Hermann Sudermann.

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_Authorized Edition_.


Since the beginning of time men have been accustomed to regard the end
of a century as a period of decadence. The waning nineteenth century is
no more fortunate than its predecessors. We are continually being
invited to speculate on the signs around us of decay in politics, in
religion, in art, in the whole social fabric. It is not for us to
inquire here concerning the truth or the ethics of that belief. But, as
far as literature is concerned, it is very certain that the last years
of the present century will be remembered for the extraordinary talent
shown by a few young novelists and dramatists in most of the countries
of Europe. In England, we can point to Mr. Rudyard Kipling and Mr. J.
M. Barrie; in France, to M. Paul Margueritte and M. Marcel Prévost; in
Belgium, to M. Maurice Maeterlinck; in Germany, to Gerhard Hauptmann,
Ludwig Fulda, and Hermann Sudermann.

The events of Sudermann's life are few; and he has the good sense to
prefer to be known through his works rather than through the medium of
the professional interviewer. The facts here set down, however, we owe
to the courtesy of Sudermann himself a circumstance that lends them an
additional interest.

Hermann Sudermann was born September 30, 1857, in Matzicken, a poor
village in Heydekrug, a district of East Prussia, situated on the
Russian frontier. It is not unlikely that the following passage taken
from one of his novels bears some resemblance to the place: -

"The estate that my father farmed was situated on a high hill close to
the Prussian frontier; an uncultivated, wild park sloping gently
towards the open fields formed one side of the hill, while the other
sank steeply down to a little river. On the farther side of the stream
you could see a dirty little Polish frontier village.

"Standing at the edge of the precipice you looked down on the ruinous
shingle roofs; the smoke came up through the rifts in them. You looked
right into the midst of the miserable life of the dirty streets where
half naked children wallowed in the filthy where the women squatted
idly on the threshold, and where the men in torn smocks, with spade on
shoulder, betook themselves to the alehouses.

"There was nothing attractive about the town, and the rabble of
frontier Cossacks, who galloped here and there on their catlike, drowsy
nags, did not increase the charm."

Sudermann began his education at the school of Elbing. But his parents
were in poor circumstances, and at the age of fourteen he found it
necessary to think about earning a living, and was apprenticed to a
chemist. He continued his studies in his leisure time with such good
results that he returned to school, this time at Tilsit. In 1875 he
went to the university of Königsberg, and in 1877 to that of Berlin.
His first intention was to become a teacher, and while still pursuing
his studies undertook for a few months the duties of tutor in the house
of the poet Hans Hopfen. But in 1881, after six years spent in studying
history, philosophy, literature, and modern languages (Sudermann
understands English perfectly), he turned to journalism, and edited the
_Deutsches Reichsblatt_, a political weekly. He soon threw aside
newspaper work for true literature, for what the Germans call
_belletristik_, and he has become famous through his novels, short
stories, and plays. He is good-looking, with a dark melancholy face
that lights up with a most remarkable and expressive smile when he
speaks; nothing could be more unaffected than his manner, nor more
charming than his whole personality. As yet there is no Sudermann
Society for the discussion of the author's works, but in Berlin, where
he has many admiring friends, Sudermann occasionally reads to them his
productions while they are yet unpublished. The little story called
_Iolanthe's Hochzeit_ was first heard in that way.

Although Sudermann's work is in all its aspects essentially modern,
indeed all the conditions and problems of modern life have the highest
interest for him, he belongs to no class, ranges himself with neither
realists nor idealists, and bows to the yoke of no literary fashion. In
common with all great artists, Sudermann paints his own age, but while
portraying men and women as he knows them, in the nineteenth century,
he gives them, at least in his novels and tales, the human nature that
is the same through all time. He has lived in Berlin, and his dramas
give us life in that city both among the proletariat and the rich
middle class. He has lived in East Prussia, and there is laid the scene
of his longer novels. He is familiar with other parts of Germany, with
Italy, and with Paris, and everywhere he has used his gift of keen
observation to good purpose. A certain melancholy, a feeling of the
"inevitableness" of things, if we may be allowed the expression, runs
through all his writings, and may perhaps be traced to the effect on
his sensitive and high-strung nature of the East Prussian landscape,
amid which he spent his boyhood. The meadow-flats and corn-lands, the
meagre pine-woods, and dark, lonely pools of his native district, form
the background of most of his tales. Numerous passages might be quoted
which would serve to show the melancholy and loneliness of the
landscape. As an example we may take: -

