Gerhart Hauptmann 1862–-1946
(Full name Gerhart Johann Robert Hauptmann) German dramatist, novelist, poet, short story writer, and autobiographer.
Principally regarded for his plays of the late nineteenth century, Hauptmann is primarily recognized for initiating the naturalistic movement in German theater with his first drama, Vor Sonnenaufgang (1889; Before Dawn). Influenced by the work of Ibsen and Zola, Hauptmann become his country's most prominent exponent of dramatic techniques that sought to portray human existence with extreme verisimilitude, particularly focusing on the social problems of the lower classes. Hauptmann did not limit himself to drama, however, and produced a vast assortment of works in various genres throughout his long career. Likewise, his work ranges over a variety of styles from naturalism to romanticism to symbolic fantasy. Among his works of short fiction, Hauptmann composed a number of short stories and several novellas, including one that is widely considered his early prose masterpiece, Bahnwärter Thiel (1888; Flagman Thiel).
Hauptmann was born in Silesia in 1862. He received his early education in Breslau (now Wroclaw). After a varied academic career, during which he studied agriculture, sculpture, and history—and briefly attended the University of Jena and the Royal Academy of Dresden—he eventually settled in Berlin and married in 1885. An active member of the Berlin literary community, Hauptmann began his career writing novellas with Fasching (which first appeared in the periodical Siegfried in 1887 but was little noticed until its publication in book form in 1923) and Bahnwärter Thiel. Hauptmann produced his play Vor Sonnenaufgang in 1889, and the work was immediately successful. The previous year he had traveled to Zurich and there made the acquaintance of a man who would provide inspiration for his next-published novella Der Apostel (1890). During the 1890s Hauptmann focused on drama, writing his outstanding naturalistic plays. A visit to Greece in 1907 offered the source material for his travel narrative Griechischer Frühling (1908). Additionally, his encounter with the birthplace of Western classical mythology proved a rich source of inspiration for his later works. In 1912 Hauptmann received the Nobel Prize for Literature and undertook a series of public readings to commemorate the event. Between the wars he wrote the novella Der Ketzer von Soana (1918; The Heretic of Soana) and produced an epic poem, Till Eulenspiegel (1928). Though he was an active supporter of the Weimar democracy and a critic of the Nazi regime, Hauptmann did not follow the example of many German artists who left the country during the Second World War. He consequently incurred much personal criticism for his wartime inactivity. The literary result of this period is Die Atriden Tetralogie, a reinterpretation of the classical myths surrounding the curse of Atreus. Having witnessed the bombing of Dresden and Nazi defeat by Soviet forces firsthand, Hauptmann died on 6 June 1946.
Overall Hauptmann's short fiction is principally focused on the lower classes or individuals who live in or retreat to the margins of society. Thematically bleak, these works offer a cultural critique of life in the modern world. Hauptmann's first novella, Fasching, was based upon a newspaper story detailing a couple's accidental drowning. Its title refers to the Shrovetide carnival from which the sail maker Kielblock, his wife, and child are returning. Crossing a frozen lake at night, the family falls through the ice and all three perish. Der Apostel features a nameless narrator, a preacher whose interior monologue reveals his mental instability. Afflicted by despair and spiritual delusions, the “apostle” endeavors to reenact the life of the Christ. Der Ketzer von Soana recounts the liaison of a young Italian priest with a country girl, which culminates in a departure from his congregation so that he may become a goatherd. A blend of naturalistic and symbolic strains, Bahnwärter Thiel follows the mental decline of a working-class railroad flagman, Thiel. Covertly worshipping his dead wife, Thiel has since entered into a new marriage with a sexually-dominating woman who abuses his child, Tobias. The violent death of Tobias by a locomotive precipitates Thiel's tragic collapse. In a fit of madness he kills his wife and their infant child. Hauptmann's final novella, Mignon, relates its narrator's obsession with a young, wandering orphan girl. His short story, “Das Märchen” (1941) reveals the influence of Goethe's 1795 work by the same name. The piece also evinces Hauptmann's interest in the mystical and supernatural late in his life.
