Gerhart Hauptmann Hauptmann, Gerhart - Essay


(Short Story Criticism)

Gerhart Hauptmann 1862–-1946

(Full name Gerhart Johann Robert Hauptmann) German dramatist, novelist, poet, short story writer, and autobiographer.

Principally regarded for his plays of the late nineteenth century, Hauptmann is primarily recognized for initiating the naturalistic movement in German theater with his first drama, Vor Sonnenaufgang (1889; Before Dawn). Influenced by the work of Ibsen and Zola, Hauptmann become his country's most prominent exponent of dramatic techniques that sought to portray human existence with extreme verisimilitude, particularly focusing on the social problems of the lower classes. Hauptmann did not limit himself to drama, however, and produced a vast assortment of works in various genres throughout his long career. Likewise, his work ranges over a variety of styles from naturalism to romanticism to symbolic fantasy. Among his works of short fiction, Hauptmann composed a number of short stories and several novellas, including one that is widely considered his early prose masterpiece, Bahnwärter Thiel (1888; Flagman Thiel).

Biographical Information

Hauptmann was born in Silesia in 1862. He received his early education in Breslau (now Wroclaw). After a varied academic career, during which he studied agriculture, sculpture, and history—and briefly attended the University of Jena and the Royal Academy of Dresden—he eventually settled in Berlin and married in 1885. An active member of the Berlin literary community, Hauptmann began his career writing novellas with Fasching (which first appeared in the periodical Siegfried in 1887 but was little noticed until its publication in book form in 1923) and Bahnwärter Thiel. Hauptmann produced his play Vor Sonnenaufgang in 1889, and the work was immediately successful. The previous year he had traveled to Zurich and there made the acquaintance of a man who would provide inspiration for his next-published novella Der Apostel (1890). During the 1890s Hauptmann focused on drama, writing his outstanding naturalistic plays. A visit to Greece in 1907 offered the source material for his travel narrative Griechischer Frühling (1908). Additionally, his encounter with the birthplace of Western classical mythology proved a rich source of inspiration for his later works. In 1912 Hauptmann received the Nobel Prize for Literature and undertook a series of public readings to commemorate the event. Between the wars he wrote the novella Der Ketzer von Soana (1918; The Heretic of Soana) and produced an epic poem, Till Eulenspiegel (1928). Though he was an active supporter of the Weimar democracy and a critic of the Nazi regime, Hauptmann did not follow the example of many German artists who left the country during the Second World War. He consequently incurred much personal criticism for his wartime inactivity. The literary result of this period is Die Atriden Tetralogie, a reinterpretation of the classical myths surrounding the curse of Atreus. Having witnessed the bombing of Dresden and Nazi defeat by Soviet forces firsthand, Hauptmann died on 6 June 1946.

Major Works

Overall Hauptmann's short fiction is principally focused on the lower classes or individuals who live in or retreat to the margins of society. Thematically bleak, these works offer a cultural critique of life in the modern world. Hauptmann's first novella, Fasching, was based upon a newspaper story detailing a couple's accidental drowning. Its title refers to the Shrovetide carnival from which the sail maker Kielblock, his wife, and child are returning. Crossing a frozen lake at night, the family falls through the ice and all three perish. Der Apostel features a nameless narrator, a preacher whose interior monologue reveals his mental instability. Afflicted by despair and spiritual delusions, the “apostle” endeavors to reenact the life of the Christ. Der Ketzer von Soana recounts the liaison of a young Italian priest with a country girl, which culminates in a departure from his congregation so that he may become a goatherd. A blend of naturalistic and symbolic strains, Bahnwärter Thiel follows the mental decline of a working-class railroad flagman, Thiel. Covertly worshipping his dead wife, Thiel has since entered into a new marriage with a sexually-dominating woman who abuses his child, Tobias. The violent death of Tobias by a locomotive precipitates Thiel's tragic collapse. In a fit of madness he kills his wife and their infant child. Hauptmann's final novella, Mignon, relates its narrator's obsession with a young, wandering orphan girl. His short story, “Das Märchen” (1941) reveals the influence of Goethe's 1795 work by the same name. The piece also evinces Hauptmann's interest in the mystical and supernatural late in his life.

