Arthur Schnitzler, embraced the Impressionist mode to evoke mood or a certain state of mind. Such prominent poets as Stefan George and Rainer Maria Rilke were indebted to Symbolism, as was Thomas Mann, who made use of symbol and myth in several novels, the most outstanding example of which was Der Zauberberg (1924; The Magic Mountain). Hermann Hesse, in his novels Demian (1919) and Der Steppenwolf (1927), exhibits a fascination with poetic symbol, fantasy, and psychoanalysis. Expressionism, foreshadowed in the dramas of Frank Wedekind, became an important trend during and immediately after World War I. Its proponents endeavoured to unmask the often ugly reality behind facades. Notable Expressionists in drama included Ernst Toller and Georg Kaiser; in poetry, Georg Trakl, Gottfried Benn, and Else Lasker-Schler; and in prose, Alfred Dblin. In many of his novels and short stories, Franz Kafka dealt with themes reminiscent of the Expressionists, bringing into sharp relief the horror and uncertainty of human existence. After 1918, Social Realism, with its emphasis on objectivity, held sway until the Nazis took power. Notable works of this period include the social-documentary novels of Anna Seghers, perhaps best represented by Das siebte Kreuz (1942; The Seventh Cross), and Streit um den Sergeanten Grischa (1928; The Case of Sergeant Grischa) by Arnold Zweig, a seminal work of the interwar years. The atmosphere and problems of the post-World War II years were captured in the prose fiction of Wolfgang Borchert, Ilse Aichinger, and Heinrich Bll. Gnter Grass painted a more exuberant, albeit grotesque, picture of modern German history in a series of novels during the late 1950s and '60s. Dramatist Bertolt Brecht, whose sardonic humour and biting social commentary left their mark on readers of many lands, is the creator of what is known as epic theatre. The Swiss authors Max Frisch and Friedrich Drrenmatt criticized the emotional sterility of modern life. Other significant 20th-century writers in German include Peter Handke, an Austrian, and Christa Wolf. A development of an earlier form, the so-called New German Radio Play is a dramatic genre derived from concrete poetry in which meaning gives way to experimentation with form and sound. Two additional contemporary trends include a predilection for complex, esoteric verse, such as the intricate hermetic pieces of Paul Celan, and a preference for a simple, plain style, as in the case of the symbolic yet folklike poetry of Christine Lavant. Additional reading Malcolm Pasley (ed.), Germany: A Companion to German Studies, 2nd ed. (1982), good background reading; Herbert A. Frenzel and Elisabeth Frenzel, Daten deutscher Dichtung: Chronologischer Abriss der deutschen Literaturgeschichte, 20th ed., 2 vol. (1982), an indispensable chronology of authors, works, and movements; John G. Robertson, A History of German Literature, 6th ed. (1970), an essential reference work providing easy access to dates and facts; C.P. Magill, German Literature (1974); Gilbert Waterhouse, continued by H.M. Waidson, A Short History of German Literature, 3rd ed. rev. (1959), an excellent brief outline; and Fritz Martini, Deutsche Literaturgeschichte, 18th ed. (1984).Studies that focus on specific periods or trends of German literary history include J. Knight Bostock, A Handbook on Old High German Literature, 2nd ed. rev. by K.C. King and D.R. McLintock (1976), an essential reference work; M. O'C. Walshe, Medieval German Literature (1962), a very useful reference; Paul Salmon, Literature in Medieval Germany (1967), an excellent introduction; Archer Taylor, Problems in German Literary History of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries (1939, reprinted 1966); Richard Newald, Die deutsche Literatur vom Spthumanismus zur Empfindsamkeit, 15701750, 6th ed. (1967); Roy Pascal, German Literature in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (1968, reprinted 1979), one of the best English introductions to this period; Marian Szyrocki, Die Deutsche Literatur des Barock (1968, reissued 1979), a valuable source; Robert M. Browning, German Baroque Poetry, 16181723 (1971); Friedhelm Radant, From Baroque to Storm and Stress, 17201775 (1977), a most useful survey; Walter H. Bruford, Germany in the Eighteenth Century: The Social Background of the Literary Revival (1935, reprinted 1971); and Culture and Society in Classical Weimar, 17751806 (1962), informative studies of the cultural milieu of the period; Henry B. Garland, Storm and Stress (1952), an adequate introduction; William D. Robson-Scott, The Literary Background of the Gothic Revival in Germany: A Chapter in the History of Taste (1965), on art as well as literature; T.R. Reed, The Classical Centre. Goethe and Weimar, 17721832 (1980), a masterly study; Ernst L. Stahl and W.E. Yuill, German Literature of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (1970), a solid introductory study; Glyn Tegai Hughes, Romantic German Literature (1979), an excellent survey; Georg Brandes, Main Currents in 19th-Century Literature, vol. 6, The Young Germany (190105, reissued 1975; originally published in Danish, 187290), a thorough work on European comparative literature; Ronald Gray, The German Tradition in Literature, 18711945 (1965), an interesting study; Jethro Bithell, Modern German Literature, 18801950, 3rd ed. (1959, reprinted 1963), a useful reference work; August Closs (ed.), Twentieth Century German Literature (1969), an excellent introduction, one in the series of Introductions to German