Skip to main content

Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

46                    MODERN   GERMAN  LITERATURE

modernized biirgerHches Trauerspiel with the traditional contrast of
classes, conflict between children and parents, augmented by a
cynical valuation of sexual 'honour'. The scene is a house in Berlin;
the front part is inhabited by a rich man, and the rear by the
family of a man who is employed in the rich man's factory. The
situation (Vorderhaus und tiinterhaus] became famous. There is a
son and a daughter in each family; in the symmetry of the play
(a dramatic chiasmus) the daughter of the rich man and the son of
the poor man have risen above class prejudice, while the son of
the rich man and the daughter of the poor man are moral degener-
ates; the good daughter and the good son are lovers; the poor
man's daughter has been seduced by the rich man's son. The
mouthpiece for the idea of the play (culture's elastic conception
of 'honour') is Graf Trast, who has had to give up his career as
an officer because of his inability to pay a gambling debt; he has
since made a fortune in business. The end is that the naughty girl
is paid off, while the son from the rear (a good match because he
is Trast's heir) marries the girl at the front. As things are, the
dishonoured girl will have a better chance of making a decent
marriage (she has a dowry) than if she had been a virgin; Trast,
who points this out, says that he is as raw as nature and as cruel
as truth.

Die Ehre is, after all, constructed on the French model, and is
in the line of Scribe and Sardou: Graf Trast is the raisonneur who
voices the idea round which the characters turn. To this careful
French technique Sudermann owed the success of the majority of
his plays; when he deserted it, as in his comedy Die Schmetterlings-
sMacht (1895), to attempt ^///^//-painting, he failed entirely. The
production of his second play, Sodoms Ende, was at first forbidden
by the police; when it was produced in 1890 it turned out to be
a crass picture of just that stratum of Berlin society which bought
theatre tickets and made or damned plays. Sodom is the Berlin
society of the day; a young painter is seduced and debased by a
rich dame; he comes home drunk in the dead of night and violates
his foster-sister, a mere child; she rushes out and drowns herself,
and he dies of haemorrhage. The next play, Heimat (1893), is well
known in England as Magda: Sarah Bernhardt and Mrs Pat Camp-
bell played the title-role. The characters are not really new: there
is an old retired officer (fder polternde Vafer9); his daughter, who
had run away from home and now comes back as a famous singer