One of the most celebrated German-speaking literary figures of the late nineteenth century, Hauptmann earned his notoriety primarily through his works of drama. Still, considerable critical attention has been focused on his short prose, particularly since his death. While Fasching is generally considered the work of an apprentice, Bahnwärter Thiel, written the same year, has been hailed by critics as a masterful narrative. At the time of its first publication in 1918, Der Ketzer von Soana proved to be Hauptmann's most esteemed prose work, and though it is still highly regarded, most commentators reserve their highest praise for Bahnwärter Thiel, which has become a standard on reading lists for students of German literature. Several critics have evaluated the musical qualities of Hauptmann's prose in Thiel, numbering it among the finest achievements in the German Novelle genre. Others have analyzed the complex imagery and shifting narrative perspectives of the novella, qualities that place the work beyond the confines of purely naturalistic prose and contribute to the contemporary perception of Bahnwärter Thiel as a significant transitional work of modern German literature.
Fasching (novella) 1887
Bahnwärter Thiel [Flagman Thiel] (novella) 1888
Der Apostel (novella) 1890
Der Ketzer von Soana [The Heretic of Soana] (novella) 1918
Mignon (novella) 1944
Lineman Thiel and Other Tales (novella and short stories) 1989
Promethidenlos (poetry) 1885
Das bunte Buch (poetry) 1888
Vor Sonnenaufgang [Before Dawn] (drama) 1889
Das Friedenfest [The Coming of Peace] (drama) 1890
Einsame Menschen [Lonely Lives] (drama) 1891
Der Biberpelz [The Beaver Coat] (drama) 1893
Hanneles Himmelfahrt [Hannele] (drama) 1893
Die Weber [The Weavers] (drama) 1893
Florian Geyer [Florian Geyer] (drama) 1896
Die versunkene Glocke [The Sunken Bell] (drama) 1896
Führmann Henschel [Drayman Henschel ] (drama) 1898
Michael Kramer [Michael Kramer] (drama) 1900
Schluck und Jau [Schluck and Jau] (drama) 1900
Der rote Hahn [The Conflagration] (drama) 1901
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SOURCE: “A Pagan Chorale,” in The Dial, Vol. 79, October, 1925, pp. 339-41.
[In the following review, Trueblood favorably assesses Hauptmann's novella The Heretic of Soana.]
Hauptmann—the Ibsenist, the Zolaist, the psychologist-lover of man—is also a Nietzschean and a great lyric pagan. The two latter have joined minds, in The Heretic of Soana, to write in a great round hand what might seem to be a foot-note to Der Anti-Christ, or a tremendous hymn to Pan. It is both and neither. Hauptmann, by what may be rather provident use of a familiar narrative device, has made it simply the autobiography of the heretic's heart, and a Novelle of force and charm, which has been competently rendered by the translator.
One can hardly recollect the psychology of the Fall more ably studied in brief compass than in this tale of Francesco Vela, sometime priest, all but saint of Monte Generoso. It is a series of pictures of a man's heart, each melting imperceptibly into the other; and thus a development of that novel actualistic psychology which Hauptmann was studying in Before Dawn, The Weavers, and Rose Bernd, and for which he has been blamed as a weakener of dramatic technique. The kernel of the method lies less in the thoroughness with which it dredges up each detail—however trivial, however squalid, if only pertinent—than in the effort to reach...
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SOURCE: “Hauptmann, Bahnwärter Thiel (1887),” in Realism and Reality: Studies in the German Novelle of Poetic Realism, University of North Carolina Press, 1954, pp. 137-52.
[In the following essay, Silz describes Bahnwärter Thiel as poised between Poetic Realism and Naturalism.]
With Gerhart Hauptmann's Novelle Bahnwärter Thiel we stand at the threshold of a new age in German literature, the period of “Naturalismus” that was to succeed “Poetischer Realismus.” The little story was written and published in 1887, the year in which Berlin saw the performances of the visiting Théâtre libre that were to lead two years later to the establishment of the “Freie Bühne” and the debut of its chief talent, the young dramatist Hauptmann who quickly came to be regarded as the leader of the new literary revolt.
Bahnwärter Thiel, however, precedes that year of committal. It is a Janus-faced work, with traits both of the era which is coming to a close and of the era which is about to open. This makes it especially meaningful and appropriate as a termination for our present series of studies. In Hauptmann's life, too, it comes out of the middle of a critical period of transition, the Erkner years (1885-1888) which Hauptmann himself in his Lebenserinnerungen entitles “Lebenswende.” It is Hauptmann's first narrative work, little regarde then or...
