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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

390                  MODERN   GERMAN   LITERATURE

the story of a bastard who happens to be so good a singer that he
is indispensable for a concert which is to be given at the local
Court: he is admitted to the quartet which traditionally carries off
the honours, but not to the society to which the other members
of the quartet belong; he has, however, the rapture of seeing the
inside of their houses and of marrying his forms to a cushioned
arm-chair; and when the maiden sister of his host passes through
the room he can sniff the air and murmur in Wagnerian alliter-
ations: Weisse Wasche weht voruber! The dizzy height of happiness
would be to marry this unapproachable lady; and she is actually
thrust at him when she is compromised by the local prince - but
Schippel turns forth a lofty pride and refuses her as tainted goods;
upon which he is challenged to a duel by one of the quartet, who
is in a state of collapse before pistols are raised, but not more so
than Schippel, who, however, discharges his weapon, perhaps by
the shaking of his nerves, and is then canoni2ed as a member of
the middle classes. Islanded in the play like a green refuge is the
love scene of prince and maiden, with the shreds of ragged ro-
mance and echoes of ancient verse still clinging to the stripped
sentences gaunt with disillusionment. Oskar Wilde: sein Drama
(1925) has no more than symptomatic interest. In Sternheim's
short stories - the best are collected as Chronik von des %wan%igsten
]ahrhundertsJ$eginn (1918) - there is the same pitiless dissection of
the middle classes; but here he has more scope for uncovering the
hidden springs of impulse and action: the powers that decide lie
*wo me ein geschwellter Kessel der L*eib ywischen Schenkel undHufte ein-
gelassen isf\ and perhaps the pencil sketch of Sternheim given by
Soergel, which shows him lying immaculately dressed but with
his abdomen bared and simmering, sufficiently pictures his con-
ception of the genesis of art as of vital energy. In the tales there is
something of a Nietzschean approval of characters who see through
their fellow-men and exploit them: thus the hero ofSchuhlin (1913)
is a pianist and composer who lives on the wealth of a rich pupil
and the labour of his wife; the grim humour lies in the efforts of
each worshipper to outdo the other in sacrifice, and the end of the
comedy is that the pupil, his last penny gone, stabs the wife, who
would still, if she remained over, have the comfort of her body to
offer the sybarite. As to Schuhlin: 'Sanfte Trauer bindert ihn nicht,
mver^ugtich nem Verbindungen %u suchen^ die die Mittel ^ujenem L*eben
sichern sollen, das er ah ihm gemass und seiner TSedeutung %ukommend, ein