(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Children's Library | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

76                    MODERN   GERMAN   LITERATURE

strata of society concerned. Roughly stated, the difference between
naturalism and decadence is that between Zola on the one hand
and Maupassant, Huysmans in his second period, and Oscar Wilde
on the other hand. There is, however, another line of growth: if
to be a decadent is to be a man of delicate artistic perceptions -
'aesthete' (Aesthet\ man of nerves (Nervenmensch) - but weak will,
then its true home is Vienna.1 But Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, a
Swiss patrician of Zurich, had the same incapacity to face the
noise and hardness of life2; and therefore, though Viennese writers
through the ages tend to this shrinking softness, decadence is a
matter (if it is real and not merely the fashion of the day) of indi-
vidual mentality and physique: the problem of real decadence or
of literary decadence meets us in the work of, say, Sudermann
and Ompteda - both solid Germans with the stamina of cart-
horses - contrasted with Heinz Tovote with his Parisian elegance
and neurotic thrills.

Definitely a decadent was the Viennese writer FERDINAND VON
SAAR (1833-1906); and we may say that he is the link between the
involuntary decadence of Grillparzer and Conrad Ferdinand Meyer
and the deliberate cult of decadence of the nineties. In one of his
lyrics, Die Entarteten, Saar laments for those who are tainted before
birth (erblich beiastet, a favourite term which derives from the ter-
minology of the alienists as much as from Darwin), battle vainly
against secret sins, and die at last by their own hands or by those
of the public executioner. This is the note, too, of many of Saar's
short stories (Novellen aus Qsterreich, 1876 and 1897): his effeminate
characters fail helplessly in whatever they undertake. (He himself
died by his own hand.) His Die Steinklopfer (1873) is generally
classed as 'die erste Arbeiternovelli, while the heroine of his Die
Troglodytin is an ex-convict woman tramp; and certainly the four
short stories of his Die Tragik des Lebens (1894) rank him with the
naturalists of the day.

This wave of sympathy in literature with the downtrodden and
the outcast is of course a reflection of the social and political trend
of the period; the law against Socialists (So%ialistengesefc£) had to
be abrogated in 1890; and Kaiser Wilhelm's known disgust at the
performance in Berlin of Die Weber merely acted as an advertise-

1  See p. 210.

2 Cf. with his poem Abendrot im Walde Cowper's description of himself as
a 'stricken deer*. Sonntags mirrors his morbid love of solitude.