German Literature - From the End of the First World War to 1945

German Literature: From the End of the First World War to 1945 Part I


The literature of the Weimar Republic

After the collapse of the empire, it soon became apparent that all visionary models of practical or spiritual world change were futile. In the Weimar Republic, writers were exposed to the greatest economic uncertainty, their role in the upheaval in society and the reputation of modern literature were negligible.

In the first years of the Weimar Republic, the creative impulses of Expressionism died out. In poetry, the anthology “Menschheitsdämmerung” (1920) by K. Pinthus marked an end point; in the drama that after 1918 by G. KaiserE. Toller (“The Conversion,” 1919; “mass man”, 1921), E. Barlach W. HasencleverWerfelF. von UnruhR. Goering yet was expressionist, marked the end of C. Zuckmayer’s comedy »The Happy Vineyard« (1925), which won him the Kleist Prize, which is considered progressive. Nonetheless, Expressionism continued to work (G. KaiserDöblin), it became fertile again after 1945.

In the early 1920s, the first wave of American mass culture wowed large audiences. Writers and artists therefore reflected on a sober practical art that became known under the catchphrase New Objectivity. The reporting style, the new genre of the radio play, current topics and biographical interest determined the epic and dramatic production, historical personality and history as a medium for interpreting one’s own present were seized by WerfelL. FeuchtwangerE. PenzoldtO. Flake,M. BrodH. Kesten and Döblin on; Döblin’s Berlin novels (“Wadzek’s fight with the steam turbine”, 1918; “Berlin Alexanderplatz”, 1929) dispense with description and psychology; everything is resolved into action. The experience of the First World War was only now critically processed after it was idealized by W. Flex (“The Wanderer Between Two Worlds”, 1917) and by E. Jünger (“In Stahlgewittern”, 1920, later reworked several times) only with aesthetic interest had been considered. The most successful German anti-war novel was E. M. Remarque’s “Nothing New in the West” (1929), which shows the horrors of war in a sober, documentary way; A. Zweig’s “The Dispute about Sergeant Grischa” (1927), L. Renns are borne by a similar attitude “War” (1929) and T. Plievier’s “Des Kaisers Kuli” (1930).

Mann was representative of the left-wing intellectuals of the Weimar Republic; his novel “Der Untertan”, which he wrote before 1914, could not appear as a book edition until 1918; it offers the most ruthless, most brilliant account of the empire. In his extensive essay writing, he developed a program for European understanding. Especially the Franco-German reconciliation, as promoted on the French side by R. Rolland, is a concern of the works of R. Schickele and Annette Kolb. The chronicler in the sense of the New Objectivity was H. Fallada, v. a. with his most successful novel “Little Man – What Now?” (1932).

The great Bildungsroman was continued in different ways: by T. Mann in “Zauberberg” (1924) as a parodistic game with all traditions and by H. H. Jahnn in “Perrudja” (1929) using modern narrative means. H. Hesse’s “Steppenwolf” (1927) analyzes the situation of the intellectual as an outsider of society, E. Canetti intensifies this conflict to the extreme in his novel “Die Blendung” (1935). Other authors countered the turmoil and upheavals of the time with Christian values ​​(R. Borchardt,Gertrud von Le FortH. CarossaR. A. SchröderW. BergengruenE. Wiechert). The convinced pacifist O. M. Graf created a counter-image to the idealizations of local art with his realistic novels and stories from the rural milieu. The novels of KPD-affiliated authors such as W. BredelH. Marchwitza and A. Scharrer aimed to directly influence the increasingly aggressive political debates of the Weimar Republic.

The lyric poetry of the 1920s is only partly characterized by the New Objectivity, which called for “practical poetry” (Brecht, “Hauspostille”, 1927; Erich Kästner). Poems that wanted to embody “pure art” appeared almost at the same time (Rilke, “Duineser Elegien”, 1923; “Die Sonnet an Orpheus”, 1923; S. George, “Das neue Reich”, 1928).

The literary cabaret experienced a heyday, with it the satirical or melancholy chanson, among others. von KästnerW. MehringJ. RingelnatzBrecht and Tucholsky. Like TucholskyE. E. Kisch also developed journalistic forms to literary mastery.

Brecht’s success began in the theater with the “Threepenny Opera” (1929). He first implemented his theory of “epic theater” in the series of his didactic plays and developed it to the greatest theatrical effectiveness in the later large plays (including “Mother Courage and Her Children”, 1941). F. Wolf realized a completely different kind of drama, who, in accordance with the communist slogan “Art is Weapon”, which goes back to him, wanted to intervene directly in daily political struggles (especially “Cyankali”, 1929).

German Literature - From the End of the First World War to 1945