Heinrich Böll Additional Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Heinrich Theodor Böll (buhl) was one of the most significant German writers of the postwar era. He was born in Cologne on December 21, 1917, to Victor and Marie Hermanns Böll, the eighth of eight children. He was educated in Catholic elementary and secondary schools.

The years of Böll’s youth coincided with some of the grimmest years in modern German history—the inflated economy of the mid-1920’s, the Great Depression of the early 1930’s, the rise to power of the Nazis, and the early years of the Third Reich. Victor Böll lost his business in the Great Depression. The family’s subsequent loss of middle-class status without clearly identifying with the working class caused an identity crisis that remained with Heinrich Böll and influenced his writing.

In 1937 Böll completed his secondary education and became an apprentice to a book dealer in Bonn. He was required to perform compulsory labor service during 1938 and 1939, after which he enrolled at the University of Cologne to study German and classical philology and literature. In 1939 he was drafted into the German Army, and he served as an infantryman until taken prisoner by the Americans in 1945.

Böll returned to his native Cologne in November, 1945, together with his wife, Annemarie Cech, whom he had married in 1942. Their first son, Christoph, died shortly after birth during the harsh winter of 1945. Upon his return to Cologne, Böll began to write short stories. In an interview during the early 1960’s, he admitted that he had always wanted to be a writer....

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Although Heinrich Böll belonged to the generation that was most attracted to the Nazis, he was never deluded by their rhetoric and promises. He even recognized their success in alleviating the distress of workers ravaged by a worldwide depression as achieved only by means of a conspiracy with capitalism.

Coming from a large family of Rhineland Catholics, Böll grew up in broad-minded Cologne, happy and well adjusted. Despite the nation’s hard times and the limited means of his father, who ran a small woodworking business, Böll’s childhood was rich in the pleasant qualities of German life alluded to in his stories: a loving family, decorated tables for special occasions, Christmas trees and songs, and flowers, gatherings, books, music, wines, and stately churches.

In 1937, Heinrich Böll was graduated from the Gymnasium (the German name for the demanding preparatory school). After a few months of work as a clerk in a bookstore in Bonn, he entered the University of Cologne to study literature. Previous labor service and an aversion to Nazi affiliations, however, led to his precipitate induction into eight weeks of military training, weeks that turned into six endless years when war broke out in September, 1939. Wounded four times and serving on both the Eastern and Western fronts, Böll, who despised the cause for which he was fighting, succeeded in surviving only by a combination of luck and desperate ruses. Captured on April 9,...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Heinrich Theodor Böll was born in Cologne, Germany, on December 21, 1917. On his father’s side, his ancestors were ship carpenters who emigrated from England centuries before, Catholics fleeing persecution under the reign of Henry VIII. On his mother’s side, his ancestors were Catholic farmers and brewers. Böll’s father was a cabinetmaker. In an autobiographical sketch of 1958 titled “Über mich selbst” (“About Myself”), Böll describes the hunger, poverty, and unemployment in Germany during the inflationary years of the 1920’s, topics that frequently recur in his works. He remembers the first money he received—a note for one billion marks with which he managed to buy a stick of candy. In an autobiographical...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Heinrich Theodor Böll (buhl) was born December 21, 1917, in Cologne, Germany, to Victor and Marie Hermanns Böll, solidly middle-class, liberal Catholics from old Rhineland families. Böll’s native region, the time of his birth, his parents’ class, and their moral and religious convictions all were strong influences on his character and works. Although his parents suffered from the inflation of the 1920’s and the Depression of the 1930’s, so that Böll sometimes identified his background as middle-class, other times as proletarian, the Bölls provided their children with security, understanding, and freedom but did not hide social problems from them. Devout but independent-minded Catholics, the elder Bölls taught their...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Although Heinrich Böll insisted that his characters were “compositions,” not psychological creations, they have psychological reality. Hans, the reification of the clown metaphor, is actually an opinionated, sensitive, sentimental, narcissistic, nonintellectual man. Leni, an archetype, is real in generosity, sensuality, and will. “As an author,” said Böll, “only two themes interest me: love and religion.” With a dichotomous cast of “compositions,” the evil self-servers and the persecuted pure, a contemporary sociopolitical setting, and a repertory of symbols, Böll condemned the sin of exploitation wherever it occurred and preached a religion of love made manifest in forbearance, generosity, and grace.


(Short Stories for Students)

Heinrich Böll was born December 21, 1917, in Cologne, Germany. The sixth child of Maria and Viktor Böll, Böll’s clearest memories were...

(The entire section is 553 words.)