Berthold Auerbach. Ein Autor im Kontext des 19. Jahrhunderts by Herausgegeben von Christof Hamann, Michael Scheffel (review)
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Berthold Auerbach. Ein Autor im Kontext des 19. Jahrhunderts.
Herausgegeben von Christof Hamann und Michael Scheffel. Trier: WVT, 2013. 208Seiten. €25,00.

Berthold Auerbach achieved substantial national and international eminence as a writer in the nineteenth century. He contributed significantly to the visibility of German literature in the United States; B.Q. Morgan’s bibliography of German literature in English translation lists seventy items for Auerbach. But this reputation began to fade even in his own lifetime. After World War II, with some hesitant inquiries into realism, despite a conviction that there could be no such thing, and a partly compensatory revival of Jewish writers, there was some recovery of interest in him. But it did not really take hold; he was too bourgeois, too committed to the national ethos, [End Page 707] too much inclined to harmony and sentiment, too unmodern. Of a projected illustrated “Neue Volksausgabe” of the Schwarzwälder Dorfgeschichten in the Staufen Verlagsbuchhandlung in 1982, the second volume never appeared.

However, in German academic custom the occurrence of Auerbach’s 200th birth anniversary in 2012 obliged renewed attention, so that there have been a number of studies, along with a volume of essays with Winter in Heidelberg in 2013. Many of these indicate an increased appreciation of Auerbach, but the conference at the University of Wuppertal in 2012, the papers of which are assembled in the volume under consideration here, does not seem to have been a celebration. Many of the contributions tend to be cool if not hostile toward Auerbach.

Jörg Schönert discusses Auerbach’s “Idealrealismus,” which he characterizes as “Gesinnungsliteratur” (12) that leads through love, friendship, and family to harmonious solutions. He is not political like Keller. Although Schönert seems to think better of Diethelm von Buchenberg, which was foregrounded in the GDR because of its ironic view of class justice, he finds the later works, taking as an example Das Nest an der Bahn, idealistic without realism, characterized by a “Trivalisierungstendenz” (20) in easy solutions to problems. Hans Otto Horch, who is usually supportive of Jewish writers and has been elsewhere of Auerbach, is here quite reserved, as he wrestles with the question of how to define a Jewish author. Auerbach’s modest aesthetic quality as compared with Heine and Börne is responsible for the decline of his reputation, although in his time Jewish commentators praised his national liberal position at the expense of Heine and Börne. His idealistic belief in a German-Jewish communal relationship turned out to be a “schreckliche Illusion” (40). I still think that with his basically sunny disposition he might have been encouraged if he had lived to see the ignominious failure of antisemitic politics.

Christoph Jürgensen examines Auerbach’s addresses in honor of other writers, such as Schiller, Goethe, Fichte, Uhland, and Freiligrath. Jürgensen gives Auerbach no credit for sincere admiration of these figures, but sees the public appearances as occasions for making them allies of his own positions and for inflating his own importance; when he speaks of Lessing and Nathan, he is speaking only of himself. Jürgensen can hardly find enough terms to belittle Auerbach; for example, his “Dichterreden” were intended “sich und seinem Werk unmittelbare Resonanzgewinne zu erwirtschaften, indem er symbolisches Kapitel vom Konto der jeweils Gepriesenen für sein eigenes Konto borgte” (57). I wonder if it is overly sensitive to detect in such a formulation an antisemitic undertone. Two papers deal with the first of the Dorfgeschichten, “Der Tolpatsch.” Madleen Podewski argues a different function of the text for the reader in its appearance in the cosmopolitan context of the journal Europa versus in the first volume of the Dorfgeschichten, in which it is more evident that Aloys’s democratic views in America have no influence on the village. Filippo Smerilli analyzes the structural relationships of the characters and situations, conceding “dass man der These von Auerbach als einem Autor mit stark begrenzten kompositorischen Fähigkeiten nicht uneingeschränkt zustimmen kann” and that he exhibits “eine gewisse Komplexität” (95). Although the acknowledgment seems somewhat grudging, it suggests that the application of actual literary criticism to Auerbach might...