indexTable of Contents
Olaf Simons/ Anton Kirchhofer, a The Novel in Europe, 1670-1730 : Market Observations

The German market of prose fiction

1 The delayed development - a problematic observation of histories of German literature
2 Work in progress
3 To fill the gap
2 Literature


A look into Histories of German Literature
Die deutschsprachige Literatur entfaltet sich im Vergleich zur westeuropäischen mit Verspätung, und vor allem der Roman bleibt bis zu Wieland [...] fast provinziell.

Rolf Grimminger, Hansers Sozialgeschichte der deutschen Literatur (München, 1980), p.635.

"German Literature unfolded, compared with its western neighbours, with a delay, and especially the novel remained down into Wieland's days [the late 1760s] almost provincial."

Histories of German literature have found little worth mentioning for the period 1670 to 1730. The baroque - so the regular perception - had its peak in the 1660s. The enlightenment had ist first tender beginnings soon after that. It spread in Halle among pietists in the 1680s; Christian Thomasius, Georg Wilhelm Leibniz and Christian Wolff can be mentioned as philosophers who prepared the soil for the period. Some will allow Christian Weise the rank of a first poet of the enlightenment - the school teacher wrote plays and novels eager to instruct his pupils who performed his plays. Others will see Barthold Hinrich Bockes, publishing two generation later, as the precursor - his poems collected in the sequel Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott (Earthly Delight in God) can be said to be first achievements in the new didactic as well as setimental vein which, so the general view, came with the enlightenment.

Most histories of German literature praise Johann Christian Gottsched for having brought the enlightenment into the field of literature. The praise is disadvantageous in the case of the professor of rhetorics and poetry. His plays are valued as programmatic calls for the production supposed to come rather than as actual achievements. His wife is said to have been the better poet. Gottsched excelled as the author of the Critische Dichtkunst, which today deserves the status as the first critical approach towards literature in German and it remains Gottsched who first called for an imitation of Addisson and with that for a production opening towards Europe in general and towards England in particular. The time lag with which the enlightenment reached Germany remains phenomenal: Addission's Cato had been first produced in 1713. Gottsched's programmatic version was staged in 1731 and published in print a year later with an introduction calling for the new beginning. Germany's audience was, so the common perception, not at all prepared for the new production. "Moralische Wochenschriften", weekly journals immitating if not simply translating from the journals Addisson and Steele had published generation earlier developed the taste and offered the first discussions of the new production. Twenty years late the situation had changed: promoting the new "bürgerliches Trauerspiel", the new "burgeois tragedy" in the 1750s as an answer on Gottsched's dry Aristotelian drama, Lessing produced works of intrinsic literary merits, works up to date if one compares them to contemporary English and French works - and yet: works one could not export as independent German contributions to the new age. Authors of the 1760s naturalized Shakespeare to reach originality in their own productions. In 1773# Goethe's Werther appeared - the first work of German literature which contributed to the international avant garde.

It remains difficult to tell, why it took Germany's authors so long to reach the present avant garde. Advocats of German "Epochengeschichte", Germany's history of epochs, put the blame on the baroque as an era which lead into a dreadful national isolation. The taste of the public, it seems, degenerated with the movement aiming so much more at ravishing the senses than at inspiring the intellect. Political circumstances added to the decay: the production of literature became an affair of pedantic scholars, obedient court poets rhyming in praise of absolutism, and clerics promoting the counter-reformation. Neither of these groups had a particular motif to introduce European market trends. The economical depression resulting from the devestations of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) was, so the general perception, the deeper reason of the cultural decline: For a short moment the war resulted in an outstanding achievement of realism. Grimmelshausen's epic Abentheurlicher Simplicissimus (1668/69) reflected the national catastrophy author and readers still painfully remembered. In the greater perspective Jürgen Habermas dared with his book on the Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere the phenomena come to stand for each other: the enlightenement spread in this perspective with the public debates as much as it resulted out of them and created them. It spread eastwards, beginning with the free press developing in England and the Netherlands in the 1670s and 1680s and it reached Germany and the rest of Europe fifty if not a hundred years later due to the slow political progress the German territories made.

Habermas' theory had its convincing aspects: it fitted into the patterns created in the studies in literature and philosophy it brought together. The problems have rarely been listed. novel all the inspired a ravishing spectacular regardless of its first impetus to last period It will be difficult to hold that statement with a view on the market. Though if we ask for German novels as successful as those of DeFoe and Richardson one will have to agree: Goethe's Werther was the first German novel to gain a wider acknowledgement. The bewildering fact is that the German market was otherwise quite up to date - in 1700 when Fénelon's Telemaque appeared in Breslau the very same year the first edition was concluded in The Hague, in 1720 when one could read Robinson Crusoe in German whilst London's readers read their first editions, in 1722 when Moll Flanders followed or in 1742 when Richardson's Pamela reached the German audience.

