Friedrich Dürrenmatt Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Friedrich Dürrenmatt was born in Konolfingen in the Canton of Bern, Switzerland, on January 5, 1921. His father, Reinhold, was a Protestant minister. In 1935, the family moved to Bern, where Dürrenmatt was graduated from the Humboldtianum (a high school) in 1941. In 1941 and 1942, Dürrenmatt studied philosophy, literature, and the natural sciences at the universities of Zürich and Bern, but he did not complete his studies. At this time, he wanted to be a painter, not a writer. During these years, Dürrenmatt read works by Franz Kafka (whose influence is evident in Dürrenmatt’s early works) and Søren Kierkegaard. He says that his greatest literary experience was reading Aristophanes, whose comedies helped shape Dürrenmatt’s own views of comedy. In 1946, Dürrenmatt moved to Basel; he married the actress Lotte Geissler in 1947. For a time, he tried to earn his living as a theater critic for the Bern newspaper Die Nation and later, between 1951 and 1953, for the Zürcher Weltwoche. In 1948, Dürrenmatt and his family moved to Ligerz on Lake Biel, where they stayed until 1952, when Dürrenmatt bought a house in Neuchâtel and settled there with his family. He died there on December 14, 1990.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Friedrich Dürrenmatt was born on January 5, 1921, in Konolfingen, near Bern, the son of a Protestant minister and the grandson of a Swiss Nationalrat, a member of the national parliament. In 1935, the family moved to Bern, where Dürrenmatt attended the local high school. Originally he had wanted to become a painter, but after studying German literature, art history, science, and philosophy at the Universities of Zurich and Bern, he eventually turned to writing, achieving his first success with his play Es steht geschrieben (pr., pb. 1947; revised pr., pb. 1967, as Die Wiedertäufer; The Anabaptists, 1967), which caused a minor scandal when it premiered in Zurich in 1947.

Also in 1947, Dürrenmatt married Lotti Giessler, an actress. In 1952, they moved to a home in Neuchâtel. His career as a writer was mainly that of a dramatist. By 1965, Dürrenmatt had achieved international fame with his plays Der Besuch der alten Dame (pr., pb. 1956; The Visit, 1958) and Die Physiker (pr., pb. 1962; The Physicists, 1963).

The first of Dürrenmatt’s detective novels, Der Richter und sein Henker (The Judge and His Hangman, 1954), was first published serially in a Swiss periodical in 1950. It was followed by Der Verdacht (1953; The Quarry, 1961), also published serially, and Das Versprechen: Requiem auf den Kriminalroman (1958; The Pledge: Requiem for the Detective Novel, 1959). All three have been reprinted frequently and have been made into films. They are favorite school texts in German-speaking countries, and they are frequently read in German-language classes at American universities. More than two million copies of The Judge and His Hangman have been sold.

During his career, Dürrenmatt received many prestigious literary awards and honorary degrees. To commemorate his approaching sixtieth birthday, in 1980 his Swiss publisher brought out a thirty-volume edition of Dürrenmatt’s collected works. His dramatic work, including adaptations and radio dramas, is collected in seventeen volumes. Six volumes are devoted to his novels and short stories. The final seven volumes contain his nonfiction and a bibliography. He died in December, 1990.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Friedrich Dürrenmatt (DEWR-uhn-maht) was one of the most important German-language playwrights of the twentieth century, the recipient of many international awards. He was born on January 5, 1921, in the Swiss village of Konolfingen near Bern, the son of the Protestant minister Reinhold Dürrenmatt and his wife Hulda, and the grandson of a prominent newspaper editor, satirist, and politician, Ulrich Dürrenmatt. Dürrenmatt completed secondary school in Bern; then, during the “darkest time” of his life, he fitfully studied philosophy, literature, and the natural sciences in Zürich and Bern. He also painted extensively, believing that art would be his career, and began to write, though publishing very little. His initial efforts were the stark short stories and sketches written between 1943 and 1946, then revised until publication in 1952 in a collection called Die Stadt.

These stories, which served as an apprenticeship for his later literary success, provide a glimpse of Dürrenmatt’s own troubled existence, which saw “the horror lurking behind the scenes” of life. Of the various literary influences on Dürrenmatt’s early work—for example, Georg Büchner and Ernst Jünger—the most prominent is Franz Kafka, whose haunting stories present a disoriented protagonist attempting to come to grips with his own shortcomings in an unforgiving world. The Protestant religious foundation of Dürrenmatt’s upbringing was tested as he wrestled with nihilism and despair: “The torture chamber is the world. The world is the torment. The torturer is God. He torments.”

In 1947, Dürrenmatt married the former actress Lotti Geissler and produced his first play, Es steht geschrieben (it is written), which was clearly influenced by Bertolt Brecht’s theory of alienation. This play, like the stories and many subsequent works, shows Dürrenmatt’s proclivity for revision: It was reworked twenty years later into Die Wiedertäufer. With Romulus the Great in 1949, Dürrenmatt began a series of dramatic masterpieces...

(The entire section is 847 words.)