Academic journal article German Quarterly

Gottfried Keller and His Critics: A Case Study in Scholarly Criticism

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Gottfried Keller and His Critics: A Case Study in Scholarly Criticism

Article excerpt

Ruppel, Richard R. Gottfried Keller and His Critics: A Case Study in Scholarly Criticism. Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1998. xii + 214 pp. $55.00.

The well established Camden House series of histories of criticism now adds a volume on Keller. After an introduction on "The Literary Industry of Keller's Day," Ruppel begins with criticism contemporaneous with Keller, most of which he despised, favoring, as more supportive, commentary in correspondence with such partners as Hettner (though his admirably succinct characterization of the first version of Der grime Heinrich, "eine Bildungstragodie," is not cited). Ruppel then turns to the phase of published scholarship from 1890 to 1919, much of it by Keller's "Circle of Friends," and continues with the period 1920-1969, "The Anglo-American Perspective" in an extensive separate chapter, and one on the last twenty-five years.

The amount of material is, of course, very large and Ruppel had to be selective. While it is otiose to dwell on absences, one may miss Bernd Neumann's skillful neo-Marxist introduction to Keller (1982), listed in the bibliographychronologically ordered, as is the custom in this series-but not discussed; the same is the case with Eva Graef's Martin Salander of 1992 (misspelled in the index). The treated items are epitomized in deadpan abstracts without much of a critical dimension except for initial evaluations that I find judicious because I generally agree with them (Hartmut Laufhitte: "seminal book [...] obligatory reading" [105-06]; Kaspar T. Locher: "most extensive and thought-provoking study of Keller's early poetry" [108]; Gail Hart: "highly original" [139]; David Jackson: "clear insight and wit" [140]; Erika Swales: "superb study" [149]; Adolf Muschg: "most innovative study published in recent years" [157, a perhaps diplomatic formulation]; Gerhard Kaiser: "the most thorough and insightful book on Keller's fiction in recent decades" [159]; etc.). To be sure, surveys like this begin to age before the ink is dry. Ruppel's latest title is from 1994, just missing Hans Vilmar Geppert's imposing Der realistische Weg: Formen pragmatischen Erzdhlens bei Balzac, Dickens, Hardy, Keller, Raabe and anderen Autoren des 19. Jahrhunderts, also published in that year, with a section of some 220 pages on Der griune Heinrich.

One may be struck-with a few exceptions, such as a firmly expressed skepticism of Emil Staiger's immanent method-by the encomiastic tone of Ruppel's appraisals, but it is true that, after the insecurities customary in evaluating a contemporary author, the history of Keller criticism became less stressful and contradictory than that of, say, Raabe, Stifter, or Fontane. Ruppel comments on this phenomenon: Keller remains "an evergreen"; the criticism shows "a surprisingly harmonious and continuous development" (153, 183). …

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