Hermann Sudermann Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Hermann Sudermann came from a peasant family of Dutch Mennonites who had immigrated to East Prussia because of religious persecution. By the time Sudermann was born, his father had given up farming and was leasing a small brewery on the estate of Matziken. Although his father soon succeeded in buying a somewhat larger brewery in the Lithuanian town of Heydekrug, Sudermann’s youth was spent in petit bourgeois circumstances. His parents sent him to the middle school in the town of Elbing, but he did not remain there for long. On his return to Heydekrug, he became a drugstore apprentice for a brief time, until a knee ailment forced him to quit his apprenticeship. He was then allowed to attend the gymnasium (high school) in Tilsit. After graduation, he gained his father’s permission to study at the University of Königsberg. A stipend provided by distant relatives living in Russia contributed to his support. In 1877, he transferred to the University of Berlin, carrying some drama scripts tucked away in his luggage. Left by this time without any support from home, he tried to improve his financial state by submitting his poetry to some literary journals in that city. One of the editors took pity on him and engaged him as a tutor for his children. Soon, Sudermann accepted a second tutoring post at the home of an influential Berlin banker. The wealth of the Berlin upper classes, which so starkly contrasted with his own poverty, soon disgusted him, and he quit his job. Later, he drew on this experience for the rather biting portrayals of the leisure class in A Man and His Picture and Das Blumenboot...

(The entire section is 660 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The novelist and playwright Hermann Sudermann (ZEWD-ur-mahn), regarded during his lifetime as one of Germany’s great literary figures, was the son of a brewer who worked in the village of Heydekrug. The Sudermann family was Mennonite and from Holland; one of Sudermann’s ancestors was the moralistic writer Daniel Sudermann. Hermann Sudermann’s birthplace, the village Matziken in East Prussia, was characterized by a mixture of German and Lithuanian elements, and it was from the rich local strain of folk tales and customs that he drew late in his career in order to put new life into his work.

He received his early education at the Realschule in Elbing, but as a result of his family’s near-poverty he was compelled to go to work at the age of fourteen as apprentice to a chemist. Later he entered the Realgymnasium in Tilsit, and he received his advanced education at the University of Königsberg, where he studied philology and history, and at the University of Berlin. While in Berlin, to which he came at the age of twenty, he was tutor of the children of Hans von Hopfen, a writer by whom Sudermann was to some extent influenced in his own creative work.

In 1881 and 1882 Sudermann worked as an editor of the political journal Deutsches Reichsblatt. At that time his political views were fairly liberal, but after leaving the editorship he became increasingly conservative; he was later charged with allowing considerations of royalties to affect his political convictions.

His literary career began with the writing of short stories, and a first collection, Im Zwielicht, appeared in 1887. The...

(The entire section is 669 words.)