"Thick and heavy as if you could grasp them with your hands, the clouds
spread over the flat land. Here and there the trunk of a willow
stretched forth its rugged knots to the air, heavily laden with moisture.
The tree was soaked with damp, and glistened with the drops that had hung
in rows on the bare boughs. The wheels sank deep into the boggy road that
ran between withered reeds and sedge.

* * * * *

"The moon stood high in the heavens and shed her calm, bluish light far
over the sleeping heath. The clumps of alders on the moor bore wreaths
of lights and from the slender silvery trunks of the birches which
bordered the broad straight road in endless rows, came a sparkle and
brightness that made the road seem as if lost far below in the silvery

"Silence all around. The birds had long ceased singing. A stillness of
the late summer time, the complacent stillness of departing life lay
over the broad plain. You scarcely heard the sound of a cricket in the
ditches, or a field-mouse disturbed in its slumbers, gliding through
the tall grass with its low chipping whistle."

Such pictures constantly meet us in the pages of Sudermann's books;
taken in connection with their setting, they are often of great force
and beauty. Nothing, however, is obtruded; there is no searching after
a dramatic background, or undue word-painting; everything is in keeping
with and subordinate to the main interest of the tale.

With such surroundings, Sudermann cleverly assimilates his characters.
They are mostly the victims of circumstances which they are more or
less unable to overcome. In some cases the fault, as with Leo
Sellenthin in _Es war_, Sudermann's latest novel, lies in the weakness
or sinfulness of the man; in others, in surroundings and events for
which the man is not himself directly responsible. Sometimes the noble
unselfish love and devotion of a woman make a happier state of things
possible; Sudermann is a firm believer in the power and influence of
good women in human life. His women are not so sharply outlined as
Ibsen's, but he recognises in the sex, though much more vaguely, like
possibilities. For example, Leonore in _Die Ehre_ sees the folly and
emptiness of fashionable life and has the courage to give her hand
where she loves, to a man who, by her set, would be considered far
beneath her. Magda, in _Heimat_, refuses to desert her child. And his
young girls are even more charming, more natural than those of Ibsen.
Eager-hearted Dina Dorf, with her desire for a larger life in the
world; hard-working Petra Stockman with her delight in her work and her
unflinching truth and honesty; Bolette Wangel with her desire for
knowledge, "to know something about everything" are, as everybody
knows, among Ibsen's most delightful creations. In _Es War_ Sudermann
gives us as perfect and natural a study of a young girl as we have met
with in fiction or the drama for a very long while. Hertha cherishes a
secret love for a man much older than herself but has reason to fear
that his affections are set on a married woman, the wife of his best
friend. To Hertha's innocent and unworldly mind this is a great puzzle;
to her the sacredness of love between husband and wife seems a matter
of course.

"Certainly the beautiful woman was a thousand times lovelier than poor
Hertha - and she was, moreover, much cleverer.... But could she - and
therein lay the great puzzle, the invincible contradiction that knocked
all suspicion on the head - could she as a married woman possibly be an
object of love to a man other than her husband? Wives were loved by
their husbands - that is why they are married and by no one else in the

But Hertha determines to take such means as are within her power of
discovering if suck things are possible, if such things exist. She
first consults her books - books, of course, suited to a young girl's
library. She goes through her novels, but nothing in them points to the
enormity. Then she turns to the classics, to Schiller!

"Amalie was a young girl - so was Luise - but then there was the queen of
Spain! However, in that case it was clear as noonday how little poets
deserved to be trusted, for that a man should fall in love with his
stepmother could only take place in the world of imagination where
genius, drawn away from the earth, intoxicated with inspiration, soars
aloft. Not in vain had she, a year and a half before, written a school
composition on 'Genius and Reality,' in which she had treated the
question in a most exhaustive manner."

