Academic journal article German Quarterly

Anglo-German Interactions in the Literature of the 1890s

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Anglo-German Interactions in the Literature of the 1890s

Article excerpt

Bridgwater, Patrick. Anglo-German Interactions in the Literature of the 1890s. Oxford: Legends, 1999. xii + 274 pp. 227.50.

Out of long experience and profound understanding of the era, Patrick Bridgwater has composed a comprehensive account of literary relations between fin-de-siecle Britain and Germany/Austria, when the Pre-Raphaelites and the first generation of modernists rediscovered German aesthetic paganism while Germans awakened to English Romanticism and the boldness of artistic autonomy and immoralism -accompanied, to be sure, as Bridgwater repeatedly reminds us, by the obbligato of Max Nordau's ominous excoriation of cultural Entartung. The book deals in discriminating detail with the "aesthetic Germanism" of "the tutelary spirit of these pages," Walter Pater (3); the elaborate German and Austrian admiration for the somewhat Germanophobic Oscar Wilde, regarded as a martyr to English philistinism; a belated reception of Keats as "a pure poet, a poet's poet" (123) in Germany and Austria; the varying German interests of Meredith, Rossetti, Dowson, and Swinburne, along with their varying receptions by such as George and Hofmannsthal; George Moore's partly pretended discipleship to Schopenhauer (a rather long chapter for a reader not much interested in Moore); and Pater's often highlighted but superficial affinity with Nietzsche, compared to Wilde's true but unconscious parallels.

The most exotic part of the story, filling two chapters, concerns the elaborate fascination with the forgotten chronicle novelist Wilhelm Meinhold, whose Maria Sch.weidler, die Bernsteinhexe was translated by Sarah Austin's daughter and Heine's favorite, Lucie Duff-- Gordon, and Sidonia von Bork, die Klosterhexe by Oscar Wilde's mother, Jane Elgee. The long-lived popularity of these books in England is phenomenal, with many "sumptuous editions" of Sidonia, including "two Kelmscott Press editions, one on vellum" (98, 100). Sidonia seems to be the ancestress of any number of sadistically amoral femmes fatales in literature and art. The joke is that a "Gothic" German writer comes to be imported into the eminently English genre of "German horror." As far as I can see, nothing scholarly has been written about Meinhold in decades, although a Yale dissertation completed by Paul Barber in 1968 included him. He belongs to the under researched topic of writers whose prestige has been higher at times in countries other than their own, such as Jack London in the Soviet Union, Hoffmann or Poe in France, Thornton Wilder or Charles Bukowski in Germany, Heine almost anywhere. From Bridgwater's account one might add the German/Austrian reputations of Swinburne and Wilde.

Bridgwater's finely discriminated analyses are profoundly concerned with the relation or disjunction of the aesthetic and the moral as it was threshed over during the 1890s. …

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