Christa Wolf (vawlf) is one of the most prominent novelists of the former East Germany. Born in the eastern part of Germany in what would later become Gorzów Wielkopolski, Poland, she joined the German Socialist Party at the age of twenty and was a student of German literature at the Universities of Jena and Leipzig from 1949 to 1953. Wolf married in 1951; she gave birth to a daughter in the following year and to a second daughter in 1956. She worked as a literary critic until 1959, then began living as an independent writer in East Berlin in 1962. She received numerous prestigious literary honors in both German nations. Wolf resigned from the Socialist Party in 1989 and later spoke out against reunification with West Germany. After the publication of What Remains in 1990, she was attacked by West German critics for loyalty to the Socialist party despite earlier East German attacks on her work.
Wolf’s writings are a creative and refreshing turn from the East German literature of the 1950’s, which was by and large dominated by the style of socialist realism, a programmatic literature dictated by the political and social goals of socialist society. Literary works were expected to provide positive models of behavior for the socialist individual—self-sacrifice for the group’s goals, for example—and any problematic themes, such as alienation within socialist society, were to be avoided. Wolf’s works began to examine difficult and even embarrassing issues of socialist society.
Wolf’s first major novel, Divided Heaven, suggests her commitment to the East German nation and its socialist program. Despite its somewhat immature, even trivial plot, the painful decision of the novel’s heroine, Rita, not to follow her lover to West Germany but to remain in the East with the factory workers’ brigade that she has come to know and trust exemplifies the kind of inner conflict that plagues some of Wolf’s later characters: a deeply felt commitment to the goals of the socialist country in which she believes, versus a personal need for individual fulfillment. This theme is continued in the innovatively written The Quest for Christa T., in which the narrator seeks to reconstruct from letters, notes, and personal memories the inner life of her recently deceased friend, the schoolteacher Christa T. The latter was a dedicated member of her society who believed in—but at...
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Christa Wolf was born Christa Margarete Ihlenfeld, the daughter of a grocer, March 18, 1929, in Landsberg an der Warthe, Germany, now Gorzów, Poland. Her middle-class background and her uneventful youth are remarkable only insofar as they might be seen as typical for many Germans of her generation: those old enough to have been influenced by the twelve years of Nazi rule, but too young at the end of the war to have participated actively in it. Wolf’s autobiographical novel Patterns of Childhood deals largely with these twelve years and explores the connections that exist between the committed Socialist of the 1970’s and the sixteen-year-old girl who confided to her diary that she would die if the Führer should. The flight of Wolf’s family westward from her birthplace is documented in Patterns of Childhood as well as in several of her other prose pieces. Allusions to her own years of studying German literature in Jena and Leipzig (1949-1953) may be recognized in The Quest for Christa T.
She joined the Socialist Unity Party (SED) in 1949, the year that East Germany was founded as a separate state with that party at its head. In 1951, she married Gerhard Wolf, a fellow Germanist and historian, and in the next years had two daughters, Annette (born in 1952) and Katrin (born in 1956). Her work as a reviewer and editor continued throughout these years. In 1959, she followed the suggestion of the SED leadership that writers go to work in the factories in order to gain working-class experience (“the Bitterfeld way to literature”). She worked for a time in a train-car manufacturing plant in Halle. This, along with the overnight construction of the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961, became the background for Divided Heaven.
Wolf’s public activities and her literary concerns became increasingly connected...
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