Gottfried Keller Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to his novels and novellas, Gottfried Keller wrote some masterful lyric poems, published in the Gedichte (1846; poems) and Neuere Gedichte (1851; recent poems). He also wrote political, literary, and cultural essays; these have been collected in volumes 21 and 22 of his complete works, Sämtliche Werke (1926-1948). His volume Sieben Legenden (1872; Seven Legends, 1911) is a delightful collection of stories based on Christian traditions but reflecting Keller’s more worldly outlook. Keller also produced autobiographical writings.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

A leading figure of poetic realism and considered by many the greatest Swiss writer of the nineteenth century, Gottfried Keller began his literary career in the 1840’s with only modest outward success. Even at the publication of the enlarged edition of The People of Seldwyla in 1874, only five hundred copies of the first edition had been sold. Not until after Friedrich Theodor Vischer, in that same year, published a favorable essay about Keller did the latter’s work find a wider audience. After that his popularity grew rapidly, and today his novellas are regarded as one of the peaks in that art form. Keller’s bildungsroman (novel of education) Green Henry is generally thought to be the most important prose work of the mid-nineteenth century and is often compared to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1795-1796; Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, 1824), by which Keller was influenced.

Writing at a time when the effects of the Industrial Revolution were becoming evident, when the world was felt to be becoming more prosaic, positivistic, and ordinary, Keller nevertheless was able to suffuse his works with a sunny, worldly blessedness. Standing at that great moment in Western thought at which the Judeo-Christian tradition began to crumble, Keller represents the secular outlook of the coming age combined with a feeling of security and assurance that life is whole and chaos no serious threat. Much celebrated in his homeland, Keller’s works have been translated into a number of languages.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bernd, Clifford A. German Poetic Realism. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Part of the World Authors series, this study looks at Keller in the context of nineteenth century German realism.

Buckley, Thomas. Nature, Science, Realism: A Re-examination of Programmatic Realism and the Works of Adalbert Stifter and Gottfried Keller. New York: P. Lang, 1995. Considers the role of science in Keller’s literary realism.

Flood, John L., and Martin Swales, eds. Gottfried Keller, 1819-1890: London Symposium, 1990. Stuttgart, Germany: Heinz, 1991. Contains eight excellent English articles, albeit with German quotations.

Hart, Gail K. “Gottfried Keller.” In Nineteenth Century German Writers, 1841-1900, edited by James Hardin and Siegfried Mews. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993. A good overview of Gottfried Keller’s life and works.

Holub, Robert C. Reflections of Realism. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991. Using a Freudian approach, Holub writes a thought-provoking analysis of Keller’s novella “Romeo and Juliet in the Village.”

Lindsay, J. M. Gottfried Keller: Life and Works. Chester Springs, Pa.: Dufour, 1969. A detailed exposition.

Ruppel, Richard R. Gottfried Keller and His Critics: A Case Study in Scholarly Criticism. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1998. A study of Keller’s critical reception.

Swales, Erika. The Poetics of Scepticism: Gottfried Keller and “Die Leute von Seldwyla.” Providence, R.I.: Berg, 1994. Focuses on the undercurrents and tensions that reveal Keller’s engagement with the social and psychological aspects of his time.