The son of a rich Jewish businessman, Lion Feuchtwanger (FOYKT-vahng-ehr), born in 1884, was well educated in pre-World War I Germany (his Ph.D. thesis was on Heinrich Heine). In Germany he is probably best known as a dramatist and an adaptor of Greek plays, but in the English-speaking world he is known primarily for his long, somewhat ponderous historical novels. The English translations of his novels have always been more successful than the originals, and some of the later books have appeared only in English.
Married in 1912 to Marthe Loffler, Feuchtwanger left Germany, only to be caught in Italy by the outbreak of war in 1914. After his escape to his homeland, he was conscripted into the army. Permitted to return to civilian life, he began the modernist period of his writing, becoming active in the avant-garde movement, not only as a writer but also as a publicist and a producer of new drama. In this stage of his development he was bitterly antiwar. World fame came to him in the 1920’s with publication of his historical novel The Ugly Duchess, a story with a fourteenth century background.
Probably his best work is the Josephus trilogy, which is more historically accurate than his later books. In Josephus, learned and Jewish like himself, Feuchtwanger apparently found exactly the right kind of hero to inspire his best writing. His historical novels written after World War II are marred by inaccuracies and odd interpretations. Though begun in Germany, the Josephus sequence was completed in the United States. Partly because he was Jewish, and partly because he was a liberal, Feuchtwanger was persecuted by Nazi Germany. He emigrated to Russia, London, and Paris, and after the fall of France in World War II he fled to Spain. Finally, having adopted various disguises, he escaped from Europe. He finally settled in California.
His poetry, often lighter than his fiction, is not well known in the United States. Except for Pep (published under the name “Wetcheek,” a literal translation of “Feuchtwanger”), little has been available in English. His biggest regret about his writing concerned his drama: The plays that he considered his finest had little success, while the mediocre ones won wide acclaim and were produced often in his homeland.