Immermann, Karl Lebrecht
Karl Lebrecht Immermann 1796-1840
German novelist, playwright, and poet.
Best known as the author of Munchhausen (1839), Immermann is a transitional figure in his national literature, standing between the Romanticism of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century German literature and the realistic novels of the later nineteenth century. Immermann wrote during a politically and culturally turbulent period in Germany, after the Napoleonic Wars. Many of his works are satirical attacks on what he saw as the dissolution of the traditional moral and spiritual values which he believed inhered in the monarchist system.
Immermann was born in Magdeburg, into a family of Prussian civil servants. He enrolled at Halle University in 1813 to study law, but his education was almost immediately interrupted by the war with France. He entered military service that same year and fought at Waterloo in 1815, leaving the army a commissioned officer. Returning to Halle University, he became known for his public opposition to the nationalist student movements of the time. He wrote pamphlets against these groups and protested in person to the king—actions that alienated him from much of the German intellectual community, which was generally unsympathetic to the monarchy. After finishing his education, Immermann entered the Prussian civil service. He served as a judge in Magdeburg and then in Dilsseldorf, where he died suddenly at the age of forty-four.
Immermann wrote a number of plays that were indifferently received and have been assessed by Jeffrey Sammons as "of no more than antiquarian interest." He also wrote an epic in verse and was at work on his memoirs when he died. His best works are the novels Munchhausen and Die Epigonen (1836). The latter is his portrait of the disoriented character of his generation, overshadowed by the generation of Romantics that preceded them and fractured by the social and political dislocations that followed the Napoleonic Wars. The central character of Die Epigonen is a young man named Hermann who becomes entangled in a protracted struggle between a duke and an industrialist over the inheritance of an estate. In this work Immermann parodies aristocratic excesses, including an attempt to stage a medieval tournament. During the course of the often-convoluted plot Hermann becomes unwittingly involved with the nationalist student revolution. Immermann continued his attack on the values of contemporary society in Munchhausen. Half the book is set in a castle, where Münchhausen mysteriously appears and begins narrating a series of incredible tales to an old baron and his daughter. The character of Munchhausen is generally considered a parody of the romantic artist—a fantastic visionary who cannot survive in the practical, modern world. The book is divided between this satirical portrait of an increasingly irrelevant aristocracy and a compassionate, detailed depiction of German agricultural society. Immermann moves back and forth between Munchhausen's accounts of his adventures and description of the life of the peasants around the castle.
Munchhausen is so sharply divided between comic fantasy and social realism that some critics consider it two novels. Ferdinand Freiligrath has said the two halves are "rather connected by the thread of the bookbinder, than by a link springing from their nature." In fact, the village story was published separately as Der Oberhof (1863) after Immermann's death. Immermann's reputation has fluctuated since the nineteenth century. Critics who admire the ambitions of his satire have often been disappointed with his actual achievements, and many have noted his debt to Goethe, especially the influence of Wilhelm Meister on Die Epigonen. Immermann has been accused of a certain plodding seriousness, as if he were trying too hard, and Lee B. Jennings judges that "he lacks the saving grace of lightness as well as the unshakable certainty as to his own position." But most critics recognize the brilliance of individual passages in his works, and his novels are still widely read.
Die Prinzen von Syrakus: Romantisches Lustspiel [first publication] (drama) 1821
Die Papierfenster des Eremiten (novel) 1822
König Periander und sein Haus (drama) 1823
Das Auge der Liebe (drama) 1824
Das Trauerspiel in Tyrol (drama) 1828; also published in revised form as Andreas Hofer, 1834
Der im Irrgarten der Metrik umhertaumelnde Kavalier (drama) 1829
Merlin [first publication] (drama) 1832
Tulifantchen (drama) 1832
Karl Immermanns Schriften. 14 vols. (drama, novels, and poetry) 1835-1843
Die Epigonen: Familienmemoiren in neun Buchern (novel) 1836
Münchhausen: Eine Geschichte in arabesken (novel) 1839
Memorabilien (unfinished autobiography) 1843
Der Oberhof [Der Oberhof: A Tale of Westphalian Life] (novella) 1863
Werke. 5 vols. (drama, novels, and poetry)
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SOURCE: "Immermann's New Munchhausen," in The Foreign Quarterly Review, Vol. XXXI, No. XLI, April, 1843, pp. 5-23.
[In the following excerpt, the critic offers a general overview of Muinchhausen, arguing that the novel can be divided into two parts: comedy and social realism.]
The recent death of Immermann seems to have raised him to an importance in Germany which he did not enjoy during his lifetime; and if his productions were at one period less noticed than they deserved to be, they are now, if the little book at the head of this article is an index of national feeling, likely to be considerably overrated. Under the superintendence of the poet Freiligrath, a number of enthusiastic admirers have contributed each his mite towards the immortalization of their favourite author; and scraps illustrative of Karl Immermann are collected with the care and earnestness which distinguish the collectors of materials towards the life of Gothe or of Schiller. One tells us what Immermann did at Weimar; Freiligrath himself furnishes a few letters which he received from the deceased; and two critical gentlemen, MM. Kinkel and Schucking, give us a couple of critiques on the 'Merlin,' which, they inform us, is one of the most wonderful works that ever was penned; and hint pretty broadly, that although, from the time of its publication in 1832, it created no great sensation, it ought by rights to throw Faust...
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SOURCE: "Immermann's Muinchhausen and the Post-Romantic Predicament," in Kentucky Foreign Language Quarterly, Vol. X, No. 3, 1963, pp. 145-48.
[In the following essay, Jennings qualifies the common critical conception that Immermann intended to parody German Romanticism in Munchhausen.]
