Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although Anna Seghers (SAY-gehrs) was primarily a writer of fiction, known for her tightly structured novellas and novels that express the theme of revolutionary solidarity, there is extant a considerable body of her essays, speeches, and letters, notably the three-volume collection Über Kunstwerk und Wirklichkeit (1970-1971; on the work of art and reality). As a writer committed to communism, Seghers endeavored to define the concept of realism in the so-called debate on expressionism that took place among leftist exiled writers in the late 1930’s. After her return from exile, Seghers participated in the various discussions concerning the function of literature in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Her short stories “Die Hochzeit auf Haiti” (the wedding on Haiti) and “Die Wiedereinführung der Sklaverei auf Guadeloupe” (the reestablishment of slavery on Guadeloupe) depict liberation movements—albeit unsuccessful ones—in the Caribbean during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic period. Although these stories are not completely devoid of relevance to their time of publication, they do not deal directly with their author’s contemporary reality.

Also noteworthy is Seghers’s radio play Der Prozess der Jeanne d’Arc zu Rouen 1431 (pr. 1937; the trial of Joan of Arc at Rouen in 1431), which was adapted and staged by Bertolt Brecht. A collection of Seghers’s essays, Glauben an Irdisches: Essays aus vier Jahrzehnten, edited by novelist Christa Wolf, was published in 1974.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Because of her openly professed sympathies for the communist cause, there is no unanimity among critics as to Anna Seghers’s literary stature. Celebrated to the point of uncritical adulation in the GDR, her works have been far more cautiously received in the West. Whereas Western critics tend to emphasize those novels and prosenarratives that were written and published before her return from exile in 1947, East German critics regard Seghers as the chief representative of the new Socialist literature that portrays life in the GDR according to the doctrines of Socialist Realism. Seghers achieved fame and critical recognition as early as 1928, when The Revolt of the Fishermen, a narrative about an abortive strike and uprising, was praised as a masterpiece in the style of the New Objectivity and awarded the prestigious Kleist Prize.

The novel The Seventh Cross, a vivid portrait of life in Adolf Hitler’s Germany, was published in German in Mexico and in English in the United States. The degree of its popular success may be gauged by the fact that it appeared on several best-seller lists in the United States; Hollywood also produced a film that was based on the novel. Robert Pick wrote in the September 26, 1942, issue of Saturday Review of Literature that the novel “is not only the most important contribution to world literature made, so far, by any exiled German author, but also one of the most remarkable books to come out of...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Cernyak, Susan E. “Anna Seghers: Between Judaism and Communism.” In Exile, the Writer’s Experience, edited by John M. Spalek and Robert F. Bell. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982. Seghers is one of the writers discussed in this collection of essays about German authors in exile from Nazi Germany.

Fehervary, Helen. Anna Seghers: The Mythic Dimension. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001. A reexamination of Seghers’s life and work that focuses on her use of fairy tales, biblical legends, and mythology. Fehervary places Seghers within the wider context of Central European intellectual history.

Gutzmann, Gertruad. “Literary Antifascism: Anna Seghers’s Exile Writings, 1936 to 1949.” In Facing Fascism and Confronting the Past: German Women Writers from Weimar to the Present, edited by Elke P. Frederiksen and Martha Kaarsberg Wallach. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000. Gutzmann’s analysis of Seghers’s exile writings is included in this study of writers who were silenced by the Nazi regime. The essays discuss, among other topics, the authors’ representations of gender, patriarchy, and feminism.

Huebener, Theodore. The Literature of East Germany. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1970. Seghers is one of the authors discussed in this examination of...

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