Provincialism, Private Life and the Marginal Hero: Germany after Unification in the Works of Gustav Freytag, Friedrich Spielhagen and Paul Heyse

  • Elystan Griffiths
Part of the New Perspectives in German Studies book series (NPG)


In his cultural history, Bilder aus der deutschen Vergangenheit (‘Pictures from the German Past’) (1859–67), Gustav Freytag claimed that ‘the development of the Germans […] is also the age of the growth and liberation of the German middle class’.1 Several of Freytag’s major works are profoundly informed by this position, and posit the middle-class subject as the leading protagonist in German history. Both Freytag’s novels and his writing on cultural history may be understood as attempts to assert and to illustrate the claims of the middle class to ownership and control of the historical process. But the legitimacy of such claims was far from apparent in the 1850s, when Freytag and his collaborator Julian Schmidt started to articulate them in the leading cultural and political journal of German liberalism, Die Grenzboten. The failure of the 1848 Revolution to bring lasting political change to Germany occasioned a re-evaluation of strategy in German liberal circles; it demonstrated the weakness of a political movement founded upon ideas and without the backing of a substantial and well-ordered military power. Freytag argued in the Bilder that the German intellectual tradition had been strikingly abstract in its concerns, principally the pursuit of ‘truth and beauty’ (GW, XXI, 8).


Private Life European Union Politics Liberal Circle Fellow Liberal Maritime Pilot 
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  1. I See Gustav Freytag, Gesammelte Werke, 22 vols (Leipzig 1887–8), XXI, p. 491. Further references to this edition, abbreviated as GW, will give volume and page numbers in parentheses.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    See Michael Thormann, ‘Der programmatische Realismus der Grenzboten im Kontext von liberaler Politik, Philosophie und Geschichtsschreibung’, Internationales Archiv fur Sozialgeschichte der Deutschen Literatur, 18 (1993), pp. 37–68, here p. 58.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    See Hans J. Rindisbacher, ‘From National Task to Individual Pursuit: The Poetics of Work in Freytag, Stifter, and Raabe’, in Todd Kontje (ed.), A Companion to German Realism 1848–1900 (Rochester, NY 2002), pp. 183–221, especially pp. 186–99.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    As Lynne Tatlock notes, after 1848 “‘Realism’ function[ed] as a catchword, a term of approbation; hence the difficulty of nailing down its meaning when applied to specific works of literature or to specific formal qualities.’ See further Lynne Tatlock, ‘Realist Historiography and the Historiography of Realism: Gustav Freytag’s Bilder aus der deutschen Vergangenheit’, The German Quarterly, 63 (1990), pp. 59–74 (p. 68).Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    On this point, now see especially Dirk Gottsche, Zeit im Roman: Literarische Zeitreflektion und die Geschichte des Zeitromans frn spaten 18. und im 19. Jahrhundert, Corvey-Studien zur Literatur- und Kulturgeschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts, 7 (Miinchen 2001), especially pp. 573–9.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    See Michail Krausnick, Paul Heyse iaid der Munchener Dichterkreis, Abhandlungen zur Kunst-, Musik- und Literaturwissenschaft, 165 (Bonn 1974), pp. 144–9.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    See Hans Henning, Friedrich Spielhagen (Leipzig 1910), pp. 185–6 and 215–19; and Nancy Roberts, ‘The Presentation of the Liberal Middle Class in the Novels and Novellen of Friedrich Spielhageri, Unpublished M.A. Thesis, University of Birmingham, 1949, pp. 28–30.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    See Friedrich Spielhagen, Die von Hohenstein (Leipzig 1889), pp. 49–50. Further references to this edition will be given in parentheses, using the abbreviation DvH.Google Scholar
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    See Claus Holz, Flucht aus der Wirklichkeit:Die Ahnenvon Gustav Freytag: Untersuchungen zum realistischen historischen Roman der Grilnderzeit 1872–1880 (Frankfurt a. M. 1983).Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    Spielhagen acknowledged Laskers speech as an important source in his essay ‘Wie ich zu dem Helden von Sturmflut kam (‘How I found the hero of Sturmflut’), and even disclosed that he considered making Lasker his hero, before concluding that a less dominant protagonist would be preferable. See Spielhagen, Neue Beitrage zur Theorie und Technik der Epik und Dramatik (Leipzig 1898), pp. 208–24, especially p. 220.Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    See Friedrich Spielhagen, Sturmflut, 3rd edn., 2 vols (Leipzig 1878), II, pp. 102–3. All further references will cite this edition, abbreviated as Sf, parenthetically in the body of the text.Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    See Paul Heyse, Gesaminelte Werke, 15 vols (Berlin 1924), series I, vol. I, Kinder der Welt, p. 129. Further references to this edition will be given parenthetically in the body of the text, using the abbreviation KdW.Google Scholar
  13. 23.
    See Heyses letter to Wilhelm Petersen of 28 December 1885, in Rainer Hillenbrand (ed.), Paul Heyses Briefe an Wilhelm Petersen (Frankfurt a. M. 1998), pp. 102–3.Google Scholar
  14. 25.
    See Gustav Freytag, Erinneningen aus meineln Leben (Leipzig 1887), p. 377. This remark did not appear in the Gesammelte Werke edition of the Erinnerungen, and was added to the separate edition published later that year.Google Scholar
  15. 26.
    For more on this point, see Elystan Griffiths, ‘Unity, Division and the Problem of Representation: German Unification in the Novels of Friedrich Spielhagen, in Holger Briel and Carol Fehringer (eds), Field Studies: German Language, Culture and Media (Bern 2004), pp. 105–25.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

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  • Elystan Griffiths

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