Adalbert Stifter Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to his novels and novellas, Adalbert Stifter composed a variety of essays on politics, culture, art, and education. Most of these writings remain relatively unknown, although among them are individual masterpieces that reflect the author’s intellectual power and sharpness of observation. His treatises in Wien und die Wiener in Bildern aus dem Leben (1844; Vienna and the Viennese in representations from life), a book that he coedited with friends, reveal his strong personal bond to Austria’s capital city. His political articles, many of which were commissioned by the government, underscore his devotion to the monarchy. In a deliberate effort to overcome the banality of everyday life through the use of elevated style, Stifter made important and lasting contributions to the essay as a literary genre. His most significant nonfiction works were published posthumously in Vermischte Schriften (1870, 2 volumes; miscellaneous writings).

Stifter placed a few short stories in periodicals; all of them are collected in Erzählungen. A year after his death, a three-volume collection of his letters appeared, and since then, scholars have edited other papers and the documents of his service as a public official.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Despite the critical controversy that still exists concerning the literary value of his works, especially the novels, Adalbert Stifter might well be regarded as the most important mediator of nineteenth century Austrian culture, landscape, and spirit. His first published novella, The Condor, was an instant success with the public. Most of his early narratives were received with enthusiasm by readers and critics alike. In Abdias the Jew and other tales that were collected in Studien (studies), Stifter revealed a serious attitude toward literature and a commitment to the dignity and majesty of art. The refinement of his prose won for him continuing acclaim during the 1840’s.

Later, critics and even serious writers of the time rejected Stifter’s novellas as shallow and inconsequential. The quiet author was especially pained by the criticism of the dramatist Friedrich Hebbel, who viewed his stories as trivial, judging Stifter incapable of writing about anything of substance. Stifter’s response to Hebbel, the novella cycle Bunte Steine (colored stones), with its famous preface, is one of the most beautiful collections of prose in all Austrian literature. Bunte Steine, however, was the last of his works to receive wide critical praise during his lifetime. His success declined sharply after the middle of the 1850’s, because Indian Summer and Witiko, his two novels (the other works listed above are novellas), were largely misunderstood. Following his death, Stifter was forgotten until near the end of the nineteenth century.

Friedrich Nietzsche, whose aesthetic enthusiasm was especially awakened by Indian Summer, must be given ultimate credit for the rediscovery of Stifter. Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Thomas Mann, who in turn developed significant appreciation for the novels, also participated in the Stifter revival. Witiko eventually came to be viewed as the only nineteenth century prose epic in the German language that is executed in elevated style with total and uncompromising logical consistency. Dismissed as harmless curiosities by many nineteenth century critics, Stifter’s novellas and novels are now recognized as monuments of a rich, deep, and highly moral spirit committed to the purity and ethical purpose of art.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Buckley, Thomas L. Nature, Science, Realism: A Re-examination of Programmatic Realism and the Works of Adalbert Stifter and Gottfried Keller. New York: P. Lang, 1995.

Danford, Karen Pawluk. The Family in Adalbert Stifter’s Moral and Aesthetic Universe: A Rarified Vision. New York: P. Lang, 1991.

Gump, Margaret. Adalbert Stifter. Boston: Twayne, 1974.

Haines, Brigid. Dialogue and Narrative Design in the Works of Adalbert Stifter. London: Modern Humanities Research Association for the Institute of Germanic Studies, University of London, 1991.

Jeter, Joseph Carroll. Adalbert Stifter’s “Bunte Steine”: An Analysis of Theme, Style, and Structure in Three Novellas. New York: P. Lang, 1996.

Mason, Eve. Stifter: “Bunte Steine.” Wolfeboro, N.H.: Grant and Cutler, 1986.

Ragg-Kirkby, Helena. Adalbert Stifter’s Late Prose: The Mania for Moderation. Rochester, N.Y.: Camden House, 2000.

Sjögren, Christine O., ed. The Marble Statue as Idea: Collected Essays on Adalbert Stifter’s “Der Nachsommer.” Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972.

Stone, Barbara S. Grossmann. Adalbert Stifter and the Idyll: A Study of “Witiko.” New York: P. Lang, 1990.

Swale, Martin, and Erika Swale. Adalbert Stifter: A Critical Study. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984.