Introduction to German Literature, 1871–1990 by Malcolm Humble;Raymond Furness

By Malcolm Humble;Raymond Furness

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Dramas but stylistically belongs in the early Expressionist camp with his predilection for the outre and the exaggerated. Whereas Max Halbe's Jugend (1893) with its psychology of adolescent love has certain things in common with Friihlings Erwachen (which appeared in book form in 1891), Wedekind's play, with the absurd caricatures, headless ghost and personification of 'life' belongs very much in the new repertoire. It is the play which is probably Wedekind's best: the torments and confusion of the young people, as well as the hypocrisy and pusillanimous deviousness of the other generation are portrayed with sympathy and precision.

Whereas Werfel's poetry exemplifies the Whitmanesque, utopian-pantheistic element of Expressionism, Heym' s came more and more to manifest a sense of disaster: his portrayal of the hallucinatory horror of cities and his sombre, chiliastic presentiments of doom express a mythological awareness of human destiny. The poem 'Der Krieg' combines a sense of dread with a feeling of awe for that fearful god who rises from chthonic depths: it exemplifies the Expressionist tendency to see beneath the surface of things to behold a mythical, archetypal vision.

The purely personal element (the awareness of the impossibility of a permanent relationship with his fiancee) gives way to a wider statement: before the giant figure of the father and the vivid, reproachful memory of the friend (the lonely introvert) the brash protagonist succumbs. Kafka knew that his way was to be one of loneliness and dedication to art; the avid reader of the memoirs of Flaubert and Grillparzer would acknowledge the demands of literature and their manifest incompatibility with domestic normality.

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