German Literature Month, so designated by Lizzy’s Literary Life and Beauty Is a Sleeping Cat, approaches. At either link, you will find an orderly, well-defined schedule for the month. My understanding is that it is should be followed only in spirit, although the schedules for the readalongs of Theodor Fontane’s Effi Briest and Heinrich Böll’s The Silent Angel might have more meaning.
I have written before, if I am not imagining it as the result of a wine and tobacco induced E. T. A. Hoffmann-style dream, about my bewilderment and irritation at the poor status in the English-reading world of pre-20th century German-language literature. Goethe, a titan, the equivalent, in English terms, of Shakespeare, Johnson, and Wordsworth combined in a single person, shrivels down to the author of Faust (part I only) and the “autobiographical” Sorrows of Young Werther. German poetry is hopeless, despite numerous fine translations; German fiction, the rich line of novellas, is too weird. Theodor Fontane can be credited with bringing Flaubert into German, Frenchifying German fiction, so I hope many readers in the “too weird” crowd will enjoy Effi Briest a lot. The business with the crocodile and Chinese servant is still a little weird.
Weirdest of all, though, is the startling German dramatic tradition. The strange and wonderful things one found on the German stage. That stage might well be imaginary – I am thinking of Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, “finished” (by his death) in 1837, published in 1879, performed in 1913. Large parts of Faust seem unstageable, too, although they have all been staged.
My point here is actually to pin up my German Literature Month reading list, except that I have not really decided yet. I will mess around with some of the late 19th century playwrights, that’s all I know, the three almost exact contemporaries – Gerhart Hauptmann, Arthur Schnitzler, and Frank Wedekind. (Sorry – Wedekind’s first name must be Franz, not Frank. Let me look that up. Ah, his full name is Benjamin Franklin Wedekind. Of course.)
Wedekind is most famous, I think, for Spring Awakening, which was recently bent into a Broadway musical, and the two Lulu plays. Schnitzler’s best known play is Der Reigen / La Ronde. Hauptmann won the Nobel Prize in 1912, but seems to now be the least known in English, meaning: the titles of his plays do not ring bells for me.
I am tempted, too, by some younger playwrights, like Hugo von Hofmannsthal, lively poet, librettist for the dreary Richard Strauss – someday I hope to be able to spell Hofmannsthal’s name correctly without looking it up. Or I might try the Expressionist Georg Kaiser, author of Gas and also Gas II. The titles alone attract my interest. I’m not going to read all or even much of this in November, though.
This piece must be among the most ignorant I have ever written for Wuthering Expectations. Speculative might be a kinder word. Corrections, admonitions, and recommendations are most welcome.
Oh, there will also be some of this in November:
That’ll be fun, right?