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Georg Kaiser and His Critics: A Profile of Expressionism's Leading Playwright.

This is an extremely useful book, which packs a great deal of information into a very short compass. Among its attractive features are a chronological bibliography of the dramatic works and novels Kaiser completed, and a detailed listing of critical literature on Kaiser, including in addition a selection of journalistic essays and theatre reviews also in chronological order. Perhaps the most prolific dramatist of modern times, Kaiser wrote some seventy plays in a variety of genres, themes and styles, many of which were extremely successful. This means that a great deal of ground has to be covered over a period stretching from his earliest beginnings around 1912 till his virtual eclipse in the Eighties and Nineties. One of the most striking features of Kaiser's career was his meteoric rise, seemingly from nowhere, until, throughout the Twenties, he was 'the most frequently performed contemporary playwright'. Willeke's approach reveals that the meteoric rise rested on many earlier experiments before success came with the plays now generally recognized as classics of Expressionism. For the first-phase in the development of Kaiser's literary reputation Willeke considers the appraisal of Kaiser in the press between 1912 and 1921 (when he became 'King of the German Stage'), recording the conflicting ideological and ethical responses to his form of modernism as well as critical reactions to his stylistic innovations. She goes on to consider the 'Denkspieler' legend, which originated with Bernhard Diebold, and then its challengers between 1922 and 1945, a time of continued stage success, though no special treatment is given to the period of National Socialism, which resulted in Kaiser's exile in Switzerland. She does, however, later review recent studies of Kaiser's attitude to National Socialism and his behaviour in exile up to his death in 1945. Subsequent chapters are devoted to 'the impact of Geistesgeschichte 1945-1967' and 'Kaiser's place in Expressionism 1959-1988', while later sections are devoted to the establishment of the Georg Kaiser Archive and the work of Walter Huder, the difficulties over the editions of the works and letters, and over accounts of the author's life. Most useful is the survey of the often widely conflicting interpretations of individual dramas - Die BUrger von Calais, von morgens bis mitternachts, and the Gas trilogy - and the performance histories of these and other works since 1960. Inevitably the author has to reflect not only on the causes for Kaiser's initial enormous success, but also for the almost total disappearance of this leading exponent of Expressionism from the contemporary scene.

This book is extremely well written and well organized. It is also completely free from distorting misprints. However, the series format which forces the author to record all critical responses without giving value judgements has a flattening effect and the reader is left wondering whether Kaiser has now been irrevocably delivered over into the hands of academic critics. He is also left wondering why this once most exciting dramatist is now apparently so much discussed, but so little performed.


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Author:Ritchie, J.M.
Publication:Journal of European Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1996
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