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-------------------------- ----- --------GERHART HAUPTMANN MARGARET SrNDEN THE death of Gerhart Hauptmann in the spring of 1946 brought to a close one of the longest and most distinguished literary careers in recent history. The first of -the plays which were to make him famous appeared in 1889, and it was followed by a series of works·of such power that for the past third of a century Germans in general have regarded him as the first of their living poets. No English author, I should say s.ince Dickens, has occupied a similar place in the mind of any large section of the English public. Hauptmann's career was as varied as it was long. Until shortly before the First Great War he devoted himself in the main to uhe prose drama, to a realistic portrayal of contemporary life in Germany. But from an early date he had begun also to write verse plays, and from about 1912 his attention was drawn increasingly from realistic prose to verse, to symbol and philosophy; from Germany to Greece, America, the South Sea Islands, or simply into the realm of vision and myth; and even from drama to novel, Novelle, and verse epic. In an attempt to order this variety, critics have generally adopted some version of the two-souls-in-one-breast theory, and have considered Hauptmann as a man in whom naturalism struggled with romanticism, or Germany with Greece, or the rationalist cynic with the religious mystic. Any of these solutions may have much to be said fer it, but they are all inadequate in the last analysis, I think, for one reason, because they ride rough-shod over obvious inequa1ities in Hauptmann's work, and, taking attempt for achievement, give to bad works and good an equally positive value. Also any sharp and distinct cleavage is foreign to what we know of Hauptmann as a man, and foreign to the characters which he created. We must rather, I suggest, proceed from the assumption that if one group of works, fairly uniform in style, surpasses mbull{, and, on the whole, in excellence, any other group, there we sha11 find the essential Hauptmann, if such there be. This group undoubtedly exists in the realistic prose dramas, predominantly tragedies, which he wrote between 1889 and 1911, together wit:.h the greatest tragedy of them all, the novel Emanuel Quint. What inspired them? What do they say? If we can ascertain this, it should not only make dear to us the basic elements of Hauptmann 's genius, but it should help us also to understand why, in his other works) he sometimes succeeded, but sometimes failed. It is only reasonable to expect further that the best of (let us say) his verse dramas should be those which are also fundamentally closest to the major group, which indeed proves to be the case. 17 18 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY In the Abenteuer meiner ]ugend, in which he has described jn great detail his early years, Hauptmann tells us at one point that as his body sat stiff on the bench of his Breslau schoolroom, he developed the faculty of seeing, through the walls, the activities of his family, friends, and himself at: home. He tells us further that, when he left school and began to work on his uncles farm, he had to be up long before the dawn, helping the peasants in bam or stable, and that these early morning hours held a peculiar fascination for ~his mind, half numbed as it was, half strangely lucid, from constant ovenvork. Late.r, as an art student in Breslau, he often wandered through the streets as night was ending, eyes and ears wide open to catch the first stirrings of the city returning to life} and carrying on con~ versations with himself, the imagined conversations of those whom he saw. Out of such experience was born the poet of the works which are our first and foremost concern. That which had impressed Hauptmann 's senses, tW1ed to a more than normal state of awareness, dissolved within, until so to speak, the solu-tion became supersaturated, and, usually at a touch from without, tbe process of crystallization, of re...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 17-34
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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