No Place on Earth Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

No Place on Earth presents the fictitious gathering of several of Germany’s leading Romantic writers and intellectuals at a country estate in June, 1804. Employing a technique of shifting narrative voices, the novel focuses on two writers from the Romantic period, Karoline von Günderrode and Heinrich von Kleist. While Kleist’s work would later become famous, Günderrode’s poetry would remain largely neglected until Christa Wolf published a collection of Günderrode’s writing, Die Schatten eines Traumes (1979), with an introductory essay that sheds light on both Günderrode’s and Wolf’s work. Wolf was working on the collection while writing this novel.

Both Kleist and Günderrode felt their talents went unrecognized and unappreciated in their own times, and both committed suicide shortly after this fictional meeting (Günderrode in 1806, Kleist in 1811). Wolf’s novel was also shaped by her frustration at the exile of dissident writer and singer Wolf Biermann from the GDR in 1976 and by her attraction to early German Romantic literature, despite the official GDR condemnation of it as dangerously subjective and irrational. All these factors coalesced in Wolf’s depiction of two early Romantic writers whose sensitive and intense emotions and idealistic beliefs put them at odds with their increasingly rational and materialist surroundings.

In their interior monologues and eventually their intense dialogue,...

(The entire section is 517 words.)

No Place on Earth Summary (Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

No Place on Earth is Christa Wolf’s vision of an imaginary meeting between the almost forgotten, though in many ways modern, German poet Karoline von Gunderode (1780-1806) and the famous German writer and dramatist Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811). They meet at a tea party at the estate of a merchant, Joseph Merten. Many of Germany’s great young minds are present. The entire action takes place in one long afternoon in June, 1804. For several hours, the guests move back and forth in Merten’s spacious living room, conversing and occasionally clustering around the tea table. Large windows overlook sloping, tree-covered meadows and a few rustic houses. At a distance, one can see the sluggish waters of the Rhine. As the clock strikes five, the guests decide to go outdoors for a walk along the river.

The novel has the dramatic intensity of a two-act play. The characters move within two sets. Their initial gathering in the living room permits a rapid introduction of all participants. Their individuality is established by showing them interacting with one another. Once outside, the action, such as it is, focuses entirely on the two main characters, Gunderode and Kleist, who separate from the group. The merchant’s invitation reads “Tea and Conversation,” yet the omniscient narrator, while recording some actual conversations, prefers to concentrate on the unspoken thoughts of Gunderode and Kleist. The narrator presents the protagonists’...

(The entire section is 436 words.)