Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Christa Wolf (vawlf) is one of the most prominent novelists of the former East Germany. Born in the eastern part of Germany in what would later become Gorzów Wielkopolski, Poland, she joined the German Socialist Party at the age of twenty and was a student of German literature at the Universities of Jena and Leipzig from 1949 to 1953. Wolf married in 1951; she gave birth to a daughter in the following year and to a second daughter in 1956. She worked as a literary critic until 1959, then began living as an independent writer in East Berlin in 1962. She received numerous prestigious literary honors in both German nations. Wolf resigned from the Socialist Party in 1989 and later spoke out against reunification with West Germany. After the publication of What Remains in 1990, she was attacked by West German critics for loyalty to the Socialist party despite earlier East German attacks on her work.
Wolf’s writings are a creative and refreshing turn from the East German literature of the 1950’s, which was by and large dominated by the style of socialist realism, a programmatic literature dictated by the political and social goals of socialist society. Literary works were expected to provide positive models of behavior for the socialist individual—self-sacrifice for the group’s goals, for example—and any problematic themes, such as alienation within socialist society, were to be avoided. Wolf’s works began to examine difficult and even embarrassing issues of socialist society.
Wolf’s first major novel, Divided Heaven, suggests her commitment to the East German nation and its socialist program. Despite its somewhat immature, even trivial plot, the painful decision of the novel’s heroine, Rita, not to follow her lover to West Germany but to remain in the East with the factory workers’ brigade that she has come to know and trust exemplifies the kind of inner conflict that plagues some of Wolf’s later characters: a deeply felt commitment to the goals of the socialist country in which she believes, versus a personal need for individual fulfillment. This theme is continued in the innovatively written The Quest for Christa T., in which the narrator seeks to reconstruct from letters, notes, and personal memories the inner life of her recently deceased friend, the schoolteacher Christa T. The latter was a dedicated member of her society who believed in—but at...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Christa Wolf was born Christa Margarete Ihlenfeld, the daughter of a grocer, March 18, 1929, in Landsberg an der Warthe, Germany, now Gorzów, Poland. Her middle-class background and her uneventful youth are remarkable only insofar as they might be seen as typical for many Germans of her generation: those old enough to have been influenced by the twelve years of Nazi rule, but too young at the end of the war to have participated actively in it. Wolf’s autobiographical novel Patterns of Childhood deals largely with these twelve years and explores the connections that exist between the committed Socialist of the 1970’s and the sixteen-year-old girl who confided to her diary that she would die if the Führer should. The flight of Wolf’s family westward from her birthplace is documented in Patterns of Childhood as well as in several of her other prose pieces. Allusions to her own years of studying German literature in Jena and Leipzig (1949-1953) may be recognized in The Quest for Christa T.
She joined the Socialist Unity Party (SED) in 1949, the year that East Germany was founded as a separate state with that party at its head. In 1951, she married Gerhard Wolf, a fellow Germanist and historian, and in the next years had two daughters, Annette (born in 1952) and Katrin (born in 1956). Her work as a reviewer and editor continued throughout these years. In 1959, she followed the suggestion of the SED leadership that writers go to work in the factories in order to gain working-class experience (“the Bitterfeld way to literature”). She worked for a time in a train-car manufacturing plant in Halle. This, along with the overnight construction of the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961, became the background for Divided Heaven.
Wolf’s public activities and her literary concerns became increasingly connected...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Christa Wolf (vawlf) was born on March 18, 1929, in Landsberg on the Warthe (now the Polish town of Gorzów Wielkopolski), the daughter of Hertha Jaekel Ihlenfeld and grocer Otto Ihlenfeld. Wolf and her family fled the approaching Russian troops in 1945 and migrated west to Mecklenburg. After World War II, Wolf was among the first to write about her personal involvement in the war without creating false, antifascist heroes.
She studied German literature in Jena and Leipzig from 1949 to 1953. Wolf later worked as a reader and editor for journals and publishing houses and served on the executive committee of the Writers’ Union of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). She married writer, scholar, and publisher Gerhard Wolf in 1951, and the couple’s daughters, Annette and Katrin, were born in 1952 and 1956, respectively.
Wolf worked for a time in a factory as a means of involving workers in literary activity, and she also was a member of a working writers’ group. She participated in several International Writers’ Conferences on Peace in the 1980’s, traveled extensively, served as a writer-in-residence at several American universities, and was a fellow at the Getty Institute in Los Angeles.
A dedicated socialist active in both the political and literary world of the GDR, Wolf protested the ills of East Germany while maintaining a firm belief in socialism itself. When East Germany’s political system was disintegrating in 1989, she appealed to her fellow citizens to build a new socialist East Germany rather than succumb to the economic allure of the West. Although unheeded, her appeal verifies her commitment to humanistic ideals in a socialist setting. As a feminist, antiwar writer, and independent thinker, Wolf criticizes the patriarchal and military complexes of both East and West.
Wolf became the center of controversy in 1990, after the publication of her novella, Was Bleibt: Erzählung (1990; What Remains, 1993). Written in the late 1970’s, the book records the experiences of a young woman writer placed under surveillance by East Germany’s secret police. Critics accused Wolf of being an opportunist who was willing to publish such a piece only when it had become both safe and fashionable to do so. This attack sparked a debate as to whether she and other GDR writers had been collaborators with or true voices of protest against a repressive regime. In a talk in Los Angeles in 1993, Wolf discussed the...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Christa Wolf has always been willing to criticize political and social corruption in the capitalist West and the communist East. A supporter of the rights of the individual in a socialist context, she also champions the needs of society as a whole (and particularly its most vulnerable members) in a capitalist context. Her stylistic complexity and her political courage and conviction make her work a compelling record of the shifting historical currents of the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first.