Skip to main content

Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

THE  DRAMA  OF  EXPRESSIONISM                  391

fur alkmal erkannt hatte? The titular hero of Napoleon (1915) is a
chef in Paris who, a master of his art, is entitled to look down
with withering scorn on the creatures he feeds. Meta (1916) records
the triumphs of a servant girl who resists her lover but, after his
death in the War, exhausts her virgin body with his dream-shape,
and, inured by pain and observation to the demoniac nature of
love, enslaves master and mistress. Sternheim's style in his tales is
wilfully experimental and typically expressionistic: articles and
prepositions are cast away, Saxon genitives prevail, the limbs of
the sentence are closely compressed, and there is a metallic harsh-
ness in the denotation of the rushed action. In the long novel
Europa (1919), an ambitious attempt to show West European
society ripening for its ruin in the War, this 'precious* style ossifies.
GEORG KAISER (1867-1945) was certainly a gifted dramatist: he
was steeped in the routine of the theatre, and did not stand above
sensational effects, but he had the daring of the pioneer and a skill
in the symmetrical handling of symbol which made even his failures
interesting. His first plays were studies, influenced by Freud, of
sexual states and problems. The first to be published was Re&tor
Kleist (1905); this play - a Tragikomodie he calls it - ends with the
suicide of a grammar-school boy owing to the tyranny of his
teachers. In spite of the not inadequately motivated catastrophe it
is mainly farcical satire and belongs to the contemporary revolt
against the school system (see pp. 17, 280). Much of the fun is
provided by the writhings of the headmaster under the stinging
irritation of his gluteal callosities (Gesassgetriebe). What value the
play has lies in the corrosive analysis of this diseased headmaster
- too feeble to have children - and of the blustering gymnastics
master as the opposite extreme of robustious health (he is the
father of twins) and naive boy-scout morality. Diejudische Witwe
(1911) shows a Judith unwillingly chaste; her marriage with an
old man has not been consummated, and her people reward her
for slaying Holofernes by making her a Virgin of the Temple,
privileged to tread the Holy of Holies with the High Priest; in
him she at last finds her man. There is much that is loathsome in
this recklessly Jewish drama: above all, the bath scene with its
detailed unfolding of sexual obsession in the doddering old scholar
into whose limp arms the girl has been thrust by her decent family,
and the maid's awakened body calling even for the crazed and
impotent old fool, like a child for its toy; but the intention, to