Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Jean Paul has perhaps suffered more from the vicissitudes of literary fame than any other author, and Titan reflects that more than any of his other works. It was widely celebrated in his lifetime as a masterwork, a monument of genius; yet it has since suffered the ignominy of silence. Even among the Germans, Titan seems more notorious than beloved; everyone knows about it, but very few read it.

In many respects, this is unfortunate, for the novel is enormous, rich in wit, wordplay, puns, poetic imagery, subtle prose rhythms, and brilliantly phrased descriptions. Further, it catches and reflects the imagination of the time in depth and with fascinating insights. Jean Paul himself more than once referred to it as a kind of opera, and it certainly has the grandeur, splendor, multiple-phased action, and overlayered texture of opera. It has also been strikingly influential: The great Victorian Thomas Carlyle modeled much of his style on Jean Paul and borrowed many images and ideas from him. In turn, Carlyle directly influenced the styles and views of Robert Browning, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. These authors will remain a lasting tribute to the influence of Jean Paul and his Titan.