Alfred Döblin Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alfred Döblin (DEW-bleen), one of the most important novelists and essayists of the German expressionist movement, was born in the region of Pomerania, in the newly created German empire, in 1878. Although his parents, Max and Sophie Freudenheim Döblin, were both Jewish, they came from different backgrounds and had incompatible dispositions. After years of an unhappy marriage, Max Döblin abandoned his wife and five children. In 1888 Sophie Döblin moved her family to Alexanderplatz, a working-class district of Berlin that Alfred Döblin later made famous. He considered this family crisis to be the turning point in his life.{$S[A]Poot, Linke;Döblin, Alfred}

In 1891, Döblin enrolled in the Köllnisches Gymnasium and began writing seriously, but he concealed his work—including his first short novel, Jagende Rosse (galloping horses), completed in 1900 but not published during his lifetime—under pseudonyms. He studied medicine and philosophy at the universities of Berlin and Freiburg, then opened a medical practice in 1911 in Berlin. In 1912 he married a medical student, Erna Reiss, with whom he had four sons. While establishing his medical career, Döblin cofounded the expressionist literary journal Der Sturm (the storm) and published his first epic novel, Die drei Sprünge des Wang-lun (the three leaps of Wang-lun), in 1915.

During World War I Döblin served as a physician with the German army and completed his historical epic, Wallenstein. In 1918 he published Wadzeks Kampf mit der Dampfturbine (Wadzek’s battle with the steam turbine), a novel about a typical expressionist subject, humanity’s struggle against the machine. By the war’s end, he had begun to moderate his uncritical nationalism and supported the new German Republic enthusiastically. Nevertheless, Döblin exhibited a cynical attitude toward politics in satirical essays published under the pen name Linke Poot (left paw) and collected in a volume titled Der deutsche Maskenball (the German masquerade ball). In 1924 he completed his futuristic novel Berge, Meere, und Giganten (mountains, seas, and giants).

In 1929 Döblin...

(The entire section is 901 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Bruno Alfred Döblin was born on August 10, 1878, in the Baltic port city of Stettin, the former Pomeranian capital (now Szczecin, Poland). His father, Max Döblin, operated a clothing shop until its failure forced him into the tailor’s trade. Max Döblin was intelligent and sensitive but also passive and unambitious, a Western European Jew separated from his people’s traditions and sense of identity. Döblin’s mother, Sophie, was two years older than her husband and very different from him—sober, practical, and materialistic. She had come to the marriage from better economic circumstances, and she was its dominant partner. Many of the disparities and conflicts in Döblin’s life can be found partially rooted in his parents’ dissimilarities. In 1888, when Döblin was ten years old, his father abandoned the family for a young woman employed in his shop and left Stettin. His mother moved with the children to Berlin that same year, hoping to find among relatives there some assistance in supporting her children and meeting the heavy debts left behind by her husband. The emotional effect on Döblin was predictably traumatic. Attempts to mend the marriage came to nothing, but it was not until 1908 that his parents’ divorce was finally granted.

Döblin asserted later in life that the move to Berlin in 1888 had been his “real birth,” for he regarded the capital from then onward as his true home, and himself as a Berliner. He completed his secondary schooling there in 1900, began studying medicine and philosophy at the university, and began writing his first stories. He transferred to Freiburg University, where he specialized in psychiatry and neurology, and after earning his degree there in 1905, he served a year of internship in a mental hospital near Regensburg. The following year, he returned to Berlin and remained on hospital staffs until he could establish a private practice in neurology and internal medicine in 1911. All the while, the newly settled doctor in working-class East Berlin was combining a medical and a writing career, as he would continue to do until 1933. In 1910, he became the cofounder, with writer and art critic Herwarth Walden, of the expressionist journal Der Sturm, a publication that attracted the contributions of many antibourgeois writers of apolitical and anarchist persuasion.

In Berlin, Döblin also met Erna Reiss, a medical student ten years younger than he, whom he married in 1912, but not before having an affair with a younger woman who was neither Jewish nor of a well-to-do family. Döblin’s mother strictly...

(The entire section is 1057 words.)