Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 272

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Though regarded as only a promising dramatist by the early 1950’s, Max Frisch became a respected commentator on European affairs with the publication of Sketchbook, 1946-1949. His measured remarks—especially as an objective observer, a consequence of his Swiss citizenship—were welcomed by many in the German-speaking countries during postwar reconstruction. Yet not until the appearance of his first novel, I’m Not Stiller, in 1954 did Frisch gain worldwide recognition and popularity; during that decade, he and the dramatist Friedrich Durrenmatt were to become the two most influential Swiss writers of the twentieth century.

For a writer who has since become renowned for his novels and dramas, it may seem a bit odd when critics insist that Max Frisch’s entire work revolves around the diary form or that many of his works, introduced embryonically in the diaries, are even more effective there than in their later reincarnations as novel or drama. The seemingly autobiographical elements in his most popular fiction and drama—in I’m Not Stiller, Mein Name sei Gantenbein (1964; A Wilderness of Mirrors, 1965), Homo Faber, Der Mensch erscheint im Holozan (1979; Man in the Holocene, 1980), Dienstbuchlein (1974; service record), Montauk (1975; English translation, 1976), Graf Oderland (1951; Count Oederland, 1962), Biedermann und die Brandstifter (1958; The Firebugs, 1961), Andorra (1961; English translation, 1963), and Biografie (1967; Biography, 1969)—are introduced in embryonic form in the sketchbooks. In fact, they are more effective there, since they are still sketches and thus have many possible conclusions to which the reader can thoughtfully contribute. Though Frisch will not be best remembered for his sketchbooks, they form a seminal part of his artistic reflection and his literary development, and his oeuvre is unthinkable without them.