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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

I

NATURALISM

In a sense it is possible to say that the literature of the period
1880-1958 begins with the Mrgerliches Trauerspiel, in which for
the first time in literature middle-class characters are depicted
as capable of tragic emotion. This development continues practi-
cally without interruption; for even the characters of the classical
period belong for the most part to the middle classes: Werther,
Tasso, Wilhelm Meister, and Faust illumine essentially the same
problems of artistic mentality as those of Thomas Mann's fiction;
the theme even of Schiller's Don Carlos is that political Liberalism
which ferments in the writings of Jung DmtscUand, moves the
hectic tides of Spielhagen's novels, and is distorted in the com-
munistically crazy preaching of universal brotherhood in the ex-
pressionism which followed the First Great War. In the main lines
this literature of a century and a half is a gradual fading, culmin-
ating in the reductio adabsurdum of Thomas Mann's Konigliche Hoheit,
of the glamour in which monarchs and nobles lived a charmed
life, and a corresponding intensification of the mental life of men
belonging to all classes of society.

The drastic change of ideals at the beginning of our period had
been gradually prepared; indeed, though the performance of Ger-
hart Hauptmann's Vor Sonnenaufgang in 1889 can be used as a land-
mark in the same way as the production of Hernani is used in
dating the first crashing victory of the French Romantic move-
ment, in reality it only marks the date when the existence of a new
orientation in literature was forced on the consciousness of the
nation at large. The origins of the new doctrine are to be found in
Gutzkow, who preached cthe emancipation of the flesh'; in Spiel-
hagen, who continued Gutzkow, particularly in his hostility to
existing forms of government; and in the 'poetic realism* of such
writers as Otto Ludwig and Gottfried Keller.