Critical Reception

One of the most celebrated German-speaking literary figures of the late nineteenth century, Hauptmann earned his notoriety primarily through his works of drama. Still, considerable critical attention has been focused on his short prose, particularly since his death. While Fasching is generally considered the work of an apprentice, Bahnwärter Thiel, written the same year, has been hailed by critics as a masterful narrative. At the time of its first publication in 1918, Der Ketzer von Soana proved to be Hauptmann's most esteemed prose work, and though it is still highly regarded, most commentators reserve their highest praise for Bahnwärter Thiel, which has become a standard on reading lists for students of German literature. Several critics have evaluated the musical qualities of Hauptmann's prose in Thiel, numbering it among the finest achievements in the German Novelle genre. Others have analyzed the complex imagery and shifting narrative perspectives of the novella, qualities that place the work beyond the confines of purely naturalistic prose and contribute to the contemporary perception of Bahnwärter Thiel as a significant transitional work of modern German literature.

Principal Works

(Short Story Criticism)

Fasching (novella) 1887

Bahnwärter Thiel [Flagman Thiel] (novella) 1888

Der Apostel (novella) 1890

Der Ketzer von Soana [The Heretic of Soana] (novella) 1918

Mignon (novella) 1944

Lineman Thiel and Other Tales (novella and short stories) 1989

Promethidenlos (poetry) 1885

Das bunte Buch (poetry) 1888

Vor Sonnenaufgang [Before Dawn] (drama) 1889

Das Friedenfest [The Coming of Peace] (drama) 1890

Einsame Menschen [Lonely Lives] (drama) 1891

Der Biberpelz [The Beaver Coat] (drama) 1893

Hanneles Himmelfahrt [Hannele] (drama) 1893

Die Weber [The Weavers] (drama) 1893

Florian Geyer [Florian Geyer] (drama) 1896

Die versunkene Glocke [The Sunken Bell] (drama) 1896

Führmann Henschel [Drayman Henschel ] (drama) 1898

Michael Kramer [Michael Kramer] (drama) 1900

Schluck und Jau [Schluck and Jau] (drama) 1900

Der rote Hahn [The Conflagration] (drama) 1901

Der arme Heinrich [Henry of Auë] (drama) 1902

Rose Bernd [Rose Bernd] (drama) 1903

Elga [Elga] (drama) 1905

Die Jungfrau vom Bischofsberg [Maidens of the Mount] (drama) 1907

Und Pippa tanzt! [And Pippa Dances] (drama) 1907

Griechischer Frühling (travel diary) 1908

Kaiser Karls Geisel [Charlemagne's Hostage] (drama) 1908

Griselda [Griselda] (drama) 1909

Der Narr in Christo Emanuel Quint [The Fool in Christ, Emanuel Quint] (novel) 1910

Die Ratten [The Rats] (drama) 1911

Atlantis [Atlantis] (novel) 1912

Gabriel Schillings Flucht [Gabriel Schilling's Flight] (drama) 1912

Festspiel in deutschen Reimen [Commemoration Masque] (drama) 1913

Lohengrin (novel) 1913

Der Bogen des Odysseus [The Bow of Ulysses] (drama) 1914

Parsival (novel) 1914

Winterballade [Winter Ballad] (drama) 1917

Indipohdi [Indipohdi] (drama) 1920

Der weisse Heiland [The White Savior] (drama) 1920

Anna (poetry) 1921

Peter Bauer (drama) 1921

Phantom [Phantom] (novel) 1923

Die blaue Blume (poetry) 1924

Die Insel der grossen Mutter [The Island of the Great Mother] (novel) 1925

Veland [Veland] (drama) 1925

Dorothea Angermann (drama) 1926

Till Eulenspiegel (poetry) 1928

Wanda (novel) 1928

Spuk: Die schwarze Maske (drama) 1929

Buch der Leidenschaft (novel) 1930

Vor Sonnenuntergang (drama) 1932

Die goldene Harfe (drama) 1933

Hamlet in Wittenberg (drama) 1935

Im Wirbel der Berinfung (novel) 1936

Ährenlese (poetry) 1939

Die Tochter der Kathedrale (drama) 1939

Ulrich von Lichtenstein (drama) 1939

*Iphigenie in Delphi (drama) 1941

Der grosse Traum (poetry) 1942

Magnus Garbe (drama) 1942

*Iphigenie in Aulis (drama) 1943

Neue Gedichte (poetry) 1946

*Agamemnons Tod (drama) 1947

*Elektra (drama) 1947

Die Finsternisse (drama) 1947

Herbert Engelmann [completed by Carl Zuckmayer] (drama) 1952

Five Plays (dramas) 1961

Sämtliche Werke. 11 Vols. (dramas, novels, novellas, short stories, and poetry) 1962-74

*These four plays comprise Die Atriden Tetralogie published in 1949.

