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The German Bestseller in the Late Nineteenth Century

The German Bestseller in the Late Nineteenth Century

Charlotte Woodford
Benedict Schofield
Volume: 117
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    The German Bestseller in the Late Nineteenth Century
    Book Description:

    The late nineteenth century was a crucial period for the development of German fiction. Political unification and industrialization were accompanied by the rise of a mass market for German literature, and with it the beginnings of the German bestseller.Offering escape, romance, or adventure, as well as insights into the modern world, nineteenth-century bestsellers often captured the imagination of readers well into the twentieth century and beyond. However, many have been neglected by scholars. This volume offers new readings of literary realism by focusing not on the accepted intellectual canon but on commercially successful fiction in its material and social contexts. It investigates bestsellers from writers such as Freytag, Dahn, Jensen, Raabe, Viebig, Stifter, Auerbach, Storm, Möllhausen, Marlitt, Suttner, and Thomas Mann. The contributions examine the aesthetic strategies that made the works such a success, and writers' attempts to appeal simultaneously on different levels to different readers. Bestselling writers often sought to accommodate the expectations of publishers and the marketplace, while preserving some sense of artistic integrity. This volume sheds light on the important effect of the mass market on the writing not just of popular works, but of German prose fiction on all levels. Contributors: Christiane Arndt, Caroline Bland, Elizabeth Boa, Anita Bunyan, Katrin Kohl, Todd Kontje, Peter C. Pfeiffer, Nicholas Saul, Benedict Schofield, Ernest Schonfield, Martin Swales, Charlotte Woodford. Charlotte Woodford is Fellow and Lecturer in German at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge. Benedict Schofield is Lecturer in German and Senior Tutor for the School of Arts and Humanities at King's College London.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-778-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-ix)
    C. W and B. S
  5. [Illustration]
    (pp. x-x)
  6. Introduction: German Fiction and the Marketplace in the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 1-18)
    Charlotte Woodford

    In 1855, the journalist and future novelist Theodor Fontane welcomed Gustav Freytag’s novel Soll und Haben (Debit and Credit, 1855) as “die erste Blüte des modernen Realismus. . . . Der Freytagsche Roman ist eine Verdeutschung (im vollsten und edelsten Sinne) des neueren englischen Romans” (the first flourish of modern realism. . . . The Freytag novel is a German version—in the most complete and noble sense—of the more recent English novel). Fontane praises Freytag for his characterization: his protagonists might be equally at home in Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers (1837) or Oliver Twist (1838). The novel merits...

  7. Part I: The Aesthetics of Success and Failure

    • 1: Gustav Freytag’s Soll und Haben: Politics, Aesthetics, and the Bestseller
      (pp. 21-38)
      Benedict Schofield

      It is a curiosity repeatedly noted in secondary literature on Gustav Freytag that, despite his extensive commercial success during the mid-nineteenth century, he does not hold a more prominent position in the German literary canon. Today best known for his social novel of business, Soll und Haben (Debit and Credit, 1855), Freytag remains something of a secondary figure in German literary history. He is dismissed respectively as a minor representative of German realism, as an author more concerned with bourgeois politics than literary aesthetics, and, in certain circles of criticism, as an anti-Semite. Literary surveys of the later nineteenth century...

    • 2: Felix Dahn’s Ein Kampf um Rom: Historical Fiction as Melodrama
      (pp. 39-57)
      Todd Kontje

      Felix Dahn’s Ein Kampf um Rom (A Struggle for Rome, 1876) is one of the bestselling works of historical fiction in the German language. Dahn began work on the novel in the late 1850s, but soon grew dissatisfied with it and once even threatened to burn the manuscript. His second wife, however—who was incidentally a distant relative of Annette von Droste-Hülshoff—managed to dissuade him and, after a pause of more than a decade, Dahn brought Ein Kampf um Rom to a resounding conclusion.¹ The book was an immediate and lasting success: Dahn claimed that 84,000 copies had already...

    • 3: Wilhelm Jensen and Wilhelm Raabe: Literary Value, Evolutionary Aesthetics, and Competition in the Marketplace
      (pp. 58-76)
      Nicholas Saul

      This chapter breaks a lance for the neglected Wilhelm Jensen (1837–1911) by remembering two forgotten works of his, and in that context of his oblivion pondering a key conflict of literary and market value.

      Everyone has heard of Jensen. But few read and still fewer study him even in these postmodern, postcanonical days. He seems to be the paradigm case of the acknowledged second-rate writer, in that his work is never treated for its own sake. A brief research conspectus tells the tale. Jensen was one of the most widely read and well-esteemed authors of his day, with 150...

    • 4: Clara Viebig: Using the Genres of Heimatkunst und Großstadtroman to Create Bestselling Novels
      (pp. 77-93)
      Caroline Bland

      Gripping narratives full of the earthy detail that was the hallmark of authenticity at the beginning of the twentieth century, yet that still aspired to the edification of poetic realism: this is how Clara Viebig (1860–1952) characterized her own art. Viebig began to write in her youth, but did not come to prominence as a writer until she was thirty-seven. She then had a successful writing career of nearly forty years, publishing her last novel in 1935. By all measures, Viebig has to be considered a prolific writer: she produced fourteen novels, nine volumes of novellas, and five plays...

    • 5: Buddenbrooks as Bestseller
      (pp. 95-112)
      Ernest Schonfield

      Buddenbrooks: Verfall einer Familie (Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family) was not an overnight bestseller—at first it sold slowly. The first edition of 1901 was in two volumes and was expensive for the time: it cost fourteen marks in hardcover and twelve marks in paperback; the second edition cost six marks in hardcover and five marks in paperback. When the cheaper, single-volume second edition appeared in 1903, with an attractive cover illustration by Wilhelm Schulz, sales took off.¹ By 1910, the novel had already been translated into three languages: Danish (1903), Swedish (1904), and Russian (1910).² By 1918, sales...

