Hans Johann Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen (GRIHM-uhls-how-zuhn) was the son of an innkeeper in Gelnhausen. His parents, who were Protestants, were probably killed in the sack of Gelnhausen in 1631 after that city was captured by the Hessians during the Thirty Years’ War. As a child, Grimmelshausen was taken prisoner by the Hessian and Croat soldiers. Later he was in the Hessian ranks, where he served until the war ended in 1648. During this time, he apparently began writing down what he saw, perhaps even organizing what he wrote.
Upon leaving military service in 1648, Grimmelshausen became a bailiff or administrator for the estates of a noble family near Gaisbach. After twelve years of service there, he was dismissed, but he found a similar position with another family, which he retained for five years. Early in the 1660’s, Grimmelshausen became a convert to Roman Catholicism. Whether his conversion was prompted by spiritual reasons has been questioned by some scholars of German literature, but certainly some worldly benefit resulted from his conversion. In 1667, the bishop of Strassbourg made Grimmelshausen an administrator of lands in Renchen, in the Black Forest in Bavaria.
Whatever writings he may have done before 1665 can only be conjectured, but after that date Grimmelshausen seems to have written regularly to augment a rather slender income. His best work, and his most widely known, is The Adventurous Simplicissimus, a picaresque novel published in several parts in 1669. The book is semiautobiographical, beginning with the childhood of the hero and realistically describing his adventures during the Thirty Years’ War. The realism, which makes the book a valuable social document, proved too much for the nineteenth century, whose critics condemned both the novel and its author for bad taste. In the latter part of the book, the mood changes when Simplicissimus seeks a spiritual peace by renunciation of the world for life on a desert island. Courage: The Adventuress is a somewhat similar novel about the career of a female rogue. While most of Grimmelshausen’s work deals with the common people, he also wrote three novels about courtly life: Der keusche Joseph (the innocent Joseph), Dietwald und Amelinde, and Proximus und Lympida.
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.
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...
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