A common interpretation of Immermann's quixotic and mercurial protagonist Muinchhausen (a distant relative, as he claims, of the old liar-baron) is that he is intended as a parody of the romantic artist, the subjective visionary and dreamer who can no longer persist in a prosaic age.
As is the case with most claims to an "overcoming" of romanticism, this interpretation represents a half-truth. The most obvious counter-argument is that Munchhausen's tales are not so much parodies or exaggerations of the romantic technique as they are travesties of the inane journalistic factualities that seemed to be taking the place of idealistic and imaginative literature. His "lies" are truths deprived of their essence, facts with no real meaning behind them, prosaic phantasms quite in keeping with the spirit of the modern age.
To be sure, some element of romanticism is also implied in Mulnchhausen's flair for creativity, his inspired proclivity for spinning yams, his delight in play, and his very insubstantiality and occasional vagueness of identity. However, to say that this "romantic" aspect of...
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SOURCE: "The Dance of Life and Death in Heine and Immermann," in German Life & Letters, Vol. 18, 1964-1965, pp. 130-35.
[In the following essay, Jennings provides a detailed comparison of parallel scenes in Immermann's Die Epigonen and Heine's Florentinische Nachte.]
As a poet, Heine is deeply concerned with a theme both profound and simple: the struggle of beauty with the forces of death and decay. As a satirical journalist he was concerned with a number of more contemporary matters which have received a good deal of critical attention and will not be discussed here. The threatened effacement of beauty, however, obviously underlies even such a seemingly innocuous poem as the familiar 'Du bist wie eine Blume', and it is probably one of the few things about which Heine is sincere beyond all question. It is also a point with respect to which both his affinity for and his departure from Romanticism can be made plain. Heine is Romantic in his aestheticism, his glorification of an almost unearthly beauty, but highly unromantic in that this beauty is firmly anchored in this world and will be destroyed rather than liberated by the casting off of earthly shackles. At times there is, to be sure, an alliance of beauty with death to produce a weird dream world of lotus blossoms and nightingales; but there is not, as with Novalis, the feeling that this is a better or more complete world lying beyond the...
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SOURCE: "Karl Immermann and the Romantic Fairy Tale: Between Two Literary Poles," in Vistas and Vectors: Essays Honoring the Memory of Helmut Rehder, edited by Lee B. Jennings and George Schulz-Behrend, University of Texas at Austin, 1979, pp. 152-156.
[In the following excerpt, Holst uses a fairy tale retold in Muinchhausen to discuss Immermann's relation to German Romanticism.]
For almost half a century Karl Immermann was threatened by near obscurity or at best, remembered as the author of Oberhof, a fragment taken capriciously from the torso of his greatest novel and published separately as an impressive depiction of village life in the early nineteenth century. But of late this impressive literary and intellectual personality from the German Restoration period has been accorded renewed critical attention. Of the more recent endeavors, two works are particularly outstanding: Manfred Windfuhr's monograph and Benno von Wiese's life which constitutes the introductory volume of his critical edition of the works of Immermann.
One might still agree with Boxberger's devastating judgment that our great respect is due "mehr dem Streben als den Leistungen des Mannes." This statement, however, applies at best to Immermann's many ultimately unsuccessful dramatic and lyrical experiments. Quite another matter are his novels: the comprehensive depiction of his generation, Die...
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SOURCE: "Problems of Realism in Immermann's Die Epigonen," in Oxford German Studies, Vol. 16, 1985, pp. 66-80.
[In the following excerpt, Minden analyzes some of the literary devices Immermann employed in Die Epigonen to depict German culture in the 1820s.]
Die Epigonen (1836) cannot refer to the validating authority that the notion of realism was later to come to offer the genre of the novel. The absence of a stable mimetic focus is one of the most striking things about it … Sammons [in Six Essays on The Young German Novel] rightly observes: 'Every world that Immermann constructs, houses the potential of grotesque catastrophe.' The novel slips from register to register, or from language to language, so that each mode of discourse relativises the others. Indeed, as critics from Lauschus to Sengle have pointed out, this is one of the novel's greatest stylistic virtues. At the same time, because it is a novel, it cannot refer to the validating authority that resides in literary convention either. For Immermann, as for everybody else in German letters in the 1820s and 1830s, the novel was (despite the various advances made in different directions by Goethe and Sir Walter Scott) still to be counted amongst the 'an und fur sich … niedere oder gemischte Genres.' …
The novel's most obvious literary debts are to Goethe's Wilhelm Meister novels....
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"The Bildungsroman and Social Forms: Immermann's Die Epigonen," Ideas and Production 2 (1984): 10-27.
Argues that Immermann's Die Epigonen was extensively influenced by Goethe's Wilhelm Meister.
Kohn-Bramstead, Ernst. "The Change in Economic Equilibrium: 1830-1848." In his Aristocracy and the Middle-Classes in Germany: Social Types in German Literature, 1830-1900, pp. 44-67. London: P. S. King & Son, 1937.
Includes discussion of Immermann's portrayal of relations between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie in his novels.
Porterfield, Allen Wilson. Karl Lebrecht Immermann: A Study in German Romanticism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1911, 153 p.
Analyses Immermann in relation to German Romanticism.
Sagarra, Eda. "The Beidermeier Writers: 1820-50." In Tradition and Revolution: German Literature and Society, 1830-1890, pp. 86-114. New York: Basic Books, 1971.
Examines Immermann's portrayal of social and political upheaval in his novels Die Epigonen and Munchhausen.
Additional coverage of Immermann's life and career is contained in the following source published by Gale Research: Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Volume 4.
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