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brains, the unsettling of old and the dawn of new creeds,
religious, social and esthetic. The clash of two generations
became one of the most popular themes. Caesar Flaischlen,
a Suabian, handled it most thoughtfully and effectively in
Martin Lehnhardt. Though the author modestly called it
* * dramatic scenes, ' ' it was a play presenting with spirited
rhythm a phase of the spiritual revolution and moral
revaluation then taking place, and in the orthodox uncle
and the radical nephew he created two figures full of real
dramatic life. The well-to-do and well-satisfied middle-
class with its somewhat shopworn ideals was a popular
topic with these young men who lustily set about to de-
molish the Mosaic and other codes of life. Otto Erich
Hartleben was hailed as the Juvenal of the society of his
time, flaying it mercilessly in satirical comedies like Educa-
tion for Marriage, The Moral Requirement, and Hose-
Monday.



THE CONTEMPORARY GERMAN DRAMA 97

Whatever were the shortcomings of these young hot-
spurs, there is no doubt that there were among them earnest
seekers for new values of life and letters. Many were con-
tented with pathetic seriousness and doubtful results to
imitate their successful and popular model, Gerhart Haupt-
mann. Some made no attempt at concealing that they
walked closely in the footsteps of their master. Nor did
the critics of the new school esteem them any less for
being followers and imitators rather than creators of inde-
pendent merit. Among these youths, Georg Hirschfeld, a
born Berliner, was the most promising. He was of a type
abundant in every metropolis having an intense intel-
lectual life: sensitive, impressionable, with an amazing
tal(»nt for absorption and adaptation and a facile gift of
langTiage. The reception accorded to his drama. The
Mothers (1896), which was frankly reminiscent of Suder-
mann's contrast between the front and the rear house and
of Hauptmann's dialogue of real life, was so generous, that
it gave the author, then barely twenty-three, a position
quite out of proportion to his achievement. His efforts at
following up the easily won success made him a pathetic
figure in the drama of that decade. He experienced failure
upon failure and has now, after the publication of some
stories of varying merit and the stage success of a clever
comedy directed against the esthetes — Mieze and Maria —
once more dropped out of sight.

A far more robust figure came to the fore in Max Halbe,
a West Prussian and an individuality deeply rooted in the
soil of his forefathers. That soil and his close kinship
with nature gave Halbe a firmer foundation than the shift-
ing quicksands of metropolitan life offered. These were
the premises upon which he set out to build. But he would
not have been a child of his time had he not seen life
through the temperament of his generation. With all his
sturdy mental and moral fibre he could not withstand the
torrential current of skepticism and revaluation that swept
through the intellectual world and uprooted its spiritual

Vol. XX— 7



98 THE GERMAN CLASSICS

mainstays. Though the action of his plays was based upon
eternal conflicts of the human tragi-comedy — the irrecon-
cilable contrast between two generations, between two
orders of life, between love and duty — his characters are
of the new type, his unheroic heroes are like the men he
saw about him, reeds swayed by the breath of the Zeitgeist,
and true to the naturalistic creed of his generation
they were represented by him without any attempt at
idealization.

Halbe made his debut in 1889 with the tragedy of a
peasant parvenu. The play was fashioned according to
old formulas, but of charming local color and with more
than a touch of the new type in one of the characters. This
was followed in 1890 by Free Love, the hero of which is one
of those individuals unable to reconcile their convictions
with their actions — a conflict which becomes a source of
torture to themselves and those about them. The Ice-Floe
(1892) was a powerful drama, in which the sudden thaw, de-
stroying what has been, but bringing with it a breath of the
spring and the new life to come, admirably symbolized the
passing of the old order. But it was not until the following
year, which saw the publication of his Youth, that Halbe
attracted serious attention outside of the circles of that
Young Germany which has become identified with the
literary revolution. Youth was of a human significance
and of an artistic calibre which could not well be ignored.
This work presented the old theme of youth, love and sin
in the provincial setting that he knew so well; the char-
acters were taken from real life and portrayed with strik-
ing truthfulness. But over it all was the atmosphere of
spring, of sunshine and blossoms and thundershowers that
quicken the germs in the w^omb of the earth. This was
suggested with a delicacy and a chastity rare in the liter-
ature of that period of storm and stress. Youth was the
work of a true poet and would have been hailed as such even
had the author been born into a period less generous in its
bestowal of praise upon the works of the * ' coming men. '



