German Literature: From the Middle of the 19th Century to the First World War Part I

Biedermeier, Young Germany, Vormärz

In the period between 1815 and 1848, opposing spiritual directions developed: Biedermeier and Young Germany. What was decisive for the representatives of Biedermeier was the uncertainty about social values ​​and norms, the clash between tradition and reality. The private, the circle of friends was preferred to public life; Retirement and resignation, melancholy and renunciation dominated the attitude towards life. The most important representatives of this current, but who point beyond this in their complete works, were v. a. F. GrillparzerJ. N. NestroyA. StifterE. MörikeAnnette von Droste-Hülshoff and N. Lenau.

In Austria the drama reached a new high point, especially through GrillparzerF. Raimund and Nestroy. For the other group, Junge Deutschland (H. LaubeK. GutzkowL. WienbargH. HeineT. MundtL. Börne), criticism of society and the times were given priority. The historical doctrine of the French Revolution, Napoleon’s rise and fall, and Metternich’s restoration epoch gave poetry its realism. Above all, the drama reached with G. Büchner in a radical departure from the classic hero a new quality (“Dantons Tod”, 1835; “Woyzeck”, created 1836, printed in 1879); and C. D. Grabbe historical tragedies brought new elements into the drama.

In the field of lyric poetry, A. von Platen and F. Rückert, as well as the younger Lenau, were completely under the spell of the classical-romantic tradition.

Heine found completely new tones. He combined the reflexive element of the romantic with the pointed and ironic disillusionment (“Gedichte”, 1822; “Buch der Lieder”, 1827). Also in prose, the adequate means of expression of the time,Heine should be mentioned first, his linguistic clarity and stylistic elegance get their uniqueness through ironic refraction (»Travel Pictures«, 4 volumes, 1826–31; »The romantic school«, 1836). Börne was exemplary in the journalistic field. In their theoretical considerations, too, the representatives of Junge Deutschland aimed primarily at prose (Wienbarg, “Aesthetic Campaigns,” 1834; Mundt, “The Art of German Prose,” 1837).

The pre-March brought a flowering of political poetry. In 1841 A. H. Hoffmann von Fallersleben wrote the “Deutschlandlied” as a revolutionary song for German unity. This was followed by G. HerweghsF. Freiligrath and G. Weerth’s poetry, whose pathos and vague enthusiasm were rhetorically effective, but quickly solidified into formula. The lyrical range of Mörike ranged from natural poems, sacred poetry, folk songs and ballads to the thing poem (“Auf einer Lampe”, 1846). In his artist novel “Maler Nolten” (2 volumes, 1832) there are also lyrical inserts. With Annette von Droste-Hülshoff the distance between inwardness and the outside world observed in detail expressed itself in rhythmic brittleness. Outstanding figure of the pre-March period is again Heine, in the strict form of the epic poem with “Germany. Ein Wintermärchen «(1844) gave the national state of mind a timeless expression. Novellas and stories of high artistic standing were also created by Büchner(“Lenz”, 1839) and Annette von Droste-Hülshoff (“Die Judenbuche”, 1842).


Several generations of writers met in the Frankfurt National Assembly (E. M. ArndtUhlandJ. Grimm and others). Their failure brought disappointment, resignation, rejection of the political, reinforcement of conservative tendencies, retreat into the private, inward. Oppositional literature, aimed at public interests, lost its foundation, poetry lost its revolutionary gesture; it withdrew into classical forms (E. GeibelP. Heyse), nor was it free from nationalistic tones. The poetry of T. Storms, v. a. the poems of nature are characterized by deep feelings.

F. Hebbel attempted to revive the bourgeois tragedy (“Maria Magdalene”, 1844). In his »diaries« (written 1835–63; published in 2 volumes, 1885–87) he put down a wealth of reflections on drama theory. His drama is predominantly historical and existential, which shows the tragic guilt of excessive individualism.

In narrative prose, the realistic novel had already gained in profile in the 1830s (K. L. ImmermannH. LaubeW. Alexis). After 1848, bourgeois realism in German literature produced its masterpieces: Stifter’s stories (“Bunte Steine”, 2 volumes, 1853) and novels (“Nachsommer”, 3 volumes, 1857), which contained the “gentle law” and all contradictions can overcome face against the outbreak of passions; W. Raabe’s extensive work of novels, which, in continuation of the German educational novel, addresses the gap between ideal and reality (including »Abu Telfan«, 1867); the short stories Storms (“Aquis submersus”, 1876; “Der Schimmelreiter”, 1888), reaching the highest atmospheric density and finally the great socialnovels by T. Fontane; Particularly noteworthy here are those who show the conflicts between an aged, inherently inconsistent society and those who try to break out of it (Irrungen, Wirrungen, 1888; Effi Briest, 1895). Although his sympathy belonged to the old upper class (the Brandenburg nobility), he paid great attention to anything new and future in society (“Der Stechlin”, 1898).

German Literature - From the Middle of the 19th Century to the First World War Part 1