Johann Paul Friedrich Richter Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Neither classicism nor Romanticism can lay claim to the works of Jean Paul (zhahn pawl), which differ from the classical works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller as much as from those of the Romantic authors E. T. A. Hoffmann, Joseph von Eichendorff, Heinrich von Kleist, and Novalis. While Goethe and Schiller had been opposed to granting the novel its own aesthetic worth, Jean Paul—as the practitioner of the novel of mood, irony, and spiritual exultation—made the novel the preferred genre of German literature. Jean Paul used humor, satire, love, and understanding to confront the finiteness of life and to depict psychic conditions of humankind; in his works, action emulates life, which becomes the mirror image of the world, reflecting its lack of order and lucidity.{$S[A]Richter, Johann Paul Friedrich;Jean Paul}

Jean Paul is the pseudonym of Johann Paul Friedrich Richter, son of the poor schoolmaster and pastor Johann Christian Christoph Richter. Jean Paul, a gifted student, copied important information and read books on all subject matter in a pastor’s library near Schwarzenau. His interest focused on philosophy, on the theory of enlightenment, and, to a lesser degree, on poetry. Reading, the acquisition of knowledge, was life itself to him. His writings reveal an immense storehouse of information which, he felt keenly, had to be shared so that his endeavors had not been for naught. His desire to learn and to excel caused an estrangement between father and son, and Jean Paul feared a complete break in their relationship. Two months after Jean Paul entered the Gymnasium (high school) at Hof, in 1779, his father died, leaving behind a widow, five sons, and many debts.

Theology was a field of study open to gifted but poor young men, and Jean Paul began his studies at the University of Leipzig in 1781. Further financial difficulties forced him to leave the university in 1784. The years until 1795 were especially hard: Jean Paul worked as a tutor, mourned his brother Heinrich’s death by suicide in 1789, and, in 1790, became schoolmaster in Schwarzenbach.

His initial writings, among them Grönländische Prozesse, were not very successful, but Auswahl aus des Teufels Papieren, The Invisible Lodge, and Life of the Cheerful Little Schoolmaster Maria Wutz in...

(The entire section is 966 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Johann Paul Friedrich Richter, who chose the pen name Jean Paul to honor the memory of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was born in a remote town in the northeastern part of Bavaria (now in Germany). He was the oldest child of a schoolmaster who soon advanced to the modest position of a parson in one of the neighboring villages. Increasingly embittered by the stifling backwardness of his family and environment, the fifteen-year-old boy decided to embark on a course of indiscriminate reading with an obsession only the self-educating person would be able to sustain. There has probably never been a German writer who read more and read more widely than did Jean Paul. With the meticulous industry that was to become so typical of him, he collected in barely four years twenty volumes of excerpts culled from all fields of knowledge. This neatly indexed but largely undigested erudition was to provide Jean Paul in later years with the basis for his notoriously extravagant choice of metaphors.

After the death of Jean Paul’s father in 1779, the family faced more than a decade of humiliating poverty. Jean Paul was, nevertheless, determined to break the stranglehold of his provincial upbringing and tried, in 1781, to eke out an existence as a student of theology at the University of Leipzig. Instead of pursuing this sanctioned career of the poor, he actually intended to make a name for himself as a writer of satires. Despite all efforts, however, his works went unnoticed, as did their ambitious and desperate author. His...

(The entire section is 619 words.)