Baron Münchausen's Narrative of His Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia Essay - Critical Evaluation

Rudolf Erich Raspe

Critical Evaluation

The first edition of Baron Münchausen’s Narrative of His Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia was a rather brief document, almost certainly written in English by Rudolf Erich Raspe, a German satirist forced to seek refuge in England in 1775 after allegedly stealing gems from an employer. He never formally admitted authorship of the work but was named as the original author by Gottfried Bürger, who translated the work into German. Its great success in England prompted the publisher to add more material to subsequent editions issued during 1786, which might have been by Raspe, although a marked difference in style makes it more probable that another writer was responsible.

Late in 1786, a new publisher, G. Kearsley, produced his own rival version of Münchausen’s narrative. All the pirated material in this edition was considerably rewritten in a more pompous and cumbersome fashion, and much more of a similar stripe was added by an unknown hand. It is this text, originally titled Gulliver Revived: Or, The Singular Travels, Campaigns, Voyages and Adventures of Baron Munikhouson, Commonly Called Münchausen, that virtually all later editions follow in their early phases, although it ought properly to be regarded as a corrupt version of Raspe’s text.

Kearsley added yet more new material to his text between 1786 and 1792, at which point a new rival issued A Sequel to the Adventures of Baron Münchausen, whose substance was quickly coopted and added into Kearsley’s text. The author of these new materials remains unknown, but it certainly was not Raspe. To add to the complications, editions of Münchausen issued in France and Germany were augmented by native writers, thus diverging markedly from the parent text. In effect, the baron became common property and was adopted as a source and an authority for all manner of tall tales. The real Baron Münchausen thus found himself briefly notorious, somewhat to his surprise and much to his chagrin. He did not take kindly...

(The entire section is 825 words.)