Alfred Döblin Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Under a liberal definition of the form, one would probably consider two additional works by Alfred Döblin(DOH-bleen) as novels: Manas: Epische Dichtung (1927; Manas: a verse epic) and Die Pilgerin Aetheria (1978; Aetheria the pilgrim). The consciously archaic verse form of the first and the relative brevity of the second exclude them from the category of novels in the view of at least some scholars.

Döblin also wrote short stories throughout his literary career, though the majority of them were written before 1933 and were typically first published in well-known literary journals of their time: Der Sturm, Der neue Merkur, Die neue Rundschau, and Die literarische Welt. Eighteen of these earlier stories were reprinted, together with six new ones, in collections in 1913 and 1917. Between 1906 and 1931, Döblin experimented four times with drama. All four plays saw production (in Berlin, Darmstadt, Leipzig, and Munich), but their respective legal, political, and critical consequences outshone their dramatic quality.

The best known of Döblin’s novels, Berlin Alexanderplatz, was adapted as a radio play, with script by Döblin and the radio director Max Bings, in 1930. In the following year, it became a film success in an adaptation written by Döblin in collaboration with Hans Wilhelm. (The overwhelming international acclaim given German cinema director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s...

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Alfred Döblin Achievements

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Two years before his death, Alfred Döblin complained, “Whenever my name was mentioned, they always added the name Alexanderplatz, Berlin. But my path was still far from ended.” The overshadowing success of that work does in part account for Döblin’s failure to establish a secure reputation for his entire literary output, and there are Döblin specialists who maintain that this novel represents the height and the end of his significant development. The other major obstacle to Döblin’s full recognition, during his lifetime and since, is his resistance to philosophical, theoretical, and literary classification. Thus, the daily Frankfurter Rundschau could characterize him as “a shrewd but uncommonly unstable writer who was incapable at any time of rationally disciplining his emotions and impulses.” It is perhaps an extreme portrayal, but nevertheless symptomatic.

Most serious critics attribute the difficulty in placing Döblin among twentieth century German novelists to his constant questioning of his own position, which for him meant no less than the examination and testing of the foundations of human existence. He had expressed that compulsion in the 1919 statement: “We only live once, it seems. Then existence must be the burning question for us.” Even near the end of his life, a convert to Roman Catholicism, Döblin would not retreat into a sham doctrinaire certainty of his own position but remained ever the questioner and ironic self-examiner.

Döblin’s public reception in postwar Germany was far from gratifying. A number of...

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Alfred Döblin Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Barta, Peter I. “Walking in the Shadow of Death: Berlin Alexanderplatz.” In Bely, Joyce, and Döblin: Peripatetics in the City Novel. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996. Includes notes and a bibliography.

Dollenmayer, David B. The Berlin Novels of Alfred Döblin: “Wadzek’s Battle with the Steam Turbine,” “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” “Men Without Mercy,” and “November 1918.” Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. In addition to separate chapters on the novels, Dollenmayer includes an introduction surveying Döblin’s career and a first chapter titled “The City Theme in Döblin’s Early Works.” A notes section and bibliography make this a very useful work.

Graber, Heinz, ed. Introduction to Reise in Polen, by Alfred Döblin. New York: Paragon House, 1991. The introduction contrasts Döblin’s attitudes toward Germany and Poland and compares his work to that of other Central European novelists.

Kort, Wolfgang. Alfred Döblin. New York: Twayne, 1974. A reliable introductory work with chapters on Döblin’s life as a German intellectual; his literary beginnings; his theory of the epic and his philosophy of nature; his handling of imagination and reality, history and science fiction, and mythology and modern existence; his attitude toward writing and toward Europe. Includes chronology, notes, and an annotated bibliography.

O’Neill, Patrick. Alfred Döblin’s “Babylonische Wandrung”: A Study. Bern, Switzerland: Herbert Lang, 1974. Part 1 is an introduction to Döblin and his literary career. Part 2 concentrates on the development of Babylonische Wandrung. Part 3 explores matters of form, structure, style, sources, materials, and humor. Notes and bibliography.