Friedrich Schlegel Biography


Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel (SHLAY-guhl) was a founding member of Jena Romanticism. Enormously erudite, Schlegel published and lectured on an immense range of topics, established literary and philosophical journals, and wrote in numerous genres. His father, Johann Adolf Schlegel, a pastor, had literary interests, and his brother August Wilhelm was a critic and translator; the two brothers collaborated on several projects.

A restless young man, Schlegel unhappily studied law in Göttingen and Leipzig between 1790 and 1793. He made friends with Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg) and, influenced by Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s studies on classicism, Schlegel quit law in 1793 to study philosophy and literature, resulting in his monumental treatments of Greek and Roman poetry. Moving to Dresden in 1794, then Jena in 1796-1797, and then living in Berlin from 1797 to 1799, Schlegel had contact with leading German intellectuals and writers, among them Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and Friedrich Schleiermacher. His early work contributed to the debate as to the relation between classical Graeco-Roman writing and modern poetry and prose. At a time when literary scholars paid scant attention to contemporary writing, Schlegel read widely in modern European literature; his essays and reviews on this work pioneered the relatively recently developed field of literary criticism.

Dismayed by the rigid generic constraints enforced by neoclassicism, Schlegel believed that writers should be free to make their own rules. He maintained not only that writers should devise unfamiliar generic combinations but also that they should engage in formal innovation. Athenäums-Fragmente embodies this aesthetic. Although the bulk of the text was written by Schlegel, his brother August Wilhelm and friends Novalis and Schleiermacher also...

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Behler, Ernst, and Roman Struc, trans. Friedrich Schlegel: Dialogue on Poetry and Literary Aphorisms. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1968. Places these works within the Romantic tradition and provides biographical information on Schlegel.

Critchley, Simon. “Unworking Romanticism.” In Very Little . . . Almost Nothing: Death, Philosophy, and Literature. New York: Routledge, 1997. Analyzes Schlegel’s contributions to Jena Romanticism and offers an incisive philosophical interpretation of his commitment to irony and the “fragment” as a genre.

Eichner, Hans. Friedrich Schlegel. New York: Twayne, 1970. A complete biography of Schlegel; this study is indispensable.

Firchow, Peter, trans. Friedrich Schlegel’s “Lucinde” and the Fragments. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1971. Offers historical background and in-depth critical analysis of these works.

Handwerk, Gary J. “Friedrich Schlegel’s Irony: From Negation to Conscience.” In Irony and Ethics in Literature: From Schlegel to Lacan. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985. A compelling and sophisticated analysis of Schlegel’s enigmatic approach to irony.