Literature; Raymond Furness, The Twentieth Century, 18901945 (1978); Walter H. Sokel, The Writer in Extremis: Expressionism in Twentieth-Century German Literature (1959, reissued 1964). W. Walker Chambers Denys G. Dyer Alexander Gillies Hans Siegbert Reiss Jeremy D. Adler Josef Nadler The Editors of the Encyclopdia Britannica The 18th century The age of Enlightenment Rationalism If religion was the dominant factor in German intellectual and spiritual affairs in the 17th century, the Enlightenment of the 18th brought about a reaction. Man now claimed to be able to understand the universe by virtue of his possession of the divine gift of reason. Empirical and idealist thinkers alike were united in rejecting traditional authority. In a rational universe, governed by the law of cause and effect, there was room neither for mystery nor for the doctrines of original sin and predestination. Evil was the result of irrational conditions of life, and man had it in his power to improve his lot by the pursuit of science and education. An optimistic belief in human perfectibility was generally held; it lay in the cultivation of reason and tireless effort in the service of human improvement. The man of the world being more highly regarded than the devout Christian, good taste and common sense came to be demanded, and literature assumed a markedly didactic character. The foundations of rationalism had been laid by Leibniz. With him, the relationship of God and man to each other ceased to be considered within the limits of Christian dogma. German religious life was marked by a revival of Pietism, which left its traces in the sphere of religious poetry. The main emphasis lay not on conformity but on the individual's spiritual experience. In literature the new ideas soon began to emerge. One of the most marked features of German literature in the 18th century was the progressive influence of English literature: first, of Joseph Addison, Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, and Alexander Pope; later of James Thomson, John Milton, and Edward Young. Translations and imitations of the English Spectator, Tatler, and Guardian helped to regenerate literary taste. Samuel Richardson had much effect upon the growth of the moral novel, while Young's Conjectures on Original Composition heralded a new epoch in German literature that was to be profoundly affected by the Scottish poet James Macpherson's Ossian, Bishop Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, and Shakespearethe epoch of the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) movement. The reaction against rationalism Between 1724 and 1740 the critic Johann Christoph Gottsched succeeded in establishing in Leipzig literary reforms in accord with French 17th-century Classicism. He purified the stage and laid down principles according to which good literature was to be produced and judged. The limitations of Gottsched soon drew resistance from two Swiss scholars, Johann Jakob Bodmer and Johann Jakob Breitinger. Basing their arguments on John Milton's poem Paradise Lost, they insisted that imagination should not be dominated by reason. The effects of the controversy appeared toward midcentury in a group of Leipzig writers of Gottsched's own school, the Bremer Beitrger (Bremen Contributors), as they are usually called after the paper in which they published their work. In thisthe Neue Beitrge zum Vergngen des Verstandes und Witzesthere appeared in 1748 the first installment of an epic by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, Der Messias (completed 1773), whose theme created a sensation when the first cantos appeared. Klopstock's genius was, however, more suited to the lyric, and his odes, in which sentimental and patriotic themes were prominent, were much admired. Friedrich von Hagedorn showed to what perfection occasional verse could be brought, while Ewald Christian von Kleist excelled in sentimental nature poetry. Meanwhile, a rising interest in Germanic antiquity aided the growth of the bardic movement led by Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg, Karl Friedrich Kretschmann, and Michael Denis, the translator of Macpherson's Ossian. A notable group of poets was the Gttinger Hain (Gttingen Grove) founded in 1772. Johann Heinrich Voss, the group's leader, was author of the famous idyll Luise (1795). The 19th century The death of Goethe in 1832 marked the end of the cosmopolitan humanism typical of the 18th century. Although some leading Romantics outlived Goethe by a decade, the movement had lost its impact. In conservative, nonliterary fields, Romanticism was more tenacious, and in politics its alliance with rising nationalism coloured German thinking for more than a century. In literature, Goethe himself was of more lasting significance; few writers were unaffected by his work, though the effect sometimes took the form of rebellion against his Olympian predominance. Rule by conservative governments repressed liberty of thought, and writers' efforts to prescribe solutions for social ills were foiled by censorship. Literature was dominated by disillusionment with man's capacity to achieve lofty ends, and pessimistic appraisal of man's role replaced once optimistic or constructive attitudes. In keeping with this change in attitude, writers sought to free themselves from the bondage of Neoclassical and Romantic thought, not always by rejection but often by adaptation. Grillparzer, Bchner, and the drama The post-Napoleonic era produced several fine dramatists, notably the Austrian