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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

298                    MODERN   GERMAN LITERATURE

Stehr's one drama, Meta Konegen (1905), is related in theme: the
heroine is neglected by her husband, who is engrossed by his
struggle to free schools from clerical interference. The two late
novels Nathaniel Maechkr (1929) and Die Nachkommen (1933) deal
in chronological sequence with the evolution of political ideas.
Nathaniel Maechler is a tanner's apprentice who is infected with
the ideas of the 1848 revolution; gradually he learns to subordinate
himself to the welfare of the community - which safeguards the
family. His descendants, however, in the illusive outer splendour
and inner poverty of imperialist Germany, are criticized for their
selfish defection from this totalitarian self-effacement. Stehr's No-
vellen fail because of their lack either of concentration or clearness.
His first collection, AufLeben und Tod (1898), is drab naturalism.
Der Schindelmacher (1899) is, for Stehr, violent and even melo-
dramatic: the hero transfers his farm to his niece, who humiliates
him to the dust; the ghost of his dead wife appears, and goads him
to vengeance. He rages like King Lear, smashes the furniture,
mows the corn, and hangs himself in the corner where his wife
died. As a Silesian Stehr should have that knowledge of the gnomes
of the mountains which goes to the making of so many Mdrchen.
But a Mdrchen which a child cannot understand is, as a Marchen,
damned; and Wendelin Heinelt (1909), Stehr's most famous Mdr-
chen, is merely a cryptic elaboration of the theme that happiness is
not the golden gift of the sprites of the underworld. The short
story Der Geigmmacher (1926) is the fanciful symbolic Mdrchen of
a maker of violins who loves and by his passion loses a maid,
Schonlein, and then in the passion of his grief carves a magic
violin, as though out of his own heart, rounds and smooths it to
the shape of Schonlein's body, and from its chords conjures forth
the music of Heaven. He had made perfect violins before he found
Schonlein; but their music was not divine. Only suffering and
privation ripen a master's magic gift.

Any valuation of Stehr today can only be provisional. German
critics maintain that only a German can appreciate him; apparently
a down-weighted brain is needed, and a patience unconscious of
length of time. To read Der Heiligenhoj'is a heroic task. Stehr has
the plodding mind of an elementary teacher; he grinds on and on
to the end. His style, laden as it is with laborious thinking, has
a level and heavy rhythm; nor has it the flashes of flame of the
mystics proper - the ultimate effect is that of an imposing mass of