restricted access Dürrenmatt: Reinterpretation in Retrospect (review)
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Reviewed by
Kenneth S. Whitton. Dürrenmatt: Reinterpretation in Retrospect. New York: Berg, 1990. 255 pp. $39.95.

Kenneth Whitton's survey of the oeuvre of Friedrich Dürrenmatt is intended, he assures the reader, to complement his earlier The Theatre of Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1980), which appeared in the same imprint. This is not, in fact, the case, as even the examination of Achterloo (1983), a play that could not be considered in the previous study, is short and essentially merely informative. To some extent this necessity of foreswearing detailed analysis of major works is forced upon Whitton by the sheer scope of the book, which really does seek to introduce the reader to the entire body of Dürrenmatt's work—the narrative works, including the "philosophical thrillers," the radio plays, the drama and the considerable body of essays. These analyses are complemented by an admirable chronology of the major events in Dürrenmatt's life and a workmanlike bibliography. As such, this volume constitutes a modestly informative introductory volume to Dürrenmatt that will be useful in some undergraduate courses. What it does not do is argue the case for Dürrenmatt being—especially today—regarded as "a Protean figure in the world of European literature and culture." Whitton's obvious adulation of the writer is no compensation for the lack of real analysis in the volume. This deficit emerges importantly at another point in the book: Whitton maintains that [End Page 317] The Visit "sums up Dürrenmatt's work and Weltanschauung," but he neither argues this through, nor does he take issue with the charge laid in recent years, and in particular in reviews of his posthumously published Turmbau. Stoffe IV-IX (1991), that Dürrenmatt's work consists essentially of at times rather tired variations on the central theme of that play.

As far as the U.S. market is concerned, the potential usefulness of the volume is severely reduced by the fact that all quotations are, unfortunately, given only in German and that the bibliography excludes all mention of the numerous translations of Dürrenmatt's work. This is but one of the many ways in which this volume disappoints in comparison with its predecessor in this otherwise promising series from Berg Publishers, the excellent introduction by J. H. Reid to the work of Heinrich Böll, which does open up a reading of Boll to the non-German reader and is, for all its real virtues as an informative survey, a real scholarly analysis of Boll's work. It is a pity that Whitton did not learn from that model.

Keith Bullivant
University of Florida, Gainesville