Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

When, at the age of fifty-nine, Jean Paul (zhawn pawl) took stock of his literary accomplishments, he arrived at the number of exactly fifty-nine books, one book for each year of his life—certainly a gratifying coincidence for someone who so clearly had lived in order to write. Jean Paul had started his career in literature with two collections of satires, Grönländische Prozesse: Oder, Satirische Skizzen (1783; Greenland lawsuits) and Auswahl aus des Teufels Papieren (1789; selections from the Devil’s papers). After 1790, inspired by a new sympathy for the unavoidable follies of the downtrodden in their narrow circumstances, the youthful critic became less censorious in his view of world and society. Over the next twenty years, Jean Paul wrote several short narratives in which unique blends of satire and idyll create shades of the comical, reaching from the subtly subversive praise of steadfast endurance in Leben des vergnügten Schulmeisterlein Maria Wutz in Auenthal (1793; Life of the Cheerful Little Schoolmaster Maria Wutz in Auenthal, 1959) to the grotesque farce of capricious cowardice in Des Feldpredigers Schmelzle Reise nach Flätz (1809; Army Chaplain Schmelzle’s Journey to Flätz, 1827).

During the turbulent years of the early nineteenth century, Jean Paul wrote a good number of important political essays. Jean Pauls Freiheits-Büchlein (1805; Jean Paul’s booklet of freedom) attacks censorship; Dämmerungen für Deutschland (1810; twilights for Germany), published during Napoleon’s occupation of Germany, counsels friendship with France and suggests that being governed by liberal foreigners might, after all, be preferable to being governed by illiberal compatriots. The same years saw the publication of comprehensive inquiries into what for Jean Paul were two closely related areas, inquiries into the theory and practice of art, his Vorschule der Ästhetik (1804; Horn of Oberon: Jean Paul Richter’s School for Aesthetics, 1973) and into the theory and practice of education, his Levana: Ein Erziehungsbuch (1807; Levana: Or, The Doctrine of Education, 1848). Jean Paul’s lifelong preoccupation with the experience of death and his research into humankind’s sense of immortality found expression in two religious tracts, Das Kampaner Tal (1797; The Champaner Thal, 1848) and Selina, published posthumously in 1827.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Jean Paul has often been called the greatest humorist in the German language. Yet despite this distinction, his fame continues to be transmitted by the lexicographer’s assertion rather than by any impact that arises from a wide acquaintance with his work. Even among well-educated Germans, few have ever attempted to read one of Jean Paul’s novels, and fewer still have persevered beyond the opening pages. Foreign readers have fared no better. Eric A. Blackall begins his analysis of Jean Paul’s novels with the warning that Jean Paul “is of all German authors perhaps the most difficult to interpret to a foreign audience.” What makes the appreciation of Jean Paul’s art such a formidable task is that his style places enormous obstacles in the way of even the most expert reader. It is a style in which everything direct, precise, and unequivocal in the description of the world has been dismissed in search of the contradictoriness and contrariness of all human efforts to experience it. With maddening mastery, Jean Paul thus designed an anarchic, shapeless universe that tries to be as exhaustive of its multiple perplexities as it proves to be exhausting of the reader’s sense of order and direction.

It is difficult to imagine how Jean Paul’s reputation as one of Germany’s foremost novelists could have survived had his works not attracted the attention of fellow writers. In the German language, the chain of his admirers stretches from the novelist...

(The entire section is 458 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Blackall, Eric A. The Novels of the German Romantics. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983. Includes index and bibliography.

Hammer, Stephanie Barbe. Satirizing the Satirist: Critical Dynamics in Swift, Diderot, and Jean Paul. New York: Garland, 1990. Compares Jean Paul to Jonathan Swift and Denis Diderot. Includes bibliographical references.

Minter, Catherine J. The Mind-Body Problem in German Literature, 1770-1830: Wezel, Moritz, and Jean Paul. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Follows the development of mind-body problems in the novels and nonfictional writings of Johann Karl Wezel, Karl Philipp Moritz, and Jean Paul between the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.