Compared with their predecessors, the later Realists impart a somewhat comfortless air. Zola, who was more optimistic than most, speaks of ‘the profound melancholy that lies at the end of all philosophy’ (La Terre). Chekhov likewise concluded, in the words of one of his characters, that ‘thoughts of the transitoriness of life, its lack of meaning and aim, of the inevitability of death’ are ‘the highest and final stage in the realm of thought’ (Lights 1888). Even Fontane, with all his affection for humanity and the living world, has Wüllersdorf say of Major Crampas in Effi Briest ‘He’s fond of life and at the same time indifferent to it. He takes everything that comes, while realising that it’s not worth much’. Ibsen’s pessimism is characteristically more forthright: ‘The development of the human race took the wrong turn from the start’. And, bristling like a furious owl, he would conclude that it would have been better for mankind if the Ark had been torpedoed.
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