Charles K. Trueblood (review date 1925)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Pagan Chorale,” in The Dial, Vol. 79, October, 1925, pp. 339-41.

[In the following review, Trueblood favorably assesses Hauptmann's novella The Heretic of Soana.]

Hauptmann—the Ibsenist, the Zolaist, the psychologist-lover of man—is also a Nietzschean and a great lyric pagan. The two latter have joined minds, in The Heretic of Soana, to write in a great round hand what might seem to be a foot-note to Der Anti-Christ, or a tremendous hymn to Pan. It is both and neither. Hauptmann, by what may be rather provident use of a familiar narrative device, has made it simply the autobiography of the heretic's heart, and a Novelle of force...

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Walter Silz (essay date 1954)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Hauptmann, Bahnwärter Thiel (1887),” in Realism and Reality: Studies in the German Novelle of Poetic Realism, University of North Carolina Press, 1954, pp. 137-52.

[In the following essay, Silz describes Bahnwärter Thiel as poised between Poetic Realism and Naturalism.]

With Gerhart Hauptmann's Novelle Bahnwärter Thiel we stand at the threshold of a new age in German literature, the period of “Naturalismus” that was to succeed “Poetischer Realismus.” The little story was written and published in 1887, the year in which Berlin saw the performances of the visiting Théâtre libre that were to lead two years later to the...

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William H. McClain (essay date 1957)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Case of Hauptmann's Fallen Priest,” in German Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 3, May, 1957, pp. 167-83.

[In the following essay, McClain considers Hauptmann's Der Ketzer von Soana as it displays a fallen priest's symbolic quest for meaning.]

Few contemporary writers have expressed more eloquently than Gerhart Hauptmann the great spiritual quest of modern man for a meaning for his life and for values by which he can live creatively. Even Hauptmann's earliest heroes might be called souls in search in the sense that most of them experience a conflict between inner self and outer reality. Thiel, Loth, Crampton, Schilling, Kramer, Heinrich the bell-founder,...

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John M. Ellis (essay date 1974)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Hauptmann: Bahnwärter Thiel,” in Narration in the German Novelle: Theory and Interpretation, Cambridge University Press, 1974, pp. 169-87.

[In the following essay, Ellis probes narrative technique and patterns of imagery in Bahnwärter Thiel, linking these to the work's theme of “rigid control and its loss.”]

With Hauptmann's Bahnwärter Thiel1 we return to a narrative in which the story-teller neither figures as a character in the story nor presents himself as an identifiable man telling it, but remains as the unidentified epic narrator. His story is, in outline, a fairly simple one, but his descriptions of the...

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James L. Hodge (essay date 1976)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Dramaturgy of Bahnwärter Thiel,” in Mosaic, Vol. IX, No. 3, Spring, 1976, pp. 97-116.

[In the following essay, Hodge interprets Bahnwärter Thiel as “a prose drama, patterned on classical Greek tragedy and influenced by a demonic, Dionysian concept of tragedy similar to that propounded by Nietzsche.”]

The symbolism ubiquitous in Hauptmann's novelle Bahnwärter Thiel (1888) has been interpreted from various perspectives. The trains and the weather have been interpreted by Professor Benno von Wiese1 and by Professor Karl Guthke2 as the expression of demonic forces. Professor Guthke specifically designates the...

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Larry D. Wells (essay date 1978)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Words of Music: Gerhart Hauptmann's Composition Bahnwärter Thiel,” in Wege der Worte: Festschrift für Wolfgang Fleischhauer, edited by Donald C. Riechel, Böhlau Verlag, 1978, pp. 377-91.

[In the following essay, Wells discusses musical imagery and the musicality of Hauptmann's prose in Bahnwärter Thiel.]