))



THE CONTEMPORARY GERMAN DRAMA 99

In Mother Earth, published in 1897, Max Halbe shows
himself at his best both in spirit and in manner. The hero
of that play is estranged from his paternal hearth, with its
ancestral traditions and from the simple rural life and the
innocent tender love of his youth. For he has gone to
Berlin, has drifted into the circles of the intellectuals, mar-
ried the brilliant and advanced daughter of a professor and
become actively interested in feminist propaganda. Sub-
consciously, however, this life does not satisfy him, and when
on the death of his father he returns to the old home and
feels once more its charm, he realizes that he has forfeited
real happiness for a vague and alien ideal. In this work
with its firmly knit and logically evolved action Max Halbe
reached a climax in his development. Since its production
his star has been steadily declining and the thirteen or more
works that have since come from Ms pen have not added to
his reputation. Embittered by his failures, he cnose some
years ago to attack his rivals and critics in a satirical
comedy. The Isle of the Blessed, but he had miscalculated
the effect of the poorly disguised personal animosities upon
an audience not sufficiently interested in the author's
friendships and enmities. He has. however, not become
sadly resigned to his fate, like Hirschfeld, but continues to
court the favor of the stage with the tenacity of a man dis-
pointed in his hopes but unwilling to admit his defeat.

An important aspect of the social and esthetic pro-
gramme of the new school was the unflinching frankness
with which it faced a problem belonging to intimate life
and barring public discussion, yet closely connected with
the economic conditions of society: the problem of sex.
The curious revival of pagan eroticism in lyric poetry and
the growing tendency toward a scientific cynicism in fiction
were supplemented by attempts to handle sex from the
standpoint of modern psychology and social ethics in
drama. With works of that class has the name of Frank
Wedekind become inseparably associated. He is the most
positive intellect among the writers of Young Germany and



100 THE GERMAN CLASSICS

their most radical innovator in regard to form. He is a
fanatic of truth and deals only with facts ; discarding the
mitigating accessories of the milieu, he places those facts
before us in absolute nudity. This would make him the
most consistent naturalist; but when facts are presented
bald and bare, they do not make the impression of reality,
but rather of grotesque caricature. Hence Wedekind has
som.etimes been compared with earlj^ English dramatists
and classed with romanticists like Lenz, Grabbe and Heine.
He himself has no esthetic theories whatever that could
facilitate his being enrolled under some fetching label.
Nor has he any ethical principles, some critics allege, if
they do not curtly call him immoral. Yet his work, from the
appearance of Spring's Aivakening (1891) to his Stone of
Wisdom, (1909) and his most recent works, proves him to
be concerned with nothing but the moral problem. He
treats social morality with mordant irony from an a-moral
standpoint. The distinction between a-moral and immoral
must be borne in mind in any attempt to interpret the puzz-
ling and paradoxical personality of the author and to
arrive at an approximate understanding of the man behind
his work.

That Wedekind; is not only an author, but an actor as
well, has in no small degree complicated his case. The
pose seems so inseparably connected with the art of the
actor, that his intransigent policy in sex matters and his
striking impersonations of the characters in his plays have
been interpreted as the unabashed bid for notoriety of a
clever poseur. But his acting could hardly have made
palatable to theatre audiences topics tabooed in polite con-
versation and with appalling candor presented by him on
the stage. Neither his quality as actor nor his quality as
author could account for the measure of popularity his
plays have attained. It would rather indicate that the
German public was ready for open discussion of the prob-
lems involved and that Wedekind 's frankness and honesty,
his lapses into diabolical grimace and grotesque hyperbole



I




Leo Putz



IN THE SHADE



THE CONTEMPOEAEY GERMAN DRAMA 101

notwithstanding, mot a demand of his time. Nor did he
restrict himself to that one particular problem. His irony
spared no institution, no person: lese-majeste was one of
his offenses ; nor did he spare himself. Born into a gener-
ation which took itself very seriously, he created the
impression as if he at least were not taking himself too
seriously. Yet a survey of his work, regardless of the
comparisons and conclusions it may suggest, tends to sub-
stantiate the claim that Frank Wedekind is not only an
uncompromising destroyer of antiquated sentiment and a
fanatic of positive life, but a grim moralist. It is easy to
recognize him in some of his characters, and these figures,
like the banished king in Thus is Life, the secretary Hetman
in Hidalla, the author Lindekuh in Musik, and others, are
always the tragic moralists in an immoral world. There is
something pathetic in the perseverance with which he is
ever harping on the one string.