Franz Grillparzer and the German Georg Bchner. Grillparzer consciously formed his dramas in the mold of Neoclassicism but filled them out with a new vein of realism and a theatricality that he derived from the Viennese popular theatre. His tragedies on Classical and historical subjects had as their theme the conflict between active life and contemplative life. Sappho (1818) was modeled on Goethe's Tasso, and Das goldene Vliess (1820; The Golden Fleece) was a tragedy of stark psychological realism. The historical plays mirrored contemporary events: Knig Ottokars Glck und Ende (1823; King Ottocar, His Rise and Fall) reflects Napoleon's fate, while Ein Bruderzwist in Habsburg (c. 1848; Family Strife in Hapsburg) conveys Grillparzer's pessimism about the possibility of right action in mid-19th-century politics. Whereas Grillparzer was politically and poetically a conservative, Bchner was in every respect the opposite. He turned to literature after failing to start a revolution in his native Hessen. His plays were rooted in the achievements of the Sturm und Drang but anticipated 20th-century dramatic forms. In Dantons Tod (1835; Danton's Death), Bchner portrayed the failures of the French Revolution, and in Woyzeck (posthumously published in 1879) he created the first major tragedy with a lower-class hero. Bchner viewed man pessimistically but with compassion as a victim of social, historical, and other forces: mere existence causes pain, and the cosmos is a spiritual void. Bchner and Grillparzer each wrote one comedy, but the most successful comic dramatists were Ferdinand Raimund and Johann Nepomuk Nestroy, who gave lasting currency to the Viennese popular stage. The ambitious tragedies of Christian Dietrich Grabbe, such as Napoleon (1831), have not stood the test of time, but he also produced one memorable comedy in Scherz, Satire, Ironie und tiefere Bedeutung (1827; Satire, Irony, and Deeper Meaning). The heritage of Neoclassicism and Romanticism had been discredited, but no new faith emerged from the resulting disillusionment. The 20th century Through the 20th century, German literature has reflected the social, political, and spiritual uncertainty of its surroundings. Early dissatisfaction with conventional literary forms led to experiments with new ones in an attempt to avoid sterility and to revitalize the languageaims that have emerged as dominant forces in modern literature. Major literary trends and conditions Impressionism Impressionism evokes a mood or state of mind by emphasizing the impression made by an object on its observer. The poet Detlev von Liliencron provided an early example of this, as did Richard Dehmel. Writers influenced by Symbolism also had elements of Impressionism in their work. A successor of French Symbolism who had considerable effect on other writers was Stefan George, whose solemn, carefully composed verse aimed at asserting the lofty stature of poetry, which, for him, had a religious character. George founded the journal Bltter fr die Kunst (1892; Journal for Art) to publish his followers' poetry. Among those attracted by his work were the critic Friedrich Gundolf and the poet Karl Wolfskehl. Hugo von Hofmannsthal, an Austrian whose Impressionistic elements had their roots in Romanticism, declined to join George's circle. In his melodious poetry he delicately analyzed his sensibilities and was haunted by his obsession with the inadequacy of language completely to convey feeling. An essay, the Chandos-Brief (1902; Letter by Lord Chandos), records this sense of the inadequacy of words. The plays of the 1890s concerned the aesthete faced with the reality of this inadequacy. Later dramas, such as Jedermann (published 1911), an adaptation of Everyman, and Das Salzburger grosse Welttheater (1922; The Great Salzburg Theatre of the World), were religious in tone and borrowed from Baroque and medieval drama; a comedy, Der Schwierige (1921; The Difficult Man), analyzed a sophisticated mind inhibited by the weight of social tradition. His greatest public successes were his librettos, such as Der Rosenkavalier (1911), which Richard Strauss set to music. Conscious of the heritage of European culture and of ethical responsibility, Hofmannsthal conveyed a strong awareness of moral issues in his work. Vienna was now a major cultural centre. Arthur Schnitzler depicted its pre-1914 decadence. Karl Kraus relentlessly exposed the Viennese press and morals in his one-man satiric newspaper Die Fackel (The Torch) and attacked World War I in his monumental drama Die letzten Tage der Menschheit (191517; The Last Days of Mankind). A cooler analyst was Robert Musil. His novel Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (193043; The Man Without Qualities), one of the masterpieces of the age, ironically dissects modern incertitude, sham values, and political folly. Hermann Broch, too, gave a profound historical analysis in his trilogy Die Schlafwandler (193132; The Sleepwalkers). Joseph Roth was still another who depicted the decline of Austria-Hungary, as, for example, in the novel Radetzkymarsch (1932; Radetzky March). Prague had also become a centre of writing: Franz Kafka, Rainer Maria Rilke, Franz Werfel, Max Brod, and Gustav Meyrink wrote and lived in Prague. Their work inclined toward the esoteric and was strongly influenced by Symbolism. One last generation of Prague writers, which included Hermann Grab, Johannes Urzidil, and Franz Wurm, became active in exile during and after World War II.
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