Heinrich von Kleist

Heinrich von Kleist

Heinrich von Kleist

Heinrich von Kleist

Excerpt

During the years 1800-1804 Kleist was almost continually on the move. He went to France with Ulrike and stayed in Paris. He travelled to Switzerland with the ostensible idea of buying a small estate and living the simple life of a farmer. He visited various parts of Germany, then went back to Paris, when he acknowledged himself defeated by the composition of Robert Guiskard, burnt the manuscript and suffered a serious mental and nervous collapse. He remained in Germany for a time and then set off again, once more to Switzerland, roaming as far as Milan. But by the time he returned to Berlin, and in spite of a gnawing dissatisfaction with himself and bitter disappointment at his failure to realise his visions and acquire fame, he had no more doubts as to the nature of his gifts and the path he was to follow, however devious and no matter what sacrifices it entailed: he had become a poet. Literary activity, he felt, offered all sorts of possibilities, though he did not at this time venture to mention making a career in imaginative writing. He no doubt suspected that such a rash suggestion would not have recommended itself to Wilhelmine, still less to her hardheaded and prosaic parents, or his own relatives, who could hardly have been expected to know what the pursuit of literature implied.

It seems evident, however, that soon after his arrival in Paris his thoughts turned to dramatic composition. It was in Paris that he wrote the first drafts of Die Familie Schroffenstein, or Die Familie Thierrez as it was originally called. Paris at this time was alive with the news of Napoleon's expedition to Egypt and Syria, which was halted before Acre by an outbreak of the plague. This military exploit amazed the whole of Europe, and for a time people could talk of little else. Napoleon's aim had been to destroy the Ottoman Empire and to found a new empire and dynasty in its place. There seems evidence for supposing that Napoleon's project and its fate influenced Kleist in the composition of Robert Guiskard, though whether this was actually begun in Paris is not clear. He was now, however, fully conscious of the nature of his talents. He was determined to work as a dramatic poet, and furthermore, he had envisaged a kind of drama such as had not been written before.

On leaving Paris Kleist travelled to Switzerland and there joined up with two friends, Ludwig Wieland, the son of the . . .

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