Uwe Johnson Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Known almost exclusively for writingnarrative fiction, Uwe Johnson published one book of short stories, Karsch, und andere Prosa (1960; Karsch, and other prose), and three volumes of essays and literary scholarship: Eine Reise nach Klagenfurt (1974; A Trip to Klagenfurt: In the Footsteps of Ingeborg Bachmann, 2002), Berliner Sachen (1975; Berlin essays), and Begleitumstände: Frankfurter Vorlesungen (1980; attendant circumstances: Frankfurt lectures). His most ambitious scholarly work, Eine Reise nach Klagenfurt, is a competent study concerning the Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann. Berliner Sachen contains the article “Berliner Stadtbahn” (“Berlin: Border of the Divided World”) and other programmatic writings of his early career, while some of his most revealing theoretical utterances are found in Begleitumstände, the documents of his tenure as guest lecturer at the University of Frankfurt am Main in 1979.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

With his first published novel, Speculations About Jakob, Uwe Johnson became an instant success as a writer, and his subsequent novels brought him ever-widening acclaim as an important literary analyst of the tensions, pressures, adjustments, and contradictions that mold everyday life in the two postwar German states. Beginning in 1960, when he received the Fontane Prize of the City of Berlin for Speculations About Jakob, Johnson won many prestigious writing awards; among the most important were the International Publishers’ Prize (1962), the Georg Büchner Prize (1971), the Raabe Prize (1975), and the Thomas Mann Prize (1978).

Despite predominantly positive response, there has been some controversy concerning Johnson’s works. Most visible is the discomfort caused in both parts of Germany by the author’s conscious attempts to remain objective in his portrayals. Two Views, for example, received favorable press in the East for its harsh picture of the Federal Republic of Germany but was panned for its “unrealistic” presentation of life in the workers’ state. In West Germany, critics rejected its superficial treatment of postwar society under capitalism while praising the “objective” treatment of the Democratic Republic of Germany. In general, Johnson’s novels were criticized sharply in the former East Germany because they are not accurate in their description of Socialist “reality.”

Although all of his novels appeal more to an intellectual than to a general audience, this is especially true of Johnson’s massive, four-volume novel, Anniversaries, the magnum opus on which he labored for some fifteen years, completing the last volume only one year before his death. Regarded by some critics as a masterpiece of postmodern literature, by others as a sterile exercise doomed to quick oblivion, Anniversaries demands comparison with such encyclopedic novels as Carlos Fuentes’s Terra nostra (1975; English translation, 1976) and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973).


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Baker, Gary Lee. Understanding Uwe Johnson. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999. Part of the University of South Carolina’s Understanding Modern European and Latin American Literature series. Provides insight to Johnson’s literature and politics.

Boulby, Mark. Uwe Johnson. New York: Ungar, 1974. Uses the psychoanalytic approach and analyzes the psychological-erotic conflict between the figures in Johnson’s novels. Includes a bibliography.

Fickert, Kurt J. Dialogue with the Reader: The Narrative Stance in Uwe Johnson’s Fiction. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1996. Delves into Johnson’s narrative technique. Includes bibliographical references and index.

Fickert, Kurt J. Neither Left nor Right: The Politics of Individualism in Uwe Johnson’s Work. New York: Peter Lang, 1987. Volume 59 of American University Studies: Series I, Germanic Languages and Literature. Focuses on Johnson’s political and social views.

Hirsch, Marianne. Beyond the Single Vision: Henry James, Michel Butor, Uwe Johnson. York, S.C.: French Literature Publications, 1981. Places Johnson beside other authors in literary history and criticism. Focuses on cultural conflicts in their lives and as represented in their works.

Riordan, Colin. The Ethics of Narration: Uwe Johnson’s Novels from “Ingrid Babendererde” to “Jahrestage.” London: Modern Humanities Research Association for the Institute of Germanic Studies, University of London, 1989. Based on a dissertation, this work focuses on Johnson’s ethics in narration.

Shirer, Robert K. Difficulties in Saying “I”: The Narrator as Protagonist in Uwe Johnson’s “Jahrestage” and Chrisa Wolf’s “Kindheitsmuster.” New York: Peter Lang, 1988. A close look at the first-person narrative in two major works from twentieth century German literature.

Shirer, Robert K. “Uwe Johnson.” In Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 75: Contemporary German Fiction Writers, Second Series, edited by Wolfgang D. Elfe. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988. Provides a biographical and critical essay on Johnson. It also discusses several of his works.

Taberner, Stuart. Distorted Reflections: The Public and Private Uses of the Author in the Work of Uwe Johnson, Günter Grass, and Martin Walser, 1965-1975. Atlanta: Rodopi, 1998. A specialized literary study. Includes a bibliography.