She next tries her friend Elly, a girl of her own age, but much more
experienced in the ways of the world.

"'Listen, dear, I want to ask you a very important question. You're in
love, aren't you?'

"'Yes'; replied Elly.

"'And you're sure the man's in love with you?'

"'Why do you say "man"?' asked Elly. 'Curt is my ideal. A little time
ago it was Bruno - and before that it was Alfred - but now it's Curt, Yet
he's not a man.'

"'What is he, then?'

"'He's a _young_ man.'

"'Oh! that's it, is it? No, he's certainly not a man.' And Hertha's
eyes shone: she knew what a 'man' looked like. 'Well, darling,' she
went on, 'do you think that a "man," or a _young_ man - it's all the
same - could possibly love a married woman?'

"'Of course - naturally he would,' replied Elly, with perfect calmness.

"Hertha smiled indulgently at such want of intelligence.

"'No, no, little one,' she said. 'I don't mean his own wife, but a
woman who is the wife of another?'

"'So do I! replied Elly.

"'And that seems to you quite a matter of course?'

"'My dear child, I didn't think you were so innocent! said Elly;
'everybody knows as much as that. And formerly it was even worse. A
true knight always loved another man's wife: it was a great crime to
love his own wife. He would cut off his right hand for the stranger's
sake, and would die for her, pressing her blue favour to his lips; for
you see at that time they always wore her blue favour. You'll find it
in every history of literature.'

"Hertha became very thoughtful. 'Ah! in those days!' she said, with the
ghost of a smile; 'in those days men went to tournaments and stabbed
each other in sport with their lances.'

"'And to-day,' whispered Elly, 'men shoot each other dead with

"Hertha felt as if she had been stabbed to the heart, and the little
pink and white daughter of Eve continued, 'I think it must be quite
delightful when one is married to know that some one is hopelessly in
love with you. It's quite certain that most unhappy love affairs arise
in that way.'

"The next day Hertha questioned her grandmother.

"'Grandmother, I'm grown up now, aren't I?'

"'Yes - so, so,' answered the old lady.

"'And probably I shall soon be married.'

"'You!' shouted her grandmother, in deadly terror. Doubtless the
wretched child had come to confide in her the addresses of some booby
of a neighbour.

"'Yes.' continued Hertha, inarticulately and with great hesitation;
'with my big fortune I am not likely to be an old maid.'

"'Child!' exclaimed the old lady, 'of whom are you thinking?'

"Hertha blushed to her neck. 'I?' she stammered, trying to preserve an
indifferent tone of voice, 'of nobody.'

"'Oh, then you were merely talking generally?'

"'Of course; I only meant generally'

"'Well, and what do you want to know?'

"'I want to know - how it is with - you understand - with love
when one - - '

"'When one - - '

"'Well, when one is married?'

"'Then you go on loving just as you did before.' replied her
grandmother, lightly.

"'Yes, I know that. But suppose you love another man to whom you aren't

"'Wha - t!' In her terror the old lady let her spectacles fall off her
nose. 'What other?'

"Hertha suddenly felt as if she must collapse. She had to summon all
her courage and pull herself together in order to go on.

"'Can't it happen, grandmother dear, that some one to whom you're not
married takes it into his head - - '

"'My dear child' replied the grandmother, 'never come to me with such
foolish questions. You cannot understand such things. Now give me a
kiss and get your knitting.'"

So that plan did not answer. There was still one further possibility of
discovery. Hertha had a school friend who had lately got married. She
would ask her. So she began: -

"'Wives love their husbands, that goes without saying. But do you think
it possible that wives can be loved by other men?'

"'How odd you are', replied Meta. 'You can't prevent people loving.'

"'I know that. But a man, don't you see, who would - - '

"'Well, that sort of thing does happen.'

"'What! is some one in love with you?'

"Meta blushed, 'I don't bother about it. It's quite enough that Hans
loves me, and of course I should very politely forbid anything of the

"'Then people do forbid such things?'

"'Certainly, if they're told of it.'

"'What! you might be told?'

"'Sometimes, if the man who is in love with you is very bold.'

