HansJakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 922

The author of The Adventurous Simplicissimus could trace his descent back to a line of landed nobility that had established itself in Thuringia during the Middle Ages. In the course of the sixteenth century, however, the family gradually became impoverished, to the point that the author’s paternal grandfather, Melchior Christoffel, was forced to take up the occupation of baker and innkeeper in Gelnhausen, a predominantly Lutheran town located in Hesse not far from Hanau, and even stopped using his noble surname. It was in Gelnhausen that Hans Johann Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen was born.

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On the basis of autobiographical remarks to be found in one of Grimmelshausen’s almanacs, the year of his birth appears to be either 1621 or 1622, although subsequent scholarship places the date at or near March 17, 1621. His father, Johannes Christoffel, died a few years later, and his mother, Gertraud, soon moved from Gelnhausen to nearby Frankfurt in order to remarry, leaving her six-year-old son in the care of her father-in-law. The relationship between Melchior and his grandson was full of affection, and the character of the kindly grandfather was later depicted in fictional form in the person of the elderly hermit who plays a key role in the early part of The Adventurous Simplicissimus.

For six or seven years, young Grimmelshausen attended the only school in Gelnhausen, receiving, in addition to a thorough indoctrination into the Lutheran faith, extensive instruction in both music and Latin. In 1634, when he was about thirteen years of age, Gelnhausen was sacked by Croatian soldiers serving in the Imperial army. Many of the town’s inhabitants, including Grimmelshausen, sought refuge in the city of Hanau for protection by the Swedish garrison stationed there. A month or so later, Grimmelshausen was captured by Croatian soldiers as he was playing outside the walls of Hanau. His period of captivity under the Croatians was relatively brief; he soon fell into the hands of Protestant units composed of Hessians and was pressed into their service.

What happened to Grimmelshausen while he was with the Hessians is uncertain, but in 1636, at age fifteen, he found himself part of a cavalry unit in the Imperial army that was besieging the Protestant fortress of Magdeburg. He continued to serve as both a light cavalryman and a musketeer in various Catholic armies for the next few years, eventually receiving an appointment as regimental secretary to Count Hans Reinhard von Schauenburg, the commander of the imperial stronghold of Offenburg (a city near the Rhine River to the east of Strasbourg). In 1648, the year in which the Peace of Westphalia was signed, Grimmelshausen left his post with Schauenburg and served with the Bavarian army in some of the final campaigns of the war. He was discharged from military service the following year at about the age of twenty-eight, after having spent some fifteen years at war.

On August 30, 1649, Grimmelshausen married Katharina Henninger, the daughter of an officer who had served in Schauenburg’s regiment. That the wedding ceremony was performed by a priest is proof of the bridegroom’s formal membership in the Roman Catholic Church at the time of his marriage. Precisely when his conversion to Catholicism occurred, however, remains an unresolved issue. The marital union turned out to be a happy one, and Katharina was to have ten children over the next two decades. A week after the wedding ceremony, Grimmelshausen assumed the duties of a steward on the estate of Count Schauenburg outside the village of Gaisbach near Oberkirch. He left the employ of Schauenburg in 1660 and from 1662 to 1665 worked in a similar position at the summer residence of a Strasbourg physician. After a brief period as the proprietor of an inn in Gelnhausen called The Silver Star, Grimmelshausen accepted an appointment from the bishop of Strasbourg to serve as Schultheiss (mayor) in the Black Forest village of Renchen. He continued to occupy that office for the remaining nine years of his life. His last three years proved to be quite trying for him, owing to the warfare between French and Imperial forces that had engulfed the area. At one point in this conflict, he was obliged to resume military service for a time. Grimmelshausen died in Renchen on August 17, 1676, survived by his wife and six of their children.

Grimmelshausen’s literary career did not begin until he was nearly forty years old. In 1659, he published a German-language version of a French translation of Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moon: Or, A Discourse of a Voyage Thither by Domingo Gonsales, the Speedy Messenger (1638). The next year, Grimmelshausen published two satiric dream visions of his own, but his first significant works—Der satyrische Pilgram I and Der keusche Joseph (the chaste Joseph)—appeared later. It was, however, only after he became mayor of Renchen that Grimmelshausen became truly productive. In addition to publishing The Adventurous Simplicissimus and its sequels while at Renchen, he tried his hand at writing aristocratic fiction such as Dietwald und Amelinde and Proximus und Lympida. Except for these two heroic-gallant novels, which were published under his own name, Grimmelshausen made it a practice to conceal his authorship of fictional works by using pseudonyms that were anagrams of his full name. The Adventurous Simplicissimus, for example, was published under the pseudonym Samuel Greifnson von Hirschfeld. He also used eight other pseudonyms. It was not, in fact, until the middle of the nineteenth century, when interest in Baroque literature revived, that German literary scholars were able to establish the identity of the author of The Adventurous Simplicissimus.

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