The Modern German Novel: A Mid-Twentieth Century Survey

By H. M. Waidson | Go to book overview

VII
THE OBSERVERS

SWITZERLAND'S policy of democratic neutrality has been maintained through the turmoils of the two twentieth-century European wars. With German, French and Italian as officially recognized languages, its national individuality has never depended on any narrow racial or linguistic bonds. Although an immediate neighbour of Germany and Austria, Switzerland has been an observer of the violent changes and upheavals experienced by these countries, but has itself remained apart from them and retained a consistency in its social life which other countries often envy.

Unless we reckon Hermann Hesse as a Swiss author, the most distinguished prose-stylist of the earlier years of the present century was Robert Walser ( 1878- 1956). His prose reveals a sensitive, retiring, whimsical man, gently ironical at the expense of pretentiousness and cut-and-dried living, devoted to his ideal of art, dreamer, wanderer, minute observer of the Swiss countryside, of children and ordinary life, and always ready to let everyday reality dissolve into fantasy. Walser's work is impressionistic in method, and it suffers chiefly from paucity of action and characterization; a tendency to tenuousness and repetitiveness is to be noticed. Light, lyrical, delicate and witty, with an easy, gentle irony, Walser's style has affinities with that of the early stories of Hesse or of Kafka's sketches and fables. Kafka was almost certainly influenced by Walser's manner, both in the form of his shorter sketches as also in his technique of taking the familiar detail of everyday life as the jumping-off ground for fantasy.

But Walser's whimsical rebelliousness against the sober routine of middle-class life is not echoed by all Swiss authors. So me of them accept the society in which they have grown up, a society which has been exposed to no sudden shocks of intrusion or violence

-72-

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The Modern German Novel: A Mid-Twentieth Century Survey
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Foreword vii
  • I - The Blurred Edges of Realism 1
  • II - Documentation 16
  • III - Past Time 33
  • IV - The Idyllic Ideal 42
  • V - Irony and Conviction 51
  • VI - 'the Golden Future Time' 62
  • VII - The Observers 72
  • VIII - Surrealism 78
  • IX - The Length of Time 90
  • X - Novel and Short Story 104
  • XI - Summing Up 115
  • Select Bibliography 120
  • List of Authors and Works 123
  • Index 129
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