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Novalis: Leben und Werk Friedrich von Hardenbergs by Gerhard Schulz (review)

From: Goethe Yearbook
Volume 20, 2013
pp. 281-283 | 10.1353/gyr.2013.0031

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Ever since his doctoral dissertation on Friedrich von Hardenberg’s professional activity and its significance for his writings and thought (Leipzig, 1958), Gerhard Schulz has played a leading role in Novalis scholarship. In this worthy companion to his recent Kleist biography (Munich: Beck, 2007), Schulz presents a detailed account of the life and works of the principal poet-theoretician of early German romanticism. For the benefit of those readers who at best might think vaguely of the Blue Flower when they come upon the poet’s pseudonym, the opening chapter on “Novalis” discusses both the origins of this name and the (often cloying) images that have been propagated by the reproductions and variations of the one authentic contemporary portrait of Friedrich von Hardenberg—including the bizarre attempt of the East German Stasi in the late 1980s to discredit youths opposed to the planned demolition of the poet’s birthplace by arranging for a copy of the portrait to be made and then smuggled across the East-West German border, at which point the group could be arrested for attempting to profit from the sale of state property (31)! Observing that, even with the authentic picture, it is still unclear whether this depicts a youth of sixteen or seventeen, as Ludwig Tieck maintained, or a student in his midtwenties at the Mining Academy of Freiberg, Schulz undertakes his own attempt of a portrait of the artist as a young intellectual.

As in his still eminently readable monograph Novalis mit Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten (Reinbek: Rowohlt 1969; 16th ed. 2005), in the ensuing eleven chapters Schulz traces the major stations in Hardenberg’s life from his birth in Oberwiederstedt in 1772 to his death in Weissenfels not quite twenty-nine years later; here, though, the reader is treated to more detailed explication of the poetry. A unifying thread is Hardenberg’s concept and depiction of love in all shades and overtones, from the often lighthearted and technically accomplished juvenilia to the daring achievements of the Hymnen an die Nacht and the other major poetry of 1799 and 1800. Without neglecting the biographical dimensions that add a special poignancy to these later poems, Schulz takes care to situate both them and the journal Hardenberg kept after the death of his first fiancée Sophie von Kühn into what he calls “die Geschichte der Gefühle” (98), in the sense that the unabashed eroticism of Hardenberg’s poems and reflections on love far transcends the more proper moral sentiments of the nineteenth century and anticipates the speculations of psychoanalysis. As Schulz observes in his interpretation of the so-called “Lied der Toten” that would have been incorporated into part 2 of Heinrich von Ofterdingen: “Das Gedicht wird zu einem lyrischen Orgasmus in Wort und Klang, und aus dem theoretischen Diskurs erwächst der poetische in einer Bruchlosigkeit, über die in seiner Sinnlichkeit allein Novalis unter seinen Jenaer Freunden verfügte” (258).

Given his scholarly contributions relating to Hardenberg’s scientific studies and professional work, it is not surprising that Schulz also takes care to demolish any lingering notions of a discrepancy between the poet “Novalis” and the lawyer, scientist, and mining administrator “Friedrich von Hardenberg.” Particularly effective in this regard is the chapter entitled “Siedepfannen und Sonette” (161–76), which draws on the analysis of documents published in the most recent volume of the Historical-Critical Novalis edition. Both there (6.3:452, 455) and here (170–71), readers are presented with photocopies of a worksheet on which—alongside the names of workers and the number of pans needed for salt production—are lists of rhyming words that later found their use in the two dedicatory sonnets for Heinrich von Ofterdingen. As the final sentence of this chapter concisely observes regarding Hardenberg’s work process: “Die Siedepfannen waren für ihn kein Widerspruch zu den Sonetten” (176). A further sign of the author’s undiminished enthusiasm for new discoveries relating to Novalis can be found in a last-minute footnote alerting readers that, as of October 2011, the British auction house Christie’s was advertising manuscripts containing the working drafts of these two dedicatory sonnets (174). Schulz would be too modest to mention this...



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