Germany Literature – From the Age of Goethe to the 19th Century

By | January 29, 2022

The age of Goethe and German Romanticism

In the meantime, JW Goethe had already strongly asserted himself who, for having collected, strengthened and often also aroused the ideal ferments of his time, defines an entire era, the most prosperous that German culture and literature have ever had. These ferments, collected under the common label of Sturm und Drang, expressed the rebellion against the frivolities of the Rococo and the rigid norm of the narrower Enlightenment and at the same time the search for an authentic naturalness. At the Sturm und Drang belonged authors of origins and inspirations also very diversified, emerging around 1770: among them the lyrical GA Bürger and other Göttinger Hain circle, the lyric poet M. Claudius, dramatists JMR Lenz and FM Klinger, and above all, to give a cultural profile to a movement too unbridled to exist for long, precisely the first Goethe and his teacher JG Herder, coordinator of the ideas-mother of the whole movement. The partnership between Goethe and F. von Schiller – which occupies a primary place in the history of literature and also of German thought -, established in Weimar in 1794, exceptional for its richness and reciprocity of stimuli, coincided with the highest phase of classicism German. Alongside the two majors, other authors with unmistakable personalities worked: JPF Richter (known under the pseudonym Jean Paul ) rebellious prose writer against any formal constraint; F. Hölderlin, of whom we remember the novel Hyperion(1797-90), as well as hymns of extraordinary breath, in the mirage of an age, the classical Greek, irrecoverable. Demonic to the point of despair is the other great isolate of the time, the playwright H. von Kleist.

According to TOP-ENGINEERING-SCHOOLS, the irrationalism of Sturm und Drang found its most consistent verification in Romanticism, which had its first center in Jena in the last years of the eighteenth century. The ideologists of the movement were the brothers Friedrich and August Wilhelm Schlegel. Characterized by an ascetic cult of beauty was the short parable of the poet WH Wackenroder, but the most authentic personality was that of Novalis, author of the admirable Hymnen an die Nacht (1800). A second Romanticism, linked to the city of Heidelberg, took on a clearer national imprint. In this phase writers and men of culture dominated, but poets such as CM Brentano also established themselves, exuberant and imaginative to the point of bizarre, or like J. von Eichendorff, a lyricist who evokes the German romantic landscape; or, in sharp contrast, ETA Hoffmann, one of the greatest exponents of the fantastic genre in which Romanticism exacerbates its potential and at the same time dissolves.

The nineteenth century

Still essentially romantic is the thematic exasperation of A. von Chamisso, author of the fantastic story Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte (1814). But in the meantime, having lost the initial universalistic thrust, Romanticism yielded to the particularism of the provincial tradition, especially in the group of Swabian poets, among which L. Uhland and above all E. Mörike, author of the famous novella Mozart auf der Reise nach Prag (1856) stand out.) and emblematic tutor of the so-called literary Biedermeier, who had his most numerous exponents in Austria. In another environment, to the poet A. von Droste-Hülshoff, a Catholic of solid faith and author of the poetic cycle Das geistliche Jahr (posthumously, 1851), we owe the last great work of German poetry in the spirit of Christian religiosity. An entity in itself also constitutes A. von Platen, who pursues an ideal of classical beauty. At the opposite pole is placed one of the most significant authors of the century and critical conscience of Germany of the time, H. Heine, a very fine and unscrupulous polemicist, capable of providing journalism with a new literary dignity; agile and refinedly aggressive and lyrical narrator of great musicality and at the same time polemical acuity.

G. Büchner is the creator of realistic drama. Due to his radically innovative charge, Büchner was understood only a few generations later, a destiny also reserved for CD Grabbe, author of historical dramas aimed at finding the failure of the individual in the face of the fatal forces that threaten him. A different fate was reserved for the other two greats of the theater, R. Wagner and F. Hebbel. From an initial recovery of romantic ideals and adhering to even politically revolutionary thrusts, Wagner reached the goal of an aestheticism strongly tinged with decadence. Hebbel also pursued monumentality, in a tragic vision of the world and of history, with exasperations which, in a symbolism that is often all too open, are just as many indictments of a dehumanized and irreducible society.

Learn Hebbel’s antagonist on the stage was O. Ludwig, who first established himself as a theorist of poetic realism, a movement that did not aim to attack the social environment, but made it the background of poetically recreated tensions. The two greatest representatives of German realism were T. Storm, who linked his own experience as a poet to his Schleswig-Holstein by creating lyrical tales, and T. Fontane, an authentic historian of his time and promoter of the social novel in Germany.

Around 1880, naturalism was also born in Germany, with which literature contributed to proposing what was being defined, in the period of colossal economic development and triumphal statism, as a ‘social question’. The lesson came above all from the French novel, but in Germany the form of the drama prevailed, by A. Holz, by J. Schlaf and above all, in the first phase of his long career, by Germany Hauptmann, who stigmatized the corrupt society bourgeois becoming the spokesperson for hungry and desperate workers. Naturalism in Germany was, however, a short season, but it taught us to escape and indeed to despise any hypocrisy, not to have regard even for consecrated ideals. From naturalism F. Wedekind, for the rest then autonomous, derived the challenge launched in his time with deliberately scandalistic dramas that trampled the dominant bourgeois morality.

The stature and stature of a revolutionary was the most evocative personality of the last decades of the century, F. Nietzsche, a thinker and writer whose impact on the contemporary cultural world is far from being exhausted. Above all, he fought Christian and democratic civilization for a radical overturning of values, and in all his work, culminating in the Also sprach Zarathustra (1883-85), there is a depth of thought that constitutes an uncomfortable and at the same time extremely rich legacy for the twentieth century.

Germany Literature - From the Age of Goethe to the 19th Century