Wilhelm Raabe Biography


Wilhelm Raabe (RAHB-uh) is a major representative of German realism, along with such writers as Gottfried Keller and Theodor Storm. Born in the small town of Eschershausen in the duchy of Braunschweig, Raabe was raised in Holzminden, where his grandfather, August Heinrich Raabe, a postmaster and local historian, had a great influence on him. His father worked for the judiciary and maintained a large personal library, from which Raabe read.{$S[A]Corvinus, Jakob;Raabe, Wilhelm}

When his father was transferred to Stadtoldendorf in 1842, the lack of a Gymnasium (high school) meant that Raabe had to take private instruction. The experience developed in him a resistance to all formal schooling. In 1845, after the death of his father, Raabe’s mother moved the family to Wolfenbuttel, where she had relatives. Raabe withdrew from school in 1849 and was sent to Magdeburg as an apprentice to a bookseller. His work gave him ample opportunity to read, but his attempt to pass the university entrance examination (Abitur) failed. In 1854 he attended the University of Berlin as a nonmatriculated student and began writing Die Chronik der Sperlingsgasse (the chronicle of Sparrow Alley), which was completed in 1855 and published the next year to some favorable reviews.

Raabe returned to Wolfenbuttel in 1856, met editor Adolf Glaser, traveled some, and attended the theater. In 1862 he married Bertha Leiste and moved to Stuttgart, where he enjoyed the more stimulating cultural environment and was able to publish several novels in installments. Because of their favoring of a united Germany under Prussia, Raabe and his wife felt somewhat alienated from his pro-Austria friends. Thus, in 1870, in spite of the war mobilization, Raabe moved his family to Braunschweig.

Raabe’s time in Braunschweig, from 1870 to 1898, was extremely productive. He wrote some of...

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Wilhelm Karl Raabe, born September 8, 1831, in the small town of Eschershausen, began and ended his life in the Braunschweig duchy of what is now Germany. Until his thirteenth year, the world of his experiences was bounded by the Weser River in the west and by the surrounding hills north, east, and south, a setting that was to figure importantly in many of his writings, either by explicit reference or by an unmistakable resemblance. Raabe’s father was a local government official who had studied law and who gave the boy a sense of inquiry and an interest in local history. His mother was the greater influence; under her guidance, Raabe learned to read, and in her, he found a sensitive intellectual companionship for which he remained always grateful. A sister, Emilie, was two years younger than Raabe, and a brother, Heinrich, four years younger. Raabe’s father was transferred twice, first to the county seat at Holzminden on the Weser, later to Stadtoldendorf, the next town due south from Eschershausen.

In 1845, Raabe’s father died suddenly at the age of forty-four. “Had he lived longer and educated me,” Raabe later wrote, “I might have become a mediocre jurist.” For a short time, the boy became instead an undistinguished pupil in the town of Wolfenbüttel some distance away from the beloved Weser Hills. His mother moved the family there because she had two brothers who taught at the Wolfenbüttel Gymnasium (college-preparatory secondary school). Despite their best efforts, Raabe, whose schooling in Stadtoldendorf had evidently been deficient, made poor progress in all of his subjects but German and drawing. In 1849, he was withdrawn from the school and placed as apprentice to a book dealer in Magdeburg, where he worked for four years.

His preferences in literature, which so far had tended toward travel and adventure stories, broadened during his term in the bookshop to include French and especially English novelists: Alexandre Dumas, père,Eugène Sue, Laurence Sterne, Henry Fielding, Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, and his apparent favorite, William Makepeace Thackeray. He seems to have admired Heinrich Heine most among German writers. Historical literature accounted for another good part of his reading. The apprenticeship did not work out, however, and Raabe returned to Wolfenbüttel to make a second attempt at earning the Gymnasium diploma that would admit him to university studies. After failing again, he decided to move to Berlin and to enroll there as a university auditor. He took up residence in the capital and attended lectures in philosophy, literature, and history. He was twenty-two years old.

On November 15 of that same year, 1854, Raabe solemnly...

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