“Mein Werk, aus Tönen ist es aufgebaut,
aus schnellen Lichtern und aus Funkenblitzen,
und mit dem Ohre wird es angeschaut.“

(Gerhart Hauptmann, Der große Traum)1

“Die Tonsprache ist
Anfang und Ende der
Wortsprache … “

(Richard Wagner, Oper und Drama)2


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Robin A. Clouser (essay date 1980)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Spiritual Malaise of a Modern Hercules, Hauptmann's Bahnwärter Thiel,” in Germanic Review, Vol. 55, No. 3, Summer, 1980, pp. 98-108.

[In the following essay, Clouser examines the conflict between spiritual and physical natures in Bahnwärter Thiel, equating Thiel with a failed Hercules.]

Largely neglected until the middle of this century, Bahnwärter Thiel has recently begun to receive critical praise as a master Novelle and one of Gerhart Hauptmann's best prose pieces. Although it is an early work, Bahnwärter Thiel prefigures the major phases of Hauptmann's subsequent development—from poetic realism and...

(The entire section is 10891 words.)

Warren R. Maurer (essay date 1982)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Early Prose,” in Gerhart Hauptmann, Twayne Publishers, 1982, pp. 13-24.

[In the following essay, Maurer surveys Hauptmann's novellas Fasching and Bahnwärter Thiel.]


In 1887, upon submitting Fasching for publication, Hauptmann requested that his first name be spelled Gerhart (rather than Gerhard), an orthography he retained for the rest of his life.1 This minor change coincides with a much more significant change of aesthetic signature which was soon to lead to his most popular and enduring contribution: those many works that reflect an intimate amalgamation of personal...

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Robin A. Clouser (essay date 1986)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Pilgrim of Consciousness: Hauptmann's Syncretistic Fairy Tale,” in Hauptmann Research. New Directions, Peter Lang, 1986, pp. 303-22.

[In the following essay, Clouser analyzes the syncretistic symbolism of Hauptmann's “Das Märchen,” seeing that tale as one of a journey after death in the realm of another consciousness.]

Der Märchenerzähler gewöhnt die Leute an das Ungewöhnliche, und daß dies geschehe, ist von großer Wichtigkeit, denn im Gewöhnlichen erstickt der Mensch.

Gerhart Hauptmann, Einsichten und Ausblicke(1)

When a writer undertakes to speak of...

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David G. Rock (essay date 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Interior Landscapes: Narrative Perspective in Hauptmann's Bahnwärter Thiel,” in Modern Languages, Vol. 70, No. 4, December, 1989, pp. 211-19.

[In the following essay, Rock evaluates the narrative technique of Bahnwärter Thiel, viewing it as “Expressionistic” and “modern” in its abruptly shifting perspectives.]

One aspect of the text Bahnwärter Thiel which has always presented problems for A-level candidates is the description of nature. Most candidates have used the old Blackwell edition (1), and they have not been entirely well served by the introduction, since the editor, S. D. Stirk, is misleading in his...

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Warren R. Maurer (essay date 1992)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Symphony in Prose,” in Understanding Gerhart Hauptmann, University of South Carolina Press, 1992, pp. 127-39.

[In the following essay, Maurer explores the models and sources of Bahnwärter Thiel, discussing its relation to the German Novelle and analyzing its symbolism.]


In Hauptmann's development as a dramatist, a distinct progression in the mastery of his craft is discernible from 1889 (Before Sunrise) to about 1911 (The Rats). In contrast to this pattern, Bahnwärter Thiel (1888) (Flagman Thiel) is a highly acclaimed masterpiece of prose fiction created at the beginning of...

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Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)


Baumgaertel, Gerhard. “Gerhart Hauptmann's Theme of Engagement Manqué in the Critical Treatment of His Early Characters.” Revue des langues vivantes / Tijdscrift voor Levende Talen, No. 4 (Summer 1964): 307-35.

Discussion of seekers of truth in Hauptmann's works, including his novella Der Apostel.

Carr, G. J. “Gerhart Hauptmann's Fasching: The Grandmother.” New German Studies V, No. 1 (Spring 1977): 59-62.

Analyzes the emblematic function of the grandmother in Hauptmann's novella Fasching.

Driver, Beverly and Walker K. Francke. “The Symbolism of Deer and Squirrel in...

(The entire section is 448 words.)