For although he is now one of the more popular writers
of his generation, his attitude has not changed much in the
course of his career. The man who hurled into the world
Spring's Awakening, is still behind the social satirist who
has become a favorite with theatre audiences through his
clever portrayal of a crook in The Marquis of Keith and
of the popular stage favorite in The Court Singer. He is
little concerned with the probability of the plot; his situ-
ations will not bear the test of serious scrutinj^ They are
only the background from which the figure of the hero
stands out in strong relief. The popular tenor, who is an
amusing combination of the artist and the businessman, is
one of the characters in the plays of Wedekind that have
little or no trace in them of the author himself. He is seen
with astonishing objectivity and presented with delectable
sarcasm. The story of the famous singer, who between
packing his valise to take the train for his next engagement,
studying a new role, running over numerous letters from
admirers, makes love to the one caller he cannot get rid of,
a woman who chooses that inopportune moment to shoot



102 THE GERMAN CLASSICS

herself before his eyes, is a typical product of his manner,
and a grotesque satire upon the cult of histrionic stars
practised by both sexes.

While the initiative in the literary revolution of which
Halbe and Wedekind are such striking examples was taken
by Northern Germany and centred in Berlin, Austria was
not slow in adding a note of its own by giving the German
drama of the period two of its most interesting individu-
alities. Both Arthur Schnitzler and Hugo von Hofmanns-
thal — to whom might be added the clever and versatile
Hermann Bahr — reflect the complex soul of their native
city, Vienna; for if Austria is acknowledged to be a most
curious racial composite, Vienna contains its very essence.
Situated at the parting of the ways for the South and the
Orient, it has ever been a much-coveted spot. After the con-
quest of the original Celtic settlement by the Romans, Teu-
tons, Huns, and Turks have successively fought for its pos-
session and have left their imprint upon its physiognomy.
Intermarriage with the neighboring Czechs and Magyars,
the affiliations of the court with Spain, Italy, and France,
and the final permeation of all social strata by the
Hebrew element, have produced what may be called the
Viennese soul. Political conditions, too, have influenced
it : to maintain peace in a country which is a heterogeneous
conglomerate of states rather than an organic growth,
requires a diplomacy the chief aim of which is to prevent
anything from happening. This attitude of the Viennese
court and its vast machinery of functionaries slowly
affected other classes, until the people of Vienna as a body
seem to refrain from anything that means action. It is this
passive fatalism which has hampered the intellectual de-
velopment of Vienna. Oldest in culture among the German-
speaking cities of Europe it has never been and is not likely
ever to be a leader.

Minds that entered upon this local heritage were only
too ready to receive the seeds of skepticism abundant in the
spiritual atmosphere of the century's end. But Nietzsche's



THE CONTEMPORARY GERMAN DRAMA 103

gospel of the Superman, Ibsen's heretical analysis of
human motives and Zola's cry for truth did not affect the
young generation of Vienna intellectuals as they did those
of Paris or Berlin, where the revision of old standards of
life and letters was promptly followed by daring experi-
ments with new ideals. Young Vienna heard the keynotes
of the new time, but it was content to evolve a new variety
of an old tune. Time-Tionored pessimism, world-sorrow,
gave way to a sophisticated and cynical world-weariness
which is symptomatic of decadence. Widely different as
their individualities present themselves, between the pages
of their books and on the stage, both Schnitzler and Hof-
mannsthal reflect that attitude of mind.

