The German Historical Novel

Brian Hamnett

in The Historical Novel in Nineteenth-Century Europe

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199695041
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191732164 | DOI:
The German Historical Novel

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Although originating in the late eighteenth century, the German historical novel did not win a wider European significance until Fontane’s ‘Before the Storm’ in 1879. Many historical novels gained popularity in Germany and Austria during the course of the century, but were little known elsewhere. They took events in earlier German history as their themes, sometimes influenced by the historical drama of the 1770s to 1830s. Since Germany had played such a leading role in drama, poetry, and philosophy, it is difficult to explain the delay in winning recognition for its historical novel, perhaps due to the greater respect for drama, poetry, music, and philosophy. Willibald Alexis prepared the way for Fontane in many respects through his attention to provincial history and landscape. Himself influenced by Flaubert, Fontane’s influence in turn prepared the way for Mann’s ‘Buddenbrooks’ in 1899—not an historical novel, but one in which the history of a fictionalized family plays a fundamental part. ‘Before the Storm’, like Galdós and Tolstoy, dealt with the problem of occupation by the French and the morality of resistance to Napoleon’s armies. The novel occasioned much criticism because of its construction, leaving the actual fighting until the very end, and luxuriating, as it were, in local and family details and conversations among friends and relatives. This, however, gives the book its particular strength as a provincial portrayal of life before national unification in 1871. Fontane’s lack of enthusiasm for the Prussian-created Second Reich is implicit throughout the novel.

Keywords: Prussia; Brandenburg. monarchy; state; army; Napoleon; family; locality; Protestantism; countryside

Chapter.  5531 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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