Academic journal article German Quarterly

Kinderliteratur als Zeitdokument. Alltagsnormalitat der Weimarer Republik in Erich Kastners Kinderromanen

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Kinderliteratur als Zeitdokument. Alltagsnormalitat der Weimarer Republik in Erich Kastners Kinderromanen

Article excerpt

Haywood, Susanne. Kinderliteratur als Zeitdokument. Alltagsnormalitat der Weimarer Republik in Erich Kastners Kinderromanen. Frankfurt am Main: Lang, 1998. 235 pp. DM 69.00 paperback.

As the subtitle of this astute study suggests, the author intends to examine Erich Kastner's early children's novels as documents, as artifacts of the late Weimar Republic and of the cultural mindset of the German educated middle class in these years. Scholarship on children's literature often asserts that writings for young people more strongly and directly reflect the core values ofa society than does canonical literature for adults. In those years of greater freedom, social mobility and deep insecurity, Kastner stands out as a representative of his social class, and therefore the hopes, wishes, and fears that emerge from such novels as Emil and die Detektive, Punktchen and Anton, Der 35. Mai and Das fliegende Klassenzimmer capture the attitudes shared by the broad segment of the German Mittelstand. Haywood's analysis does not approach Kistner's books as immediate reflections of Weimar society, but rather interprets the texts critically as one of the many cultural products that uniquely contribute to the catalogue of Weimar icons. "[...Kastners Kinderromane [sind] gerade durch ihre Gespaltenheit zwischen Optimismus and Pessimismus, zwischen SelbstbewuBtsein and Selbstzweifel, zwischen Fortschrittshoffnung and Regression fur die Ubergangsgesellschaft der Weimarer Republik symptomatisch" (27).

The veneration that Kastner commands in Germany in the discipline of Kinder- and Jugendbuchforschung stands in stark contrast to his status in international Germanistik. The centenary celebrations of Kastner's birth in 1999 demonstrated this discrepancy: while high-profile conferences, exhibitions and a spate of new books on Kastner commemorated the author and his works in Germany, especially in the domain of juvenile literature, the rest of the academic world took little notice. Haywood's book arrives as one of the few that not only reexamines Kastner's early children's novels, but it also questions the relevance of these novels today. Because Kastner scholars, with few exceptions, strive to underscore the enduring qualities of his children's novels, Haywood's position allows her study to be as innovative as it is insightful.

The Forschungsbericht follows the formula demanded of dissertations, although here it is anything but banal. This thorough survey of past scholarship also includes new documentation that has surfaced in recent years from previously unstudied archival resources. Haywood also grants scholars outside Germany their due in the development of Kastner scholarship, which few have done.

The following chapters identify the central values in Kastner's early children's novels, deftly juxtaposing and comparing these with his work as a new objective poet and feuilletonist. What emerges clearly from his writings for both children and adults is the self-concept of the bourgeois intellectual in social leadership role. Moreover, the author shows that wilhelminian bourgeois values, such as a private work ethic and good business sense, contradictorily remain suspended Kastner's modernist approach to writing for young people. …

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