  8. Part II: Short Fiction

    • 6: Homeliness and Otherness: Reflections on Stifter’s Bergkristall
      (pp. 115-125)
      Martin Swales

      When we explore literary texts that manage to be both masterpieces and bestsellers, we should endeavor to abstain from critical fastidiousness in respect of their literary popularity. I have spent much of my professional life in seeking to bring German literature close to an Anglo-Saxon readership. One of the problems that inevitably besets that enterprise is the fact that, in contrast to (say) English literature, German literature of the last two hundred years or so does not abound in masterpieces that have overwhelming page-turning appeal. Much of my own research has concerned German prose fiction from the late eighteenth century...

    • 7: Berthold Auerbach’s Schwarzwälder Dorfgeschichten: Political and Religious Contexts of a Nineteenth-Century Bestseller
      (pp. 127-143)
      Anita Bunyan

      The mid-nineteenth century was a time of fraught ideological and religious debate in Germany. The impact of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic occupation, demographic change, and the expansion of the public sphere fuelled intense debates about political participation, the future of the nation, the plight of the Volk (people) and the challenge of secularization. In the absence of parliamentary institutions, a free press, and the right to political assembly, nineteenth-century Germans resourcefully transformed the acts of reading, writing, singing, shooting, spa visiting, and even festive eating into forms of political expression.¹ The liberal and nationalist demonstrators at the Wartburg...

    • 8: Theodor Storm’s Der Schimmelreiter: Schauerrealismus or Gothic Realism in the Family Periodical
      (pp. 144-162)
      Christiane Arndt

      Theodor Storm’s final novella, Der Schimmelreiter (The Rider on the White Horse, 1888), did not immediately become a bestseller upon publication. Only later did it establish itself as one of the most widely read novellas in the German language.¹ Nonetheless, the text can productively serve as the starting point for a discussion of the material conditions influencing literary production in the late nineteenth century. This chapter brings together several different approaches to Storm’s story. It examines Der Schimmelreiter in the context of the mass production of literature, as well as the problematic status of the uncanny in literary realism² and...

  9. Part III: Imagination and Identification

    • 9: Selling the Experience of the New World: Balduin Möllhausen’s Novellistic Imagination of America
      (pp. 165-181)
      Peter C. Pfeiffer

      The lines from the Matthias Claudius poem Urians Reise um die Welt, mit Anmerkungen (Urian’s Travel Around the World, including notes) have become a common saying in Germany, capturing the promise that to travel means to have stories to tell. This promise of an intricate connection between the experience of new worlds and narrative also implies that there will be an audience, a public interested in such stories and willing to support their telling. Indeed, narratives about travels, whether through time or space, have been popular ever since Homer’s Odyssey. But only in the nineteenth century could they reach the...

    • 10: E. Marlitt’s Bestselling Poetics
      (pp. 183-205)
      Katrin Kohl

      The novels by Eugenie John, alias E. Marlitt (1825 87),¹ are central to the tradition of the nineteenth-century German bestseller. They were composed with the purpose of commercial success and were serialized in Ernst Keil’s Die Gartenlaube—Germany’s most widely read illustrated family weekly. Keil subsequently published the novels in volume form in large print runs and numerous editions, bringing their previously impecunious author financial prosperity. The remarkable popularity of Marlitt’s novels contributed significantly to the rapid increase in the circulation of Keil’s weekly from 142,000 in 1866, the year her first novel Goldelse (Gold Elsie) was serialized, to 382,000...

    • 11: Bertha von Suttner’s Die Waffen nieder! and Gabriele Reuter’s Aus guter Familie: Sentimentality and Social Criticism
      (pp. 206-223)
      Charlotte Woodford

      Bertha von Suttner (1843–1914) and Gabriele Reuter (1859–1941) began their careers out of financial need, writing feuilleton and trivial fiction for serialization. Their bestselling novels, Suttner’s Die Waffen nieder! (Lay Down Your Arms, 1889) and Reuter’s Aus guter Familie: Leidensgeschichte eines Mädchens (From a Good Family: The Sorrows of a Young Girl, 1895), combine with realism or naturalism some of the popular aesthetic strategies of that early work, including some elements of sentimentality. They use sentimental narrative style, in particular, to protest against gender inequality in contemporary society, and what they perceive as the aggressive masculinity of modern...

    • 12: Taking Sex to Market: Tagebuch einer Verlorenen: Von einer Toten and Josefine Mutzenbacher, Die Lebensgeschichte einer wienerischen Dirne, von ihr selbst erzählt
      (pp. 224-242)
      Elizabeth Boa

      In 1905, just a year after he began publishing his father’s works in twenty-one volumes, Friedrich Fontane, son of Theodor, published Tagebuch einer Verlorenen: Von einer Toten. Herausgegeben von Margarete Böhme (Diary of a Lost Woman: By One Who is Dead. Edited by Margarete Böhme). It sold 90,000 copies within a year, within two years reached its hundredth edition, and by the 1920s had sold around 1.2 million copies, not counting sales of the translations into fourteen languages. In 1918, Richard Oswald directed film versions of Tagebuch einer Verlorenen and of Dida Ibsens Geschichte (The Story of Dida Ibsen), the...

  10. Works Cited
    (pp. 243-268)
  11. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 269-272)
  12. Index
    (pp. 273-286)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 287-287)