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SOURCE: “The Case of Hauptmann's Fallen Priest,” in German Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 3, May, 1957, pp. 167-83.
[In the following essay, McClain considers Hauptmann's Der Ketzer von Soana as it displays a fallen priest's symbolic quest for meaning.]
Few contemporary writers have expressed more eloquently than Gerhart Hauptmann the great spiritual quest of modern man for a meaning for his life and for values by which he can live creatively. Even Hauptmann's earliest heroes might be called souls in search in the sense that most of them experience a conflict between inner self and outer reality. Thiel, Loth, Crampton, Schilling, Kramer, Heinrich the bell-founder, Florian Geyer, Emanuel Quint, are all obsessed by an inward vision which they seek ardently to realize in face of an adverse reality. Unfortunately the striving of most of these characters ends in tragic failure. Personal failure, however, is far from being the most tragic aspect of their lives. At least equally tragic is the terrible isolation in which they carry on their struggle. All of these characters lack in varying degree the ability to communicate their innermost feelings, and from this inability springs their profoundest suffering. All stand thus alone in a world where true human understanding seems not to exist, and where man's natural human longing for genuine sympathy can never be satisfied. It is this basic situation of...
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SOURCE: “Hauptmann: Bahnwärter Thiel,” in Narration in the German Novelle: Theory and Interpretation, Cambridge University Press, 1974, pp. 169-87.
[In the following essay, Ellis probes narrative technique and patterns of imagery in Bahnwärter Thiel, linking these to the work's theme of “rigid control and its loss.”]
With Hauptmann's Bahnwärter Thiel1 we return to a narrative in which the story-teller neither figures as a character in the story nor presents himself as an identifiable man telling it, but remains as the unidentified epic narrator. His story is, in outline, a fairly simple one, but his descriptions of the settings in which it takes place are often outlandish. The forest, for example, has a strange appearance: ‘ Die Stämme der Kiefern streckten sich wie bleiches, verwestes Gebein zwischen die Wipfel hinein, die wie grauschwarze Moderschichten auf ihnen lasteten‘ (62). The moon appears as a ‘ riesige purpurglühende Kugel’ (65), and the sun on a fine Sunday morning has a weird effect on the landscape: ‘Die Sonne goß, im Aufgehen gleich einem ungeheuren, blutroten Edelstein funkelnd, wahre Lichtmaßen über den Forst …Von Wipfeln, Stämmen und Gräsern floß der Feuertau. Eine Sintflut von Licht schien über die Erde ausgegoßen’ (54). The description of the train is no less grotesque: ‘Zwei rote, runde Lichter durchdrangen wie die...
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SOURCE: “The Dramaturgy of Bahnwärter Thiel,” in Mosaic, Vol. IX, No. 3, Spring, 1976, pp. 97-116.
[In the following essay, Hodge interprets Bahnwärter Thiel as “a prose drama, patterned on classical Greek tragedy and influenced by a demonic, Dionysian concept of tragedy similar to that propounded by Nietzsche.”]
The symbolism ubiquitous in Hauptmann's novelle Bahnwärter Thiel (1888) has been interpreted from various perspectives. The trains and the weather have been interpreted by Professor Benno von Wiese1 and by Professor Karl Guthke2 as the expression of demonic forces. Professor Guthke specifically designates the demonic forces in Bahnwärter Thiel as “natural and technological.” Some of the other symbols, such as the two stags and the two squirrels, have been interpreted by Marianne Ordon3 as animal symbols for Thiel and Tobias.
Further interpretations of Bahnwärter Thiel should identify and explain the demonic power which underlies the technological and meteorological terror of trains and weather, and should encompass those other symbols which, Ordon suggests, should be the object of cooperative scholarly effort: the wine-bottles, the other animals, and so forth. One interpretation of Bahnwärter Thiel which comprehends all of the symbolism hitherto recognized in the story may be stated as a...
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SOURCE: “Words of Music: Gerhart Hauptmann's Composition Bahnwärter Thiel,” in Wege der Worte: Festschrift für Wolfgang Fleischhauer, edited by Donald C. Riechel, Böhlau Verlag, 1978, pp. 377-91.
[In the following essay, Wells discusses musical imagery and the musicality of Hauptmann's prose in Bahnwärter Thiel.]
