Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)
ph_0111207644-Werfel.jpg Franz Werfel in 1940 Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Franz Werfel’s sudden and dramatic explosion into international preeminence after the publication of the novel Das Lied von Bernadette (1941; The Song of Bernadette, 1942) tended to obscure the fact that this versatile author had already established an extraordinary reputation as an expressionist poet and playwright. In fact, it might perhaps be said that, with the possible exception of the American author Robert Penn Warren, no other modern writer has so firmly established his position in all three genres: poetry, drama, and the novel.

Apparently poetry was Werfel’s first love: He produced four volumes before 1919, and it was his concern with the expressionist lyric and his connection with the expressionist publication Der jüngste Tag (the Judgment Day) that led to his consideration of drama as a vehicle of expressionist thought. Indeed, there are many critics who hold that Werfel’s primary achievement lay in his contribution to the early development of expressionist poetry. It must also be remembered that much of Werfel’s drama is highly poetic; for example, in the original German, The Eternal Road is written in a dactylic-trochaic descending rhythm of Werfel’s own invention, a rhythm that Ludwig Lewisohn successfully reproduces in the English translation.

It was, however, the novel that established him as a popular writer. His first novel, Nicht der Mörder (1920; Not the Murderer, 1937), although brief enough to be called a novella by Werfel in the subtitle, is nevertheless considered to be a novel by most critics because of its depth and complexity. In Not the Murderer, Werfel explores, through the relationship of the protagonist to his...

(The entire section is 712 words.)