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Poetische Ordnungen: Zur Erzahlprosa des deutschen Realismus.

Poetische Ordnungen: Zur Erzahlprosa des deutschen Realismus. Ed. by ULRICH KITTSTEIN and STEFANI KUGLER. Wurzburg: Konigshausen & Neumann. 2007. 290 pp. 39.80 [euro]. ISBN 978-3-8269-3670-5.

Selected works of German realism are here defended against the familiar charge of provinciality by showing how texts are ordered by the maintenance and transgression of boundaries: geographical, racial, cultural, and between genders. In a dense, theory-laden introductory chapter, Patrick Ramponi examines globalization as imaged by the exoticism of colonial commodities in Gustav Freytag's Soll and Haben, Wilhelm Raabe's shifting positions between cosmopolitanism and Bismarckian patriotism, and the sensitivity to world events of the local lake in Theodor Fontane' Der Stechlin. Ulrich Kittstein approaches one more time the characterization of the Jewish villains in Soll and Haben and Freytag's Der Hungerpastor, ascribing it to poetic realism's requirements for the figuration of antagonists, while observing that, even if anti-Semitism had not been intended by the authors, the effect is no less problematic. Franziska Schossler recognizes the conventional scepticism towards the possibility of Jewish assimilation pervading Theodor Fontane's L'Adultera.

Similar to the ambiguous boundaries to the Jews are those to the gypsies. A specialist on this topic, Stefani Kugler, examines the relationship of nature and culture in Adalbert Stifter's Kazensilber, where the brown girl appears to represent a childlike nature to which the cultivated family has lost contact, leaving them with anxieties and yearnings but without competence in dealing with natural dangers. Their effort to colonize and denature the girl fails, thus calling Stifter's pedagogical ideals into question. This is carefully argued, but I still do not understand what we are to make of the recurrent violence and indifferent hostility of nature in Stifter's stories in terms of 'das sanfte Gesetz'. Herbert Uerlings combines an account of Swiss policy towards (or against) gypsies in the nineteenth century with a close reading of Gottfried Keller's Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorfe, where he endeavours to show that the community values to which Sali and Vrenchen remain loyal are not supported by the text and that the moral disparagement of the black fiddler and his vagabond band seen through their eyes should not be accepted by the reader. The love-death is flight, so that the disparaging newspaper report was not so wrong after all. The reading is highly observant but worrisomely tends to deny the dignity that Keller means to ascribe to the young couple. Anna-Lena Salzer's commentary on the gypsies in Karl May's Scepter and Hammer comes once again to his familiar antinomy between the liberal and tolerant intentions asserted by the narrator and the feckless employment of every kind of group prejudice and stereotyping.

Perhaps placed somewhat similarly to the marginalized gypsy is the innocently ostracized girl in Raabe's Else von der Tanne, where Andrea Ruttinger finds the boundary drawn between Bildung and ignorance and associates the catastrophe with Rene Girard's theory of the structure of persecution. What I miss in this somewhat abstract reading is a sense of the device of a third-person narration in intimate proximity to the consciousness of the pastor, who is internally inhibited from acknowledging his erotic attraction to Else and sublimates it into sanctification, which Ruttinger appears to put on the author's charge as sentimentality. Kugler's psychosocial treatment of Theodor Storm's Immensee in terms of gender relations sees Reinhard as unable to maintain his identity of male dominance and the successful suitor Erich as his conventional alter ego; Kugler doubts any achieved perception in Reinhard and reads the novella as exposing the repressiveness of bourgeois gender relations. The stubborn refusal of the partly Austrian man and his Slavic wife to reconcile with one another in Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach's Maslans Fran is adroitly analysed by Claudia Seeling again in terms of gender relations but also in the context of the friction among nationalities in the Habsburg monarchy. Ulrich Kittstein revisits the triple frame of Storm's Der Schimmelreiter, where the boundary lies between folklore and rationality, in order to show that there is no way to recover the actual story of Hauke Haien, that truth remains unfathomable, and that the confident reason of the schoolmaster-narrator is not privileged. This is certainly a possible reading, though I wonder if it does not make Storm more postmodern than he was.

All the authors mentioned thus far belong to the familiar canon, if we include the semi-canonical May, but Bettina Wild, as part of a larger study of the village tale, introduces us to the forgotten Hermine Villinger (1849-1917), a friend of Ebner-Eschenbach and successor to Berthold Auerbach, whose conservative and nostalgic representations of rural life are credited with the depiction of strong women. Wild tells us that Villinger was deeply respectful of the Grand Duke Friedrich I of Baden and his duchess, to whom she dedicated a story and who conferred a gold medal on her, and I can believe it from the one work of hers I have been able to read, Der Topfer von Kanden (1895), which was republished in a textbook edited for American learners of German in 1913. It tells of a poor, innovative potter scorned by his neighbours and his former beloved, a starving widow with eight children, who are rescued by the kindness and generosity of the reigning couple. This strikes me as, in its time and place, pernicious twaddle, and so I think that, while there is much to be said for recovering neglected realists from the constricted German canon, Villinger might charitably be allowed to rest in peace.

In general, however, it has only been possible here to skim over a series of thoughtful, stimulating essays recommendable for enriched perspectives on the suspect topic of German realism.


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Title Annotation:text in English
Author:Sammons, Jeffrey L.
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2008
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