“Mein Werk, aus Tönen ist es aufgebaut, aus schnellen Lichtern und aus Funkenblitzen, und mit dem Ohre wird es angeschaut.“
(Gerhart Hauptmann, Der große Traum)1
“Die Tonsprache ist Anfang und Ende der Wortsprache … “
(Richard Wagner, Oper und Drama)2
Much of Gerhart Hauptmann's work is characterized by rich and at times flamboyant tonality and the synaesthetic blend of visual and acoustic imagery alluded to in Der große Traum. We may marvel at melodic masterpieces of the Minnesänger or the Romantics, but Hauptmann's works resound with no less tonality and effulgence. Certainly few Hauptmann readers could disagree with at least the first of Rolf Ibscher's observations “daß gerade das innige Verhältnis zur Welt des Klanges in weitestem Sinne, dieses music in himself, als schaffenspsychologische wesentliche Grundlage seiner Begabung, mithin als gewichtigste Komponente seines Schaffens, die eigene Note seiner Darstellungsmittel bestimmend, betrachtet werden...
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SOURCE: “The Spiritual Malaise of a Modern Hercules, Hauptmann's Bahnwärter Thiel,” in Germanic Review, Vol. 55, No. 3, Summer, 1980, pp. 98-108.
[In the following essay, Clouser examines the conflict between spiritual and physical natures in Bahnwärter Thiel, equating Thiel with a failed Hercules.]
Largely neglected until the middle of this century, Bahnwärter Thiel has recently begun to receive critical praise as a master Novelle and one of Gerhart Hauptmann's best prose pieces. Although it is an early work, Bahnwärter Thiel prefigures the major phases of Hauptmann's subsequent development—from poetic realism and naturalism, through mystic neo-romanticism and psychological realism, to modernizations of Hellenic myth. Thiel's story is both timeless and contemporary: the suffering of an oppressed human spirit at the dawn of the technical age. The soul of the protagonist, a meek signalman, is severely tried, first by the death of his adored wraith-wife Minna, then by his dominating and brutal second wife Lene. The emblematic wives and the tale's technological symbolism emphasize the opposite potentials of the human psyche.1 Hauptmann's sympathetic delineation shows how a burly but gentle modern man comes to be spiritually subservient to physical forces. By subtle reference to Thiel's likeness to Hercules, Hauptmann ironically compares Thiel with a...
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SOURCE: “Early Prose,” in Gerhart Hauptmann, Twayne Publishers, 1982, pp. 13-24.
[In the following essay, Maurer surveys Hauptmann's novellas Fasching and Bahnwärter Thiel.]
In 1887, upon submitting Fasching for publication, Hauptmann requested that his first name be spelled Gerhart (rather than Gerhard), an orthography he retained for the rest of his life.1 This minor change coincides with a much more significant change of aesthetic signature which was soon to lead to his most popular and enduring contribution: those many works that reflect an intimate amalgamation of personal experience, a vibrant sense of landscape, and warm portrayal of ordinary people confronted by forces and events too overwhelming to comprehend.
Due to the general disrepute of contemporary theater, combined with his attraction to Turgenev, Tolstoy, Zola, and Daudet,2 Hauptmann turned to prose fiction and his first successful efforts in his new style were the novellas Fasching [Carnival] and Bahnwärter Thiel [Flagman Thiel]. While the former still bears traces of literary apprenticeship, the latter is an undisputed small masterpiece. Together they transcend Naturalism even before it reached its apogee and provide a more balanced insight into the future author than the more decidedly Naturalistic...
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SOURCE: “The Pilgrim of Consciousness: Hauptmann's Syncretistic Fairy Tale,” in Hauptmann Research. New Directions, Peter Lang, 1986, pp. 303-22.
[In the following essay, Clouser analyzes the syncretistic symbolism of Hauptmann's “Das Märchen,” seeing that tale as one of a journey after death in the realm of another consciousness.]
Der Märchenerzähler gewöhnt die Leute an das Ungewöhnliche, und daß dies geschehe, ist von großer Wichtigkeit, denn im Gewöhnlichen erstickt der Mensch.
