Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4956
In keeping with the traditional form of the picaresque novel, Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen’s The Adventurous Simplicissimus is written from the first-person point of view, and the events it relates are presented as autobiography. The protagonist narrates his life history from boyhood to early manhood against the background of the Thirty Years’ War and its aftermath. The contents of the novel are highly episodic and often anecdotal in character. Even though supernatural incidents occur with some frequency, most of the narrative is realistic in tone. There is, in fact, much gross physical detail depicting the sexual escapades of the hero as well as the act of brutality committed by combatants serving on both sides of this savage conflict.
Like many other creative spirits of the Baroque era, the author of the Simplician cycle was preoccupied with opposition and contradiction. The Adventurous Simplicissimus is frequently described as contrapuntal in its contrast of dualities such as innocence and experience, civilian and military, Catholic and Protestant, and spiritual and mundane. Another prominent feature of the novel is its allegorical character. Although far less didactic than John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678, 1684), The Adventurous Simplicissimus is likewise an account of the journey of a human soul through the perils of a sinful world in a quest for salvation.
Of the various autobiographical parallels in The Adventurous Simplicissimus, the protagonist’s conversion to Roman Catholicism is certainly the most controversial. Many scholars suspect that Grimmelshausen’s own adherence to this creed was purely a matter of expediency. There is clearly much evidence in the novel to corroborate this opinion. At one point midway through the third book, Simplicius Simplicissimus informs a Protestant clergyman with whom he is debating the merits of competing Christian denominations that the doctrinal differences that separate these sects have nothing to do with the essence of Christianity. When Simplicius does finally convert to Catholicism, moreover, it is out of fear of the Devil rather than from any conviction in the absolute truth of Catholic theology.
In all likelihood, however, Grimmelshausen’s impatience with doctrinal disputes manifests itself most emphatically in the visionary exhortations of the madman who believed himself to be the great god Jupiter. In one of the opening chapters of the third book, “Jupiter” prophesies that Germany will one day play host to a national leader who will unify Europe under German hegemony and convene a church council to resolve all theological differences. After that, the prophet goes on to declare, anyone who continues to foster religious dissension will do so only on pain of death. In the light of twentieth century historical experience, the idealism that inspired this utopian vision has too much in common with the goals of the Third Reich to elicit any degree of sympathy from modern readers of The Adventurous Simplicissimus.
Grimmelshausen’s ardent desire to see religious unity restored to his homeland was a direct response to the horrendous suffering that he witnessed during the course of the Thirty Years’ War. This conflict, which lasted from 1618 to 1648, had its origin in the tensions between Catholic and Protestant rulers within the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation. Although the kingdom of Bohemia was traditionally part of the domain of the Habsburg emperors in Vienna, the Bohemian nobility struck a blow for religious freedom by choosing a German prince of the Calvinist faith as their king. Imperial forces soon reestablished Habsburg control over Bohemia, but their subsequent attempt to extend Catholic domination over other areas in Germany provoked a Protestant...
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