Academic journal article German Quarterly

Major Figures of Nineteenth-Century Austrian Literature

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Major Figures of Nineteenth-Century Austrian Literature

Article excerpt

Davian, Donald G., ed. Major Figures of Nineteenth-Century Austrian Literature. Riverside, CA: Ariadne, 1998. 572 pp. $59.95.

This volume is the fifth installment of a planned seven-volume series dedicated to introducing major figures of nineteenth and twentieth-century Austrian literature to an English speaking audience. The first four volumes cover the twentieth century in reverse chronological order, spanning the contemporary era to the turn-of-the century. The fifth volume spans the entire spectrum of nineteenth century literary styles and movements, from late-Romanticism to Naturalism. The selection includes essays on prominent writers such as Adalbert Stiffer, Franz Grillparzer or Johann Nepomuk Nestroy as well as almost forgotten ones like Betty Paoli, Ferdinand Kirnberger or Caroline Pichler and even obscure writers such as Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall and Jakob Julius David. Missing from the volume are Maria von Ebner-Eschenbach, Peter Rosegger or Ferdinand von Saar who, for some reason, are figured in the volume on turn-of-the-century literature.

The format of the work follows that of its predecessors. An introduction by the editor provides the historical and political background of the time period; the individual articles include bibliographies of primary works in German and their English translations as well as a selected bibliography of major secondary works in German and English. The particularly extensive introduction (128 pages) to this volume outlines the divergent political, economic and cultural developments in Austria and Germany. Despite some rather unorthodox interpretations of historical events, the introduction-with its emphasis on the outmoded, regressive form of government that shaped Austria in the nineteenth century-provides very useful background information that allows the reader to better understand and evaluate the cultural climate that brought about the literature of that era.

While the question of national identity and literature figures prominently in the introduction, it is rarely raised in the individual essays. Most of the contributions offer detailed biographical information on the individual authors combined with a thematic discussion of their works. These essays constitute solid and useful introductions to the artists, which otherwise may not be available to an English-speaking audience. Unfortunately, the emphasis on biographical information in some contributions outweighs the literary analyses and leaves the reader with a very sketchy impression of the artistic merit of the author. …

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