In the work of Arthur Schnitzler the Hebrew element
predominates; it has quickened the somewhat inert
Vienna blood and finds expression in analytical keen-
ness and sharpness of vision, a wit of Gallic refinement
and a language of sparkling brilliancy. .'Schnitzler 's
profession, too, has not been without some influence upon
his poetical work. A physician facing humanity daily
not in strength and health, but in weakness and disease,
cannot divest himself of a certain pessimistic bias. Brought
up and practising in a city like Vienna, he cannot escape
the cynicism which belongs alike to the man of the world
as ^ J the doctor before whom all veils and pretenses are
di carded. It is difficult, indeed, to banish the idea that
the consultation-room of Arthur Schnitzler, Dr. med., is
the confessional which furnishes material to Arthur
Schnitzler, author. For the modern physician is not con-
cerned with his patient's body only, but also with his soul.
He must be a psychologist as well, and the success of his
diagnosis depends upon his skill to unravel the intricate
interrelations between both. That Schnitzler is such a
physician admits of no doubt. His perspicacity as diag-
nostician lends subtlety to his analysis and portrayal
of characters. While his professional bias may in a



104 THE GERMAN CLASSICS

manner limit the range of his vision, his professional
knowledge and experience are strong assets of the drama-
tist Schnitzler.

The world that he knows best is the modern society of
Vienna. His heroes are mostly men engaged in a quest for
the joys of life, but never attaining whole-hearted enjoy-
ment, because of their innate streak of world-weariness.
When the hero of his Anatol (1893) calls himself ''light-
hearted pessimist," Schnitzler creates a term which
fits as well his Fedor in MdrcJien (1894), his Fritz in
Liebelei (1895), and other specimens of a type related to the
heroes of Musset and other Frenchmen. His women, too,
have a streak of French blood, both his ' ' sweet girls ' ' and
his married heroines; but unmistakably Austrian and
Viennese is their willingness to resign rather than to resist.
Frau Gabriele give Anatol flowers to take to his sweetheart
and bids him tell her : ' ' These flowers, my . . . sweet
girl ... a woman sends you, who can perhaps love as
well as you, but had not the courage . . . " The playlets
collectively called Anatol are only scenes and dialogues
between two men or a man and a woman exchanging confi-
dences. Limited as he seems in his choice of themes and
types, both by temperament and association, it is amaz-
ing with what virtuosity Schnitzler varies almost identical
situations and characters until they are differentiated from
one another by some striking individual touch and when
presented on the stage act with a new and potent charm.

For that just balance of contents and form which makes
for perfection, Schnitzler 's renaissance drama The Veil of
Beatrice is the most noteworthy specimen. But in all his
work his style is his greatest achievement. It is of a rare
spontaneity, vivacity and grace — qualities that make his
dialogue appear an impromptu performance rather than
a carefully planned structure. It abounds in paradoxes
that do not blind the vision, but reveal vistas, and that do
not impress as high lights added for effect, but as organic
parts of the whole. It scintillates with wit, though it lacks



THE CONTEMPORARY GERMAN DRAMA 105

humor. It is the just medium of expression for his char-
acters, those types of modern intellectuals, affected by the
corrosive skepticism of the period and in turn buoyed by
the light-hearted temperament and depressed by the passive
melancholy that are indigenous to Vienna. It is this liter-
ary excellence that renders works like Literature (1902)
and TJie Green Cockatoo (1899) enjoyable to readers to
whom their spirit may be absolutely foreign. It is their
polish that robs their cynicism of its sting and brings into
relief only their formal beauty. Literature deals effectively
with the literary exploitation of intimate personal experi-
ence: it presents characters which with due local modifi-
cation can be found in every intellectual centre and is a
little masterpiece of irony. In The Green Cockatoo the
poet has seen his theme in a sort of phantasmagorical
perspective ; he plays with reality and appearance in a play
within a play which is unique in literature. He makes his
spectators feel the hot breath of the French Revolution
^"Ichout burdening them with the ideas that were back of it.
It is the most solidly constructed of his works and the one
most sure of success on any stage. Exquisite as is the art
of Schnitzler, it is deeply rooted in life and does not ap-
proach that art for art's sake which was one of the striking
phenomena of that period.