German authors had realised and appreciated what was new, they translated the latest books and their readers devoured them, yet they did not write what they obviously found worthy to be written. The answer most histories of German literature give on this question does not notice the translations. Looking on what German authors wrote themselves the answer seems clear: The German mind remained all too long in the baroque. The enlightenment began back in the 1670s in small circles in Halle's Pietism, among Saxonian university professors and in those great independent minds like Leibniz. The movement reached a greater appeal, however, only after the 1720s when Gottsched, Bodmer, Breitinger, and Lessing entered the stage and turned literature into the medium to reach the wider audience with the new frame of mind. German literature was of little use to them at the beginning. It had nearly ceased to exist, the stages empty, the theatres had not seen a tragedy for the past 40 years, Gottsched noted correctly in 1731 after staging his Cato inspired by Addison's Cato first staged in London in 1713. The delay was as symptomatic as the adaptation. One had to begin with English Literature of the preceding decades to carefuly close the gap. Histories of German literature continue to produce this gap - the alternatives are not very satisfying: One can claim that the baroque whose main production ended in the 1670s had an entirely different concept f "literature" and that the opera was "literature" in the baroque (an erroneous conception - the baroque, if it existed, and the enlightenment saw eruditition as "literature"; what is "literature" today was not fully defined at the end of the 18th century). One can focus on novels as the market of prose fiction shows at least some continuity - it is, however, difficult to see the "gallant" of Talander (August Bohse) and Menantes (Christian Friedrich Hunold) produced as the harbinger of the enlightenment or as the simple corruption of the baroque romance. Christian Günther served a few scholars as an outstandig poet - it is, however, clear that he did not play that role in the time to be understood here.

The history of the epochal delay - the history of Germany remaining in the baroque while the enlightenment spreading slowly eastwards from England and the Netherlands to reach Germany fourty years later somewhere in the middle of the 18th century - became convincing with Habermas' theory of the Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere [Jürgen Habermas, The structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. An inquiry into a category of bourgeois society, transl. by Thomas Burger (1989).] The enlightenment spread, so the theory, with discussions and with the media promoting these discussions. It remains difficult with the fact that news and discussions reached Germany without any delay - if one does accept that thoughts and information sread in translations a effectively as in original writings produced by German authors. The problem is then much rather one of our insisting on German authors to provide themselves the latest thoughts - a problem of a discourse demanding the nation's literature to be independent, self sufficient and competitive, and hence a problem of the "rise of literature" much rather than the frame of mind readers and authors most certainly had (we do not read of Germans visiting England in 1709 or 1719 being surprised of the new epoch ruling here, Germans actually made careers and set fashions in London - Handel became Britains gratest composer, John James Heidegger, a Swiss, was the the most important theatre manager in London, the high society from Wren to Newton had their portraits painted by Godfrey Kneller, a man from Lubeck - a list which rather betrays that one could be up to date coming from German speaking regions).

The simple interpretation of the diagram drawn from the regular history of German literaturelink will refer to the statements which first noticed the 1690-1720 gap at the beginning of the the 1730s. The production rising with the 1730s is in a way the production of German literature produced for the secondary discourse which just began asking for it - it is, one might say, the yellow production of the diagram on the rise of literature given The baroque, the middle ages and the renaissance as we know them today were defined only after the 1730s as historical productions which had to equip the new national literatre with a past - a past which had to be as different from the recent past as the new production was. The 1690-1720 gap was in itself a production of the histories of literature which now came to be written.

Work in progress

Research in the enlightenment and the baroque touching the years 1670-1730 has been steadily produced. Research acknowleding the 1690-1720 gap had its own peaks with the investigations of the 1930s placing Bohse/Talander into the centre of attention and the research following Herbert Singer's second attempt to deal with the gallant area, focussing now on Hunold/Menantes as the chief representative of the neglected period.

The era seems to to be able to arouse new interest. Thomas Borgstedt's and Andreas Solbach's anthology Der galante Diskurs: Kommunikationsideal und Epochenschwelle (Dresden, 2000), and Olaf Simons' Marteaus Europa oder Der Roman (Amsterdam/ Atlanta: Rodopi, 2001) reflect this as much as they reflect a change in the intellectual climate of criticism. The market which had appeared trivial has developed historical potentials to be investigated. The "gallant" conduct early 18th century authors propagated might have appeared despicable in later decades - the late 20th century saw, however, its own reversal of the moral judgments pre-1970s authors propagated with their reviews. A new European persective can be added as new motif behind the present exploration. Criticism remains a strange art exploiting history to influence present views.

