Academic journal article German Quarterly

The presentation of Herr von S. in Die Judenbuche

Academic journal article German Quarterly

The presentation of Herr von S. in Die Judenbuche

Article excerpt

One of the most intriguing aspects of scholarship on Die Judenbuche is the divergence of views on the role and function of Herr von S. On the one hand, there are those who regard him as a fundamentally good man, an exemplar of Christianity, even God's Vicar on earth; and, on the other, those who are critical of him for failing to relate properly to the villagers, for being niggardly in his feudalistic protection and, above all, for denying Friedrich a solemn burial.1 And though it is now and then acknowledged that the Baron has his failings, there nevertheless seems to be some hesitancy about impugning a man whom the narrator commends for his charitableness and in whom some scholars, as has been recently pointed out, "appear [...] to respect too greatly the social authority vested in [him]."2 This hesitancy is apparent in perhaps the most extensive (and the most negative) discussion on the subject to date, in that its author, having, to my mind, rightly declared that the Baron's charitableness is that of a pseudo-Christian and that the reader is left with a generally unfavorable impression of him, believes such an interpretation to be contrary to Droste-Huls-- hoff's intention, namely, that we should come away with "ein positives Bild" of his character.3 The fact that assessments of the Baron have, however, been based largely on particular deeds he performs but hardly on a comprehensive analysis of his presentation may in part account for the continuance of hesitant or conflicting attitudes toward him. Our aim here, then, will be to show, through a detailed examination of his presentation, that Droste-Hullshoff, far from setting Herr von S. up as some sort of paragon, is concerned not only to expose his moral limitations, but to suggest how far these limitations impinge upon, and even determine, the central events of the novella.

The presentation of the Baron is conspicuous for the absolute authority he wields or exhibits throughout the novella. We see this partly in the obedience and submissiveness shown him by servants, foresters, gamekeepers, and the like, and partly in his being addressed or referred to (sometimes with the Baroness) as "die gnadigen Herrschaften," "gnadiger Herr," "Ihre Gnaden," "Ihro Gnade," "Ew Gnaden," etc. Such details evoke the idea of the power and privileges enjoyed by the aristocracy in a pre-revolutionary German state. Yet, as is already suggested in the opening paragraphs of the novella with their ironic mention of "hochst einfachen and haufig unzulanglichen Gesetze" and "alten staubigten Urkunden" (Judenbuche 3), as well as in the account of nocturnal skirmishes between peasants and foresters, the governance of this tough Westphalian community is clearly not a straightforward business, influenced as it seems to be by expediency rather than by ethics.4 It comes, therefore, as no surprise that, although the Baron is prompt to begin the investigation into Aaron's murder on the very night it is reported to him, he should at first be hampered in his task by the apparent lack of system by which juridical matters appear to be conducted in the community. Thus the reader may have already wondered, for example, why Kapp, though a mere Gerichtsschreiber, should have felt "genothigt" (Judenbuche 22) to hold the Brandis murder inquest instead of waiting for the Baron to do so upon his return. At any rate, the fact that nothing is said about the Baron's being in any way involved with this unsuccessful case would suggest that he is sometimes quite content to delegate his legal responsibilities entirely to his assistant. This may in turn help to explain not only Kapp's rather arrogant manner of interrogating Margreth about Friedrich's movements on the morning Brandis has been found killed but also his unconscionable dilatoriness in reporting to the Baron for the Aaron murder investigation. Moreover, it is probably because he senses something of the Baron's inveterate dependency on him in the embarrassed silence which follows the latter's outburst of rage that Kapp is able to complete the explanation for his absence with such rhetorical and histrionic skill as to leave the Baron at the end of it "halb versohnt" (Judenbuche 33). …

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