"'Good gracious,' said Hertha, shocked, 'If anyone behaved like that to
me, I should box his ears.' But in great anxiety she continued, 'Do you
think it likely that there are women who have a different opinion?'

"'Oh, yes!' said Meta.

"'Who - in the end - return the bold mans love?'

"'Even so.'"

Then Meta repeats certain gossip that confirms Hertha's worst fears.
The whole chapter should be read in order to appreciate rightly the
charm and pathos and naturalness of the delightful piece of character

Like Ibsen and Zola, Sudermann does not hesitate to set the truth
before us even when it is terrible or brutal or revolting. But he
differs from them in having a less gloomy outlook, in firmly believing
that, at the same time as human nature is coarse and brutal, stupid and
violent, it is loving, capable of sacrifice and of deep feeling. He
sees the strange not to say the inexplicable mixture of good and evil
in all things human, and knows man to be neither all gold nor all
alloy. This we take it is the true realism.

To make Sudermann's point of view clear to English readers there is
perhaps no better nor more direct way than to give a brief account of
his works. They are three novels, _Frau Sorge_ (Dame Care), published
in 1886, _Der Katzensteg_ (the name of a small wooden bridge over a
waterfall that plays a prominent part in the story), 1888, _Es war_ (It
Was), 1893; three volumes of short tales, _Geschwister_ (Brothers and
Sisters), first published in the _Berliner Tageblatt_ in 1884 and 1886
respectively (one of the stories, _Der Wunsch_, appears in the present
volume), _Im Zwielicht_ (In the Twilight), novelettes written in
various newspapers, and _Iolanthe's Hochzeit_ (Iolanthe's Wedding),
1892; and three dramas, _Die Ehre_ (Honour), _Sodom's Ende_ (The
Destruction of Sodom), and _Heimat_ (_The Paternal Hearth_).

The most perfectly artistic of his longer novels, and that most deeply
impregnated with the peculiar characteristics of East Prussian
landscape is _Frau Sorge_. Paul, the hero, is born just at the moment
when his father's difficulties make it necessary for him to sell his
house and land: this gloomy circumstance overshadows the whole of
Paul's life. While his brothers and sisters in spite of the family
poverty are, in their careless, unthinking way, happy and even
prosperous, wilfully blind to the fact that they owe all to the
industry and continual self-sacrifice of Paul, his life is one long
toil and struggle, one long fidelity to duty as he conceives it, one
long effacement and suppression of self. For this he receives no
thanks, no acknowledgment. His spirit becomes crushed, almost
extinguished. After long years of toiling, struggling, and suffering,
he is redeemed through the love of a woman, but only when he has
sacrificed to "Dame Care" all he held most precious, and when the
capacity in him for joy and hope has been well-nigh destroyed. The
character portrayed with perfect art is, at the same time, faithful to
nature: such men are rare, perhaps, but it is well that the novelist
should remind us of their existence, and thus help us to recognise the
potency for good that dwells in mankind.

_Der Katzensteg_ is more powerful but less artistic than _Frau Sorge_.
The German critics, however, consider it to be not only the most
important of Sudermann's writings, but the finest novel produced in
Germany during this century. The character of the heroine, Regine, a
veritable child of nature, in whom savagery and lack of intelligence
and education exist side by side with the nobility and power of
sacrifice, of which nature in the rough is often capable, forms the
main interest of the tale, and is a marvellous and original conception.
There is one scene that for realism, intensity, and horror has scarcely
been surpassed in any novel of modern times.

Before turning to the short tales in which we find some of Sudermann's
best and most characteristic work, it would be well to point out one of
his chief titles to genius. He has the gift of being able to describe
terrible and heart-stirring scenes, joyful or pathetic or humorous
scenes, with the utmost simplicity of style. In a few words of the
simplest sort he brings before our eyes living pictures. Each sentence
palpitates with life. As we read, we seem to live with the men and
women of his creation through their agony; we suffer as they do, and
rejoice with them when they are glad: at times we are breathless as
they are with suspense and excitement. And this is done without any of
the analytical introspection with which we have become only too
familiar in recent novels. The characters, at least in the novels and
tales, are not mere nervous organisms, but livings loving, erring,
feeling, human beings. The gift of terse narration joined to great
simplicity of language is found in French writers like Flaubert and
Maupassant, but it is new to Germany. It is, then, perhaps, Sudermann's
highest praise that we can say of him that he possesses the strength
without the unpleasantness of the great French writers of our day, and
combines their artistic feeling, their power and their fine wit with
all that is soundest and best in the Teutonic mind and character.

