Gustav Freytag Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Gustav Freytag (FREE-tahk) was trained as a philologist under Hoffmann von Fallersleben and Karl Lachmann. As a writer he represents the supreme application of German historical idealism to the novel in his most ambitious undertaking, Die Ahnen (the ancestors), an epical series in six volumes that carries the reader from the migrations of the fourth century through the development of folk and national consciousness to the revolution of 1848. This work evolved out of his scholarly volumes Pictures of German Life, a historical study of the German spirit that stresses the hereditary contributions of the lower and middle classes to national history and culture.

Freytag was editor of the Leipzig periodical Die Grenzboten from 1848 to 1860, out of which experience came The Journalists, his most famous play, an exaggerated satire of the newspaper office. His finest novel is considered to be Debit and Credit, a tightly knit account of commercial life that reveals his strong faith in the working class.

The greater part of Freytag’s work has been described as connecting realism with Romanticism, just as his method of writing involved channeling scholarship toward popular appreciation. His elegant style and clearness of expression were distinctive.

Some of Freytag’s other works include the critical volume The Technique of the Drama and The Lost Manuscript, a novel of university life. His works were often reissued and were first collected in 1888.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Carter, T. “Freytag’s Soll und Haben: A Liberal National Manifesto as a Best-Seller.” German Life and Letters 21 (1968).

Kaiser, Nancy A. Social Integration and Narrative Structure: Patterns of Realism in Auerbach, Freytag, Fontane, and Raabe. New York: Lang, 1986.

Price, Lawrence Marsden. The Attitude of Gustav Freytag and Julian Schmidt Toward English Literature (1848-1862). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1915.

Sammons, Jeffrey. “The Evaluation of Freytag’s Soll und Haben.” German Life and Letters 22 (1969).

Thomas, Lionel. Bourgeois Attitudes: Gustav Freytag’s Novels of Life in Nineteenth-Century Germany. Proceedings of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, Literary and Historical Section 15, part 3. Leeds, England: W. S. Maney, 1973.