Skip to main content

Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

See other formats

306                  MODERN   GERMAN  LITERATURE

as the film The B/ue Angel, has for hero a grotesque schoolmaster
who, tracking his pupils to a tavern where they wait on a light o'
love, is himself drawn into her coils, marries her, loses his post,
and avenges himself on his fellow-citizens, his former pupils, by
luring them through his wife to debauch. The picture is repulsive;
but Heinrich Mann is applying the method of Balzac: by exagger-
ation he aims at showing the terrific power of instincts and of
passions latent in any respectable individual; a Philistine or an
immaculate Methodist is a potential monster of vice, for, since
virtue is vice reversed, intensity may be equal in a different direc-
tion, just as rising (according to the observer's standpoint) is fall-
ing upwards. In Zmschen den 'Rassen (1907) Heinrich Mann fights
out the conflict in his own blood between north and south, spiritu-
ality and sensuality: the heroine, like the author, is half South
American. The Romance lovers pounce on their women, while the
Germanic hero timidly waits. Die kkine Stadt (1909) begins as an
idyll in a little Italian town where the clerical party try to prevent
an itinerant troupe of actors from producing their shows. But the
action quickens to the passionate love-story of the young tenor
and a beautiful girl he sees behind the door of the convent. In Die
Gottinnen oder die drei TLomane der Her^pgin von Assy (1902-3), Hein-
rich Mann's most ambitious work, all this southern fever seethes
into delirium. To blame his creole blood for the ravishing rut of
it all is hardly scientific; much of it is due to his residence in Italy
and still more to his cult of d' Annunzio, who, moreover, appears,
thinly disguised, as one of the characters. CI have discovered a new
genre/ one of the characters proclaims, *the hysterical Renais-
sance !* This term hits the nail on the head: the characters (unbedenk-
liche Abenteurer, stofy und duster nach Grosse, blutbefleckt fret und un-
verwmdbar) are weaklings to whom their perversities are heroic
strength; the keynote of the trilogy is the discord between desire
and capacity. As in a German novel written a century before,
J. J. W. Heinse's Ardinghello, the wickedness is a phantasmagoria,
not a ruthless unfolding of strength as in the authentic history of
the cinqmcento. Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, himself a weakling wor-
shipping the strong, had delineated Renaissance voluptuaries with
the credibility of an historian; Heinrich Mann sees only one side
of their mentality: worship of beauty unhampered by the moral
law, and therefore lust, not love. The scene is set on a vast scale -
the Duchess rules by right of beauty from Dalmatia to Venice,