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Bertolt Brecht's Furcht und Elend des Dritten Reiches

Bertolt Brecht's Furcht und Elend des Dritten Reiches: A German Exile Drama in the Struggle against Fascism

John J. White
Ann White
Volume: 77
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 274
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  • Book Info
    Bertolt Brecht's Furcht und Elend des Dritten Reiches
    Book Description:

    Brecht's ‘Furcht und Elend des Dritten Reiches’ (Fear and Misery of the Third Reich) gives a compelling documentary picture of life in Nazi Germany. Close readings of individual scenes are accompanied by a detailed analysis of their role within the play's overall structure. Contrary to the assumption that it is a work of Aristotelian realism, Brecht is shown to employ covert alienation devices that are an integral part of his literary campaign against Third Reich Germany. This first study in English on the subject of Brecht and fascism offers a corrective to the overconcentration on the play's artistic aspects. It considers Brecht's relationship to the Popular Front's campaign against the National Socialist regime. Attention is paid to the play's genesis, and, in the case of ‘The Private Life of the Master Race’, to the partial shift from the Third Reich of 1933-38 to the war period predicted in the original ‘Furcht und Elend’ cycle. The play's central theme of resistance, its propaganda value, and its political and artistic reception are addressed within their historical and ideological framework. The result is a challenging assessment of the play's strengths and limitations as a response to German totalitarianism. John J. White is Emeritus Professor of German and Comparative Literature at King's College London, and Ann White is Senior Lecturer in German at Royal Holloway, University of London.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-713-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    J. J. W. and A. W.
  4. Textual Note
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Abbreviations of Works Frequently Cited
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. 1: The Historical Context of the Furcht und Elend Project
    (pp. 1-28)

    Writing in March 1938 to Wieland Herzfelde of the Malik-Verlag, an influential left-wing German publisher by then in exile in Prague, Bertolt Brecht made the first of a series of pleas for expediting the publication of his Gedichte im Exil (Poems Written in Exile) and a new play with the working-title Deutschland — Ein Greuelmärchen (Germany — an Atrocity Story). It was not by chance that one of these two literary exposés of the ugly reality of Hitler’s Third Reich was a cycle of mainly satirical poems and the other a series of dramatized illustrations of life during the first five years...

  7. 2: Brecht and Fascism
    (pp. 29-69)

    Summoned to appear before the Congress House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on 30 October 1947, Brecht was at one stage of the hearing interrogated about his 1930 “Lehrstück” Die Maßnahme (The Measures Taken). Substantial attention had been paid to the work in the FBI’s file on Brecht. “Would you consider the play to be pro-Communist or anti-Communist” was the unsubtle opening question he was asked, “or would it take a neutral position regarding Communists?” “In this play,” Brecht replied, “I tried to express the feelings and ideas of the German workers who then fought against Hitler.” Some surprise...

  8. 3: Fear and Misery in Brecht’s Depiction of Third Reich Germany
    (pp. 70-102)

    The choice of title seems to have been particularly important to Brecht in the case of the Furcht und Elend project, more so than with any of his previous plays. “I sometimes wonder,” Eric Bentley, himself responsible for calling the American version The Private Life of the Master Race, once confessed, “if the French title of Brecht’s work is not the best. It is, simply: Scènes de la Vie Hitlérienne” (The Private Life, 136).¹ Yet despite the work’s changing titles and Bentley’s retrospective misgivings, Furcht und Elend des Dritten Reiches, as the play eventually came to be known, remains the...

  9. 4: “Der Widerstand, und zwar der wachsende Widerstand”: Brecht’s Dramatized Typology of Forms of Opposition
    (pp. 103-146)

    Defending his play against certain misgivings, Brecht wrote in mid-April 1938 to Slatan Dudow, who was at the time preparing to direct the first staging of scenes from Furcht und Elend in Paris. Brecht’s letter contained a response to Dudow’s express concern that the work’s picture of Nazi Germany was too bleak:

    Ich verstehe Ihre Besorgnis, daß der Abend zu depressiv werden könnte. Ein erhebender Abend kann es ja nun auf keinen Fall werden. Immerhin wird hier, denke ich, die ganze Brüchigkeit des Dritten Reiches in all seinen Einzelteilen sichtbar werden und daß nur Gewalt es zusammenhält. Das ist das...

  10. 5: Songs, Poems, and Other Commenting Devices in Furcht und Elend and The Private Life of the Master Race
    (pp. 147-179)

    Songs and poems play a different role in the genetic history of the Furcht und Elend complex than they do in the case of such canonical works as Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder, Der gute Mensch von Sezuan and Der kaukasische Kreidekreis. Instead of his usual practice of establishing a fixed corpus of sung and spoken epic commenting devices relatively early on, Brecht experiments at virtually every stage of Furcht und Elend’s evolution with a changing repertoire of prologue verses (Vorsprüche), sung or spoken epic inserts, epilogues, and assorted framing devices. The main reasons for this change of approach are...

  11. 6: Epic Structure, Alienation Effects, and Aristotelian Theater
    (pp. 180-221)

    “Der Spitzel,” one of the most powerful scenes depicting the German bourgeoisie’s intimidation by and gradual accommodation to the dictates of National Socialism, was the first part of Furcht und Elend to be prepublished in Das Wort.¹ The story of Georg Lukács’s uncharacteristically positive reaction to this one scene, Brecht’s surprised response, and his subsequent theoretical amplifications has been told a number of times, albeit seldom with reference to Furcht und Elend, the antifascist work that was at one stage a vital piece of evidence in what has been called “one of the richest controversies in the history of Marxist...

  12. Concluding Remarks
    (pp. 222-230)

    The year 1938 brought both a high point and an unpredictable setback in the fortunes of Brecht’s Furcht und Elend project. The Paris premiere of “99%” (21–22 May) was an undoubted success, especially among the German exile community, and it was an event that would prove particularly important for Walter Benjamin’s ongoing crusade on the playwright’s behalf, the collective fruits of which would eventually be published by Suhrkamp in 1966 under the title Versuche über Brecht. One of the peculiarities of Furcht und Elend’s reception is the fact that a work that was in many respects so untypical of...

  13. Appendix A: Furcht und Elend Scene Titles and Their English Equivalents
    (pp. 231-231)
  14. Appendix B: The First Four Verses of “Die deutsche Heerschau” in German and English
    (pp. 232-234)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-252)
  16. Index
    (pp. 253-262)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 263-263)