Gerhart Hauptmann, Einsichten und Ausblicke(1)
When a writer undertakes to speak of unfamiliar things, he runs a great risk of not being comprehended. Such was the early fate of Gerhart Hauptmann's “Das Märchen,” written in 1941 at age 79 after his decision not to join other German authors in self-exile from National Socialism. Early commentators were disappointed in the work, partly because they felt it was embarrassingly inferior to Goethe's “Märchen,” upon which the tale is initially patterned. The main resemblance between the two works is their symbolic complexity, which, in the case of Goethe's tale, had already given critics more than a century of headaches. Goethe's fairy tale has the advantage of an obviously optimistic and tranformational ending. By comparison, Hauptmann's seemed to early readers...
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SOURCE: “Interior Landscapes: Narrative Perspective in Hauptmann's Bahnwärter Thiel,” in Modern Languages, Vol. 70, No. 4, December, 1989, pp. 211-19.
[In the following essay, Rock evaluates the narrative technique of Bahnwärter Thiel, viewing it as “Expressionistic” and “modern” in its abruptly shifting perspectives.]
One aspect of the text Bahnwärter Thiel which has always presented problems for A-level candidates is the description of nature. Most candidates have used the old Blackwell edition (1), and they have not been entirely well served by the introduction, since the editor, S. D. Stirk, is misleading in his reading of certain aspects of the work, and this is most noticeable in his comments on some of the descriptive passages. For instance, on page xxv he notes: “Hauptmann gives a wonderful description of the setting sun. The moon rises, and for the last time the effects of light on the trees are described with the skill of a master-painter. The only word for this kaleidoscopic and flowing treatment of the line—its ever-changing aspects and moods—is Impressionism”. Stirk is using the term Impressionism here clearly in the sense in which it is applied to the French painters of the 1860s and 1870s. Their work was characteristed by a concern with the fleeting effects of light and a disregard for precise outlines, and by a general aura of...
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SOURCE: “Symphony in Prose,” in Understanding Gerhart Hauptmann, University of South Carolina Press, 1992, pp. 127-39.
[In the following essay, Maurer explores the models and sources of Bahnwärter Thiel, discussing its relation to the German Novelle and analyzing its symbolism.]
In Hauptmann's development as a dramatist, a distinct progression in the mastery of his craft is discernible from 1889 (Before Sunrise) to about 1911 (The Rats). In contrast to this pattern, Bahnwärter Thiel (1888) (Flagman Thiel) is a highly acclaimed masterpiece of prose fiction created at the beginning of his literary career and never quite equaled afterwards.1 Written in Erkner during the early morning hours around the period of the birth of his second son and published in the Munich Naturalist periodical Die Gesellschaft (Society), this remarkable German novella marked Hauptmann's debut as an author of great potential. Although considerably milder than that occasioned by such dramas as Before Sunrise, The Weavers, or Hannele, this work also provoked its share of controversy. While some early readers welcomed in it primarily a Zolaesque Naturalism applied to the portrayal of distinctly German characters and circumstances, conservatives and Marxists alike decried its seemingly bleak and pessimistic depiction...
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Baumgaertel, Gerhard. “Gerhart Hauptmann's Theme of Engagement Manqué in the Critical Treatment of His Early Characters.” Revue des langues vivantes / Tijdscrift voor Levende Talen, No. 4 (Summer 1964): 307-35.
Discussion of seekers of truth in Hauptmann's works, including his novella Der Apostel.
Carr, G. J. “Gerhart Hauptmann's Fasching: The Grandmother.” New German Studies V, No. 1 (Spring 1977): 59-62.
Analyzes the emblematic function of the grandmother in Hauptmann's novella Fasching.
Driver, Beverly and Walker K. Francke. “The Symbolism of Deer and Squirrel in Hauptmann's Bahnwärter Thiel. ” South Atlantic Bulletin XXXVII, No. 2 (May 1972): 47-51.
Regards symbolism contrasting Thiel's metaphorical imprisonment and the freedom of animals in Bahnwärter Thiel.
Dussère, Carolyn Thomas. The Image of the Primitive Giant in the Works of Gerhart Hauptmann. Stuttgart: Akademischer Verlag Hans-Dieter Heinz, 1979, 182 p.
Studies the giant figure as representative of irrational and vengeful forces in Hauptmann's works, such as Bahnwärter Thiel and Der Ketzer von Soana.
Hammer, A. E. “A Note on the Dénouement of Gerhart Hauptmann's Fasching.” New German Studies IV, No. 2 (Summer...
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