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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

EXISTENTIALISM  AND   SURREALISM               473

has its shifting scenes in the Russia of Catherine the Great. Der
goldene Griffel (1931) is a novel of the inflation, with a criminal as
central figure; here Bergengruen sketches out his main tenet, am-
plified in the work that follows, that evil can be overcome by
spiritual means. His aim, he says, is: 'die ewigen Ordnungen slchtbar
machen\ There is deep religious faith in his work, and much of his
apparent patience with wrong-doing is to be explained by his con-
version in the late 19308 to Roman Catholicism; what we find is
that contrast of evil and good which comforts converts; it is the
dream-lore, the poetry of Catholic doctrine. If we are to believe
Bergengruen, God reconciles conflicting forces, and evil must be
accepted as belonging to God's ways with men. Bergengruen's
great effort is in the batch of historical novels which follow Das
Kaiserreich in Trummern (1927); this goes back to the days of the
Goths and describes the rush to glory of Odoacer and his down-
fall. In Her^pg Karl der Kuhne (1930) Charles the Bold, Duke of
Burgundy, overreaches himself in his lust for power. Then came
two novels which are considered to be Bergengruen's chief works,
In Der Grosstyrann und das Gericht (1935) the problem of Nazi
Germany is transposed to the Renaissance period in a small Italian
State. Bergengruen's very personal technique is perhaps best exem-
plified in a novel which was banned by Goebbels, Am Himmelme
au/Erden (1940). The period is that of the Elector Joachim I of
Brandenburg, who was fanatically opposed to Luther, and the
twin towns of Berlin and Koelln are the scene. The tone is Catholic,
and the theme is the disintegration of life through fear (as in Na2i
days). A second deluge is prophesied by the State astrologer, who
has read the coming event in the stars. He tells only the Elector,
who also dabbles in astrology; arks are built, and there is general
chaos. The young chamberlain sends his wife to a safe place; for
this betrayal of the secret he is condemned to death by the Elector,
and before his death he realizes that he who is afraid is not perfect
in love. The Elector himself flees, but returns to stay with his
people. And there is no deluge. The novel was begun in 1931 and
finished in the summer of 1940, when a new catastrophe was im-
pending. The pivotal idea is that events foretold by the Old Testa-
ment prophets recur through the ages. Bergengruen is a master of
the Novelle, in which he is influenced by E. T. A. Hoffmann, and
in his symbolkation of history by Conrad Ferdinand Meyer. The
starting-point mostly conforms to Goethe's definition of a Novelle