Germany Literature: the Biedermeier Period


According to Weddinginfashion, an extreme case was Gotthelf (1797-1854), who rejected the political solution of the social problem. Schopenhauer and Feuerbach philosophically expressed the singular relationship with the life of the representatives of this literature, for which Biedermeier was mentioned specifically and to which the border lands, Austria, Swabia and Switzerland gave a special contribution. The greatest Biedermeier dramatists are the Austrians F. Grillparzer (1791-1872) and F. Raimund (1790-1836). The great Biedermeier fiction was continued by the writers of realism, a movement that extends from the middle of the century (from the failed revolutions of 1848) to the age of Bismarck to which the attribute of “poetic” is usually added. The romantic, idealistic and Protestant heritage distanced German realism from the French one, which was all the more free and irreverent, and made its major representatives, F. Hebbel (1813-63), T. Fontane (1819-98), G. Keller (1819-90), CF Meyer (1825-98), W. Raabe (1831-1910), T. Storm (1817-88), of the faithful of the moral law that appeared to them, all relationship with transcendence extinguished and when it was now impossible to intervene in the political-social struggle, the only value still intact: they fought, in isolation, what Lukács called the “last battle of bourgeois humanism”, since single existence was now perceived as threatened by external, material forces, and condemned to succumb, but was not yet seen as a product of biological-social forces. Society, although preponderant, still revolved around the individual, whose image was however modified by the discoveries of positivistic science which were denied the heroic dimension as well as the ideological dimension:, as O. Ludwig (1813-65) says. It has given us a series of great social novels and novels and only one playwright in Hebbel, which in his time had little echo, German theater being dominated by French authors such as A. Dumas son and V. Sardou and their German imitators. Wagnerism exploded later. Around 1880 the urgent need for a new recognition of reality was felt, supported by a scientific-social ideology and driven by an educational purpose. He wanted to consider the writer, on the basis of É. Zola, a scientific experimenter of causal links. The reportage bought dignity of art, the art was defined as an impoverished nature which tended to be completed (A. Holz), the center of interest became the common man or even the marginalized by bourgeois society, sick, insane or prostitute. The naturalism, marked in the 1880s by the brothers Hart and in Germany influenced by contemporary French or Russian literature, but mostly Scandinavian, and involved in social struggles, developed in Monaco around MG Conrad and K. Alberti and the magazine Die Gesellschaft (1885 -1902) and in Berlin around the Hars, editors of the Kritische Waffengänge (1882 et seq.), G. Hauptmann (1862-1946), H. Conradi (1862-90), A. Holz (1863-1929) and Freie Bühne (1889), a new theater built on the model of the Théâtre libre in Paris and in turn the center of the magazine of the same name. Naturalism manifested itself above all in the theater and in journalism: opera endeavored to embrace the new theme of protest, the discomfort of technology, the monstrosity of capitalism, anticipating the researches of expressionism with Holz, but keeping intact with D. von Liliencron the formal tradition of the early nineteenth century. Already before the twentieth century, naturalism was crossed and surpassed by Nietzsche’s philosophy, by neo-romantic, neoclassical, impressionistic and symbolistic currents: the split between poetry and reality, man and world was renewed and had its greatest singer in S. George (1868- 1933), his suggestive stylization in the Jugendstil, while the psychological vision of man found its maximum expression in the lyric of R. Dehmel (1863-1920), H. von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929), RM Rilke (1875-1926), in the narrative of the Danubian monarchy and in the discoveries of Freud, son, like Rilke, Hofmannsthal, A. Schnitzler (1862-1931), S. Zweig (1881-1942), of this decaying world. Between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century there was a revival of the theater (Hofmannsthal, Schnitzler, Wedekind), the birth of cabaret, a new flowering of non-country fiction and important magazines, such as Die Insel and Blätter für die Kunst and since 1899 the subversive Die Fackel. The Expressionist decade (1905-15) brought Germany to the forefront of European culture, but it was a short-lived explosion; the Wilhelminian-Victorian age, of which Expressionism is the son, was buried together with it from the First World War.


However, it was in this aesthetic, religious, social revolt against the sated and brutal capitalist-imperialist establishment of the “fathers” that B. Brecht (1898-1956), A. Döblin (1878-1957), G. Benn (1886-1956), H. Mann (1871-1950), F. Werfel (1890-1945) and the lyricists G. Heym (1887-1912) and G. Trakl (1887-1914). Even the theater has given very original fruits with E. Toller (1893-1939), G. Kaiser (1878-1945), F. Wedekind (1864-1918), C. Sternheim (1878-1942) and the intellectual and artistic life gathered in numerous and lively circles in Berlin, Leipzig, Munich. The pre-war bourgeois society instead found its posthumous analyzers in a series of great novelists, Th. Mann (1875-1955), E. Canetti (1905-94), H. Broch (1886-1951), R. Musil (1880-1942), while F. Kafka (1883-1924), also heir to the Jewish culture of Eastern Europe, occupied an isolated position. The 1920s saw the extinction of the revolutionary hopes of expressionism and the emergence of a new exploration of reality in the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), which in some respects approached contemporary socialist realism and certain American literature. But the basic problem of postnaturalisti and postespressionisti writers, influenced mainly on the Recherche of Proust (translated in 1926) and the ‘ Ulysses of Joyce (translated in 1927), was the search for the reality of art beyond the phenomenal and the study of expressive techniques (interior monologue, associations of the unconscious, etc.) to replace the chronological or psychological succession established by the omniscient “puppeteer”, who has always been the novelist. The author preferred to take on the role of essayist, analyst, indicator of utopias, organizer of materials from different sources. The same Brechtian concepts of “epic theater” and “estrangement” testify to the changed relationships between author, work, viewer, a change which, however, was only partially reflected in the acclaimed novels by H. Hesse (1877-1962), F. Werfel (1890-1945), E. Wiechert (1887-1950) and in the late masterpieces of Th. Mann. The novel was the real battleground; opera and the theater had a lower position in those years, even if the newest formulations are due precisely to the theater, to that of Brecht. The National Socialism unleashed a devastating storm, leading to suicide, emigration or to silence the majority of German intellectuals. Switzerland, host country of many of them, acquired new cultural weight and made the theater of Zurich a stronghold of democratic protest and, after the war, gave German-language literature two brilliant writers, the novelist M. Frisch (1911- 91) and the playwright F. Dürrenmatt (1921-90).

Germany Literature - the Biedermeier Period