Yet the atmosphere of Vienna and the leisurely pace of
its life seem to favor the development of an art that has
little or no connection with the pressing realities of the day
and is bent upon seeking the beauty of the word rather than
the truth of its message. Such a movement had been in-
augurated in German letters in 1890 by Stefan George, who
gathered about him a small group of collaborators in the
privately circulated magazine Blatter fUr die Kunst. It
stood for a remoteness from reality which formed a strong
contrast to the naturalistic creed and for a formal crafts-
manship which set out to counteract the grooving tendency
to break away from the fetters of conventional forms. The
work of the group bordered often upon archaic preciosity,



106 THE GERMAN CLASSICS

yet its influence was wholesome in holding up the ideal of
a formalism which is after all one of the basic conditions
of art. Though not a native of Vienna, Stefan George
settled there after launching the movement and found
among its young intellectuals not a few disciples that have
since followed in his wake. There is something about an
art for art's sake that appeals to an aristocracy of birth
and breeding; it touched a responsive chord in the soul of
Hugo von Hofmannsthal,* whose earlier work distinctly
shows its influence and who to that influence still owes his
admirable mastery of form.

Hofmannsthal 's descent from an old nobility that had
passed the zenith of its power and was but little modified
by a strain of the more democratic Hebrew blood, seemed
to predestine him for the part he has played in the liter-
ature of the present. He made his debut as a mere youth
of seventeen, when in 1891 he published the dramatic study
Yesterday, giving evidence of an amazingly precocious
mind and a prematurely developed formal talent. Gifted
writers of that kind are usually doomed to remain prodi-
gies whatever may be their medium of expression. Coming
into their heritage, which is the accumulated knowledge
and experience of their ancestors, before they have ac-
quired a direct and profound grasp of life, they seem to
enter the world full-fledged, while it is only that ancestral
heritage that works through the impressions of the youth-
ful brain and gives them the color of age. Knowing and
satiated when the mind is most receptive, such individu-
alities rarely develop beyond their first brilliant phase.
Hugo von Hofmannsthal was for a long time considered a
perfect specimen of that type. For the hero of that first
work, as of every work published by him during the first
decade of his career, was his double, was Hofmannsthal
himself. All the virtuosity of style could not conceal the
paucity of invention in subject matter and in the creation



*For Hofmannsthal, compare Vol. XVII, pp. 482-527.



I



THE CONTEMPORARY GERMAN DRAMA 107

of real living characters. Even in that charming Oriental
play The Marriage of Soheide (1899) and The Mine of
Falun (1906) the personality of the author obtrudes itself
upon the vision of the reader.

These works, however, marked a transition. For with
his thirtieth year Hofmannsthal entered upon a new period
and a new manner. The study of the antique Greek drama
and of early English dramatists diverted him from the
self-absorption and self-reflection of his previous work, and
may have brought home to him the necessity of finding a
more fertile source for his art than his own individual soul.
The extraordinary success of Wilde's Salome opened pos-
sibilities of applying the pathological knowledge of the
present to the interpretation of the past. He chose for
this momentous departure the Electra of Sophocles
(1903). Taking from the Greek poet the mere skeleton
o' the story, he modified the characters according to his
own vision and the psychopathic viewpoint of the time —
a liberty which some critics justified, others branded as an
unpardonable license. But the work was a turning-point
for Hofmannsthal, for he has since begun to face life more
directly and squarely and though he has not reached a
wholesome reading of it, he has at least struck new and
powerful notes that contrast strongly with the spirit of his
previous works. Enforced by the music of Richard Strauss,
whose naturalism is the immediate expression of his robust
virility, Hofmannsthal 's Electra has made the name of the
author known throughout the world. To his association
with the sturdy Bavarian composer is also due the comedy
Der RosenJcavalier (1911), which with its daring situations
and touches of drastic burlesque harks back to the spirit
of the comedy of Moliere's time, though in its way it is
also a product of the reaction against the puerile and
commonplace inoffensiveness of mid-century letters inaugu-
rated by Young Germany. Since his association with
Richard Strauss has weaned Hofmannsthal from the
somewhat effete estheticism and pessimism of his youth,



108 THE GERMAN CLASSICS

it is a matter of interesting conjecture what further effect
it may have upon his development.

It seems to follow with the inevitableness of a physical
law, that the alternate swing of the pendulum between a
naturalism which set above everything the material fact
and the cry for truth, and a subtle esthetieism which set



Online LibraryKuno FranckeThe German classics : masterpieces of German literature translated into English (Volume 20) → online text (page 9 of 34)