Many of the short tales are of a less specially German cast, and
possess an interest that is universal. _Der Wunsch_ (The Wish), for
instance, is a powerful psychological study, set forth with wonderful
directness and simplicity. Although the tale deals with the old theme
of a woman who falls in love with her sister's husband, it is instinct
with passion and original in treatment. Olga loved her sister Martha
dearly, and had, indeed, brought about Martha's marriage with Robert
Hellinger almost by her own efforts, but in so doing had herself,
though unconsciously, fallen in love with Robert. Martha, always frail
and delicate, after the birth of her child, falls dangerously ill. Olga
goes to her to nurse her, and love for her sick sister and passion for
Robert struggle for mastery in her soul. Thus, into a character
entirely good, noble, and self-sacrificing, steals the wish, "if only
she were to die!" In the event Martha does die. Then Robert's eyes are
opened; he knows that he loves - has all along loved Olga, and he asks
her to be his wife. At first she refuses, then consents; but the same
night, having felt all the while that the wish for Martha's death,
though never expressed by sign or word, makes her in a sense her
sister's murderer, she puts an end to her life. She herself relates all
the circumstances in a document written to explain her act to her old
friend the physician. A couple of quotations will give a better idea of
Sudermann's style than pages of criticism. In a few marvellous strokes
he paints the effect on Robert of his first sight of Olga's corpse: -

"When the elder Hellinger entered the room he saw a picture that froze
the blood in his veins.

"His son's body lay stretched on the floor. In falling he must have
clung to the posts of the bier on which they had placed the dead
woman, thus bringing down the whole erection with him, for on top of
him - among the broken boards - lay the corpse in its long white shroud,
the stiffened face on his face, the bare arms thrown over his head."

The scenes in Martha's sick room are portrayed with an art that makes
them live in our memory. Here is one of them, Martha lies in bed sick
unto death. Olga and Robert, wearied out with sleepless nights and with
their terrible anxiety, are watching her.

"There was absolute silence in the half-darkened room; only the wind
with gentle rustling, swept past the window, and the mice scratched
among the rafters of the ceiling.

"Robert buried his face in his hands and listened to Martha's dismal
ravings. Gradually he seemed to grow calmer; his breathing became
slower and more regular; now and again his head inclined to one side,
but the next moment he drew it up again.

"Sleep overpowered him, I wanted to persuade him to go to bed but I was
feared at the sound of my own voice and kept silent.

"The upper part of his body leaned over more and more frequently to one
side; at times his hair touched my cheek, and groping he sought a

"And then suddenly his head sank down on my shoulder and remained

"My body trembled as if an incredible happiness had befallen me, I was
seized with an irresistible desire to stroke the bushy hair that fell
over my face. Close to my eyes I saw a few silver threads. 'He is
beginning to get grey,' I thought, 'it is high time that he should know
what happiness means,' and then I actually stroked his hair.

"He sighed in his sleep and tried to place his head more comfortably.

"'He is lying uncomfortably,' I said to myself 'you must get close to
him.' I did so. His shoulder lay against mine, and his head sank down
on my bosom.

"'You must put your arm round him,' something within me cried out,
'otherwise he cannot find rest!

"Twice, thrice, I tried to do so, but as often drew back.

"If Martha should suddenly wake! But her eyes saw nothing, her ears
heard nothing.

"And I did it.

"Then a wild joy took possession of me, and stealthily I pressed him to
me; something within me shouted joyously: 'Oh! how I would cherish and
protect you; how I would kiss away the furrows misery has made in your
brow, and the cares from your soul! How I would toil for you with all
my young strength, and never rest till your eyes were fill of gladness,

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