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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

THE NOVEL OF NATURALISM AND DECADENCE   83

Eysen is the saga of a whole family, and Cacilie von Sarryn unfolds
the poignant tragedy of the old maid of noble family. The total
theme of the cycle is the struggle for existence of an entire noble
family; thus Deutscher Adel urn 1900 does for the nobility what
Thomas Mann's Euddenbrooks does for a patrician family in a Hanse
city; and in both it is the disintegration of the solid old stock by
the nervous debility of modern life, with its problematic culture,
which interprets the tragedy. The imitation of Maupassant is most
glaring in Ompteda's early collection of short stories I^eidenschaften
(1896), with their ironical humour and piquant situations. The
theme of Maupassant's En Familk - the frustration of artistic
ambition by the fetters of marriage to a modern Delilah - occurs
in Phitister uber Dir! (1899).

Two novelists, Wilhelm von Polenz and Kurt Martens, share
with Johannes Schlaf the credit of aiming, for ethic and racial
reasons, at the conquest of decadentism. WILHELM VON POLENZ
(1861-1903), like Ompteda a retired officer, is today given rank as
one of the forerunners of the Elut- undEoden novel; and it is true
that in his agrarian novels he describes in patient detail the con-
ditions of his native province of Upper Lusatia. Tales of his such as
Heinrich von Kleist (1891) hardly count except for the subject1; and
the sexual details of Suhne (i 890), a novel of adultery, merely show
dependence on Zola. Markedly Zolaesque too is Wur^ellocker
(1902), a study of industrial and artist life. Der Pfarrer von Breiten-
^?r/"(i893) definitely places Polenz with the best novelists of his
period. It is the first of a series of novels (e.g. Frenssen's Hilligenlei,
Lulu von Strauss und Torney's Lucifer, Hermann Stehr's Der
Heiligenbof) in which religious experience dominates the shaping
forces of environment; in Polenz's tale the clergyman hero, like
Casar Flaischlen's Martin Lehnhardt, wrestles with his faith and
casts it aside, while another clergyman seeks release from doubt
in death. DerEuttnerbauer (1895) is by common consent something
of a masterpiece, not only because it vividly renders the landscape
and rural atmosphere of Upper Lusatia and is therefore a new
start, after the spate of metropolitan novels, in the peasant novel,
but because of its powerful characterization of the Biittnerbauer,
a farmer of the old school, obstinate and tireless in his labour to

1 Georg Hirschfeld's short story Damon Kteist probably suggested the title
of Stefan Zweig's book of biographical essays (with a very frank interpre-
tation of Kleist's mentality) Der Kampf mit dtm Damon.