Friedrich Dürrenmatt Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Friedrich Dürrenmatt was a versatile and prolific writer. In addition to his dramas, he wrote radio plays, stories, novels, detective novels, prose sketches, film scripts, and essays on dramatic theory and on a variety of literary, political, and social topics. He also adapted plays by William Shakespeare, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Georg Büchner.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Friedrich Dürrenmatt was the best-known dramatist writing in the German language of his day. In productions of German-language playwrights in West Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, his plays were consistently among the most frequently performed. They have also been widely translated and are a standard part of the repertoire in theaters in the United States and in the other countries of Western Europe. Dürrenmatt was awarded many prizes for his works, including the literature prize of the city of Bern in 1954, the Schiller Prize in 1959, and the Grillparzer Prize of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in 1968. He received honorary doctorates from Temple University, Philadelphia, in 1969, from the University of Nice in 1977, and from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1977. A thirty-volume German-language edition of his works was published in 1980 by Diogenes in Zürich. Dürrenmatt helped to compile this edition, for which he also wrote new versions of some of his plays.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

The detective novel is not a highly regarded genre in German-speaking countries. Therefore, there were not many twentieth century authors of mystery and detective fiction in German, in spite of some promising beginnings in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries ( Friedrich Schiller, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, for example). Mystery and detective novels are considered trivial entertainment for mass audiences. German-speaking readers of detective novels are, therefore, mostly dependent on American, British, French, and Scandinavian authors in translation. Although Friedrich Dürrenmatt was one of the most successful dramatists of the European stage in the 1960’s and 1970’s, he did not hold detective fiction in the same kind of contempt that his colleagues, critics, and educated audiences were accustomed to display. Dürrenmatt was the only modern German-speaking author of stature to write detective fiction. He employed the detective novel to express his basic concept of justice, of humankind’s relationship to justice, and of humankind’s duty to work for a better world.

Dürrenmatt’s language is economical, deceptively simple, yet philosophically profound. For the most part, his characters are ordinary people, but there are also archvillains who display dimensions of metaphysical evil. His books portray Swiss life and have a strong sense of place, namely the city of Bern and its surroundings. As an author of detective novels, Dürrenmatt has been favorably compared to Arthur Conan Doyle, P. G. Wodehouse, and Georges Simenon. Yet, as Martin Esslin has noted, “unlike those writers, Dürrenmatt’s basic purpose is always deeply serious, even philosophical.” According to some German critics, Dürrenmatt dealt with the same topics as Dashiell Hammett, Rex Stout, and Raymond Chandler, namely with the conflict of two parties, one of which is represented by the individual detective. Working in this tradition, Dürrenmatt surpassed his models in terms of moral and metaphysical issues raised.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Arnold, Armin. Friedrich Dürrenmatt. New York: F. Ungar, 1972. A biography of Dürrenmatt, covering his life and works. Bibliography.

Birkerts, Sven. Foreword to The Inspector Barlach Mysteries: “The Judge and His Hangman” and “Suspicion.” Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. Overview of Dürrenmatt’s mystery fiction in general and of the two works printed in this volume in particular.

Chick, Edson M. Dances of Death: Wedekind, Brecht, Dürrenmatt, and the Satiric Tradition. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1984. A study of satire in German drama, focusing on the works of Dürrenmatt, Bertolt Brecht, and Frank Wedekind. Bibliography and index.

Crockett, Roger A. Understanding Friedrich Dürrenmatt. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998. A biography and critical analysis of Dürrenmatt and his works. Bibliography and index.

Dürrenmatt, Friedrich. Friedrich Dürrenmatt: Selected Writings. Translated by Joel Agee. 3 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. A selection of essays by Dürrenmatt about his craft, as well as fiction and dramatic works. Bibliographic references.

Jenny, Urs. Dürrenmatt: A Study of His Plays. London: Eyre Methuen, 1978. A profile of the dramatist along with critical analyses of his plays. Index.

Scanlan, Margaret. Plotting Terror: Novelists and Terrorists in Contemporary Fiction. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001. Includes a chapter on Dürrenmatt’s The Assignment. Bibliographic references and index.

Tiusanen, Timo. Dürrenmatt: A Study in Plays, Prose, Theory. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977. A critical study of the works and theory of Dürrenmatt. Bibliography and index.

Whitton, Kenneth S. Dürrenmatt: Reinterpretation in Retrospect. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. An examination of the works and life of Dürrenmatt. Bibliography and indexes.

Whitton, Kenneth S. The Theater of Friedrich Dürrenmatt: A Study in the Possibility of Freedom. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1980. An analysis of the dramatic works of Dürrenmatt, with special emphasis on the subject of liberty. Bibliography and index.