Georg Büchner Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Karl Georg Büchner was born October 17, 1813, the oldest of six children of the physician Ernst Büchner and his wife, Caroline. The family encouraged wide-ranging intellectual interests—literary, political, and scientific—although the father was a reactionary conservative whose relationship with his eldest son was strained. Büchner’s youngest brother, Alexander, was a writer and a political activist who took part in the revolution of 1848 and later became a professor of literature in France, where the political climate was more liberal than in Hesse. His sister Louise also became a writer and a champion of women’s rights. Ludwig Büchner, a physician like his father and brother, become well-known as the author of Kraft und Stoff (1855; Power and Matter, 1870) and edited the first published collection of Georg’s works. (This edition had little impact, however, because Ludwig altered and “corrected” the text extensively wherever he found Georg’s linguistic expression offensive to the sensibilities of the bourgeois circle in which he lived and worked.) Another brother, Wilhelm, was a chemist, factory owner, and politician.

Georg Büchner grew up during the time of political turmoil that followed the collapse of Napoleon Bonaparte’s power in Europe. As a student at the Ludwig-Georg-Gymnasium (a preparatory school for the university) in Darmstadt, which he entered at age twelve, Büchner showed not only superior intellectual and academic abilities but also an inquisitive, skeptical, and uncompromising mind that was not easily influenced by convention. In his recommendation of Büchner to officials at the University of Strasbourg, where the young man matriculated in 1831 as a medical student, the school’s director noted not only Büchner’s academic achievements and his keen and penetrating mind, but also what appeared to the director as imprudence in certain judgments. For the politically radical Büchner, the...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Karl Georg Büchner (BOOK-nur), who died in his twenty-fourth year at the beginning of a promising career in both science and letters, achieved fame almost a century later as a brilliant dramatist and a significant literary figure inspired by the revolutionary Young Germany movement of the 1830’s. The oldest of six children, Büchner grew up in Goddelau, near Darmstadt, where his father, a former medical officer in Napoleon’s army, had taken service with the duke of Hesse-Darmstadt. From all accounts, his mother was of mild and pleasant disposition, but his father was a severe, freethinking martinet.

Having shown an early interest in science, Büchner prepared himself for a career in medicine at the University of Strasbourg and later at Giessen. During his two years at Strasbourg, he became engaged to the parson’s daughter, who later destroyed some of his manuscripts. In Giessen, he became a member of a secret revolutionary society and in 1834 wrote his famous political pamphlet Der Hessische Landbote (The Hessian Messenger). This document, widely circulated at the time, fell into the hands of the authorities, whereupon Büchner was forced to leave Giessen to avoid imprisonment. He returned to his father’s house and there, under police surveillance and in constant danger of arrest, wrote his first play, Danton’s Death, a powerful drama based on the personalities and events of the French Revolution.


(The entire section is 481 words.)