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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

328                    MODERN   GERMAN  LITERATURE

may have been suggested by E. T. A. Hoffmann's Die Elixiere des
Teufels): the events he relates, as they pass before him in proces-
sion, are thus softened by distance. He is at peace, he muses; but
therefore he is dead - for life is the stormy ocean; and where there
are no storms of passion, no conflicts of personality, there is no
life. The decay of a business firm - Hamburg ({die kalte Handels-
stadt des Nordens'} is again indicated, though Ricarda Huch, true
to the romantic formula, does not specify localities - is once again
in the background of Vita Somnium "Breve (1902; later rechristened
Michael Unger); actually the hero, though as the eldest son of
patrician parents he should carry on the firm, throws up his busi-
ness career to win distinction as a 2oologist, and makes frantic
efforts to leave his wife for the sake of a woman painter who has
physical and mental qualities which his uncongenial wife has not.
The wife turns Catholic, and therefore cannot divorce him; but
what chains him to her - and here is the grip of the story - is his
love for his one child, a son who, as the close of the novel hints,
will repay his father's sacrifice of love by being a charming and
lively but socially worthless fellow in whom the vigorous old
stock will dishonourably die out. To save the boy's fortune the
father has returned to business and rescued the firm, brought to
the verge of bankruptcy by the brother next in age - artist and
poet in an amateur way - who had taken his place at the deserted
office desk. The conflict as thus outlined must be common in
everyday life; but Ricarda Huch gives it something of the tragic
intensity of Racine's Andromaque, in which too the theme is the
tyranny of child over parent. What gives the novel its value - it
must be admitted that many reject it as too hazy, and certainly it is
hard to read through - is the slow and careful unfolding of the
hero's mental suffering, and the tragic implication of the tale that
though duty to family is the paramount consideration it may mean
absolute sacrifice of what is best in a man's personality. Certainly
what accrues from the sacrifice is treated with a suggestion of
irony - and irony (sly, pathetic, or extravagant) is almost half of
Ricarda Huch's technique after the Ursleu book; but the main
brunt of the theme is surely that a man grows strong by self-
mastery. One suspects, too, that a current idea of the time, the
doctrine of the Danish philosopher S0ren Kierkegaard that a man's
character as genius, poet, hero, or saint is made by his not getting
his girl, may be in the weft of the tale; Ibsen's Love's Comedy and