German Novelists of the Weimar Republic: Intersections of Literature and Politics

By Zachau, Reinhard | German Quarterly, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

German Novelists of the Weimar Republic: Intersections of Literature and Politics


Zachau, Reinhard, German Quarterly


Leydecker, Karl, ed. German Novelists of the Weimar Republic: Intersections of Literature and Politics. Rochester: Camden House, 2006. 296 pp. $85.00 hardcover.

Karl Leydecker's survey of Weimar novelists is the first comprehensive assessment of Weimar literature in English since David Midgley's Writing Weimar (2000), which focused on a wide range of aesthetic issues concerning Weimar literature. In his volume, Leydecker instead centers on political issues surrounding Weimar literature, which he sees as a new model for literature not seen since the early 19th century. The twelve chapters discuss some of Weimar 's most popular politically active novelists, most of them on the critical left: Heinrich Mann, lion Feuchtwanger, Erich Maria Remarque, Alfred Döblin or Hans Fallada, with the notable absence of Erich Kästner. Some authors included in this volume may now be less known, but offer fresh insights from a political angle: Joseph Roth, B. Traven, Vicki Baum, and Gabriele Tergit. Ernst Jünger stands out as the only right-wing novelist, and Hermann Hesse is perhaps the least suited to a volume focusing on political writing as Hesse proclaimed himself an apolitical writer. By not focusing on a single thesis but exploring each author's individual approach to political writing, the book serves as a welcome introduction to Weimar writing, especially considering renewed interest in modern Berlin and its roots in Weimar culture.

What becomes obvious in Leydecker's introduction is the fact that despite the seeming similarity among leftist au thors, no single solution to Weimar 's political woes emerged. Some writers, however, developed almost identical ideas, such as an increasing aversion to the rule of the street and pleas for a government led by intellectuals. Many Weimar authors displayed their Jewish heritage to write a new type of literature focusing on city life. As the only experimental writer in the collection, Alfred Döblin was not interested in political change as David Midgley points out, since writing should not be subordinated to ethical objectives but should only communicate in an affective manner.

Karin Gunnemann's opening article portrays Heinrich Mann demanding a dictatorship of the proletariat on the left to counter the growing power of the Nazis. Mann's belief in the aristocracy of the spirit and the cultural power of the word was shared by Lion Feuchtwanger who saw the only way to change the dangerous situation by enlightening the public. …

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