Several dissertations are on their way: Stephan Kraft's work on Duke Anton Ulrich's Römische Octavia and Andrea Wicke's dissertation on the "Politische Romane" of the time, a special satirical production beginning in with the 1670s and ending at the beginning of the 18th century, do make their ways towards printing. Florian Gelzer and Jan Roidner are working on the the development of the "galante Conduite" and its rhetorics - a topic of major importance in the field of the late 17th and early 18th century German novelists.

Progress in the field will ultimately depend on a readiness to move beyond the questions posed by research into the baroque and the enlightenment. The enightenment has itself formulated the baroque to a good extent as a period which will not allow transitions and developments - we cannot speak of an "opera of the enlightenment" or of "enlightened architecture". It is on the other hand a contradiction in terms to speak of "critical debates of the baroque" - critical debates being per se an aspect of the enlightenment. Transitions in the key productions of each period being logically inconceivable most research into the field ends in a discussion of premises: if the baroque produced the baroque romance, following Heliodor's model, and if we can find this model in novels Hunold wrote, then his novels are baroque or, if he modified the scheme, late baroque. If commericaisation is a development leading into the bourgeois (capitalist) enlightenment, then aspects of commercialisation will move the same novel at the beginning of the enlightenment. In each case the "ifs" brought into the game decide the results - a game of an often tedious scholastic logic limiting mostly the scope of questions and the range of materials to be discussed with them profitably.

To fill the gap

It is clear how the 1690-1720 gap in German histories of literature would be filled - it results mostly of the concept of "literature" Gottsched and his followers brought up agains the market they were facing at the beginning of the 1730s. To eliminate it one would have to investigate into the tradition of literature as the 17th and 18th centuries would have done. Germany produced more "literature" in the early 18th century sense than most of its neighbours - "literature" even discussed in English journals such as the History of the Works of the Learned or the Memoirs of Literature. One would secondly take a new look on the rise of journalism Germany actually saw before Gottsched - a developement to be seen in the context of the development of newspapers and a development to be viewed with a close look on international journals present on the German market in the late 17th century. The bibliographies German authors produced in 1716 and 1718 would be a good first step into this market allowing the realisation that Germany was not lagging behind but rather progressivly dealing with the new medium.

When it come to genres we today read as "literature" one will have to accept that these did not form the complex we would like to see. Each of the three complexes existing - poesy, fiction and the "galante Wissenschafften" (the "belles lettres") - included materials we would not included in literature - and each of them excluded materials we would like to include. None of them was organised and viewed as we would organise and view literature. As for poesy one would have to see the opera as its central production, and one would have to alow genres as "ballet" as poetical productions - the whole field would on the other hand be more international or less national than our field of literature by definition is.

Fiction would have to be seen as a field within history - stretching out into the productions of scandalous contemporary histories - the pattern given above should lead into this direction. One would go this way properly only with a readiness to see things with the authors of the German catalogues: German novels were at the beginning of the 18th century all novels written in German, whether originally produced by German authors in German or whether translated into German. They built a field with little historical depth leading not back to Heliodor and the baroque tradition but being much rather a field of fashions produced on a European scale with German authors producing themselves what foreigners could not produce: novels of local interest.

The field of the "belles lettres" in German will be difficult to define. Journals will lead into the use of the word and they will allow to describe how the concept arrived in Germany as a concept referring to the international market of memoirs, journals, novels, histories, poesy; how it defined the "galante Wissenschafften" which then became the "schöne Wissenschafften", "schöne Literatur", and ultimately Germany's "national literature" at the beginning of the 19th century. One would with this investigation carefully observe how the range of materials to be discussed under these labels was limited down to a few genres which were then brought under new national historical traditions to be presented in narratives after the fashion Huet had formulated with his Treatise on the Origin of Romances rather than after the fashion of the former histories of literature which had remained annotated bibliographies.

The early 18th century will turn out with all four investigations to have been a flourishing period. Germany produced more literature in the original sense and more journals discussing literature than its neighbours, it exported poesy to London just as it imported poesy from France and and Italy with the international opera. The market of fiction flourished from the 1670 into the 1730s with the market of contemporary histories, and this production peaked symptomatically where our national histories of German literature show the revealing gap. The production of books under the international Pierre Marteau label imported from the Netherlands and adopted by German publishers gives an indication of the development to be discovered here: A European period preceded the period which led to our national histories. One will possibly be able to say that our national histories of Germa literature have been designed to move this production out of our view. It will be worth the effort to bring it back into our view as the beginning of the world wide market which still surrounds us wherever we enter a bookshop today.





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