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Reviewed by:
  • Literarischer Antisemitismus: Untersuchungen zu Gustav Freytag und anderen bürgerlichen Schriftstellern des 19. Jahrhunderts
  • Klaus L. Berghahn
Literarischer Antisemitismus: Untersuchungen zu Gustav Freytag und anderen bürgerlichen Schriftstellern des 19. Jahrhunderts, by Martin Gubser. Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 1998. 327 pp. DM 68.00.

The controversies surrounding German novelists of the nineteenth century, when it comes to the “Jewish Question,” are all too familiar; they surface with predictable regularity at conferences on German-Jewish literature and history. Were many novelists of German Realism antisemites, or were their novels merely the result of the poetic truth of their critical realism? Is it possible to separate the intention of an author from the later antisemitic reception of his work, as some scholars argue? Or can one distinguish between the artistic value of a novel and other antisemitic utterances of an author? Are there not well-known cases where an author clearly presents stereotypical Jewish characters in his novels, but is otherwise a tolerant liberal who would even defend Jews against any defamation? A case in point is Gustav Freytag, an almost forgotten popular novelist of the nineteenth century, who wrote Soll und Haben (1855), which has become—next to Raabe’s Hungerpastor—the paradigm for such discussions.

To overcome this uncertainty or undecidedness once and for all is the intention of Martin Gubser’s dissertation (Fribourg, 1995). There is no question for Gubser of how to situate Freytag in this debate: As a journalist of the Grenzbote he was an antisemite, his novel Soll und Haben unmistakably demonstrated it, and only in his later years did he seem to have been an advocate of Jewish emancipation. Freytag thus becomes an exemplary case of literary antisemitism of the nineteenth century. To prove all this, Gubser has to cover a lot of ground: First, nothing less will do than to write a history of the Prussian Jews and their struggle for emancipation in the nineteenth century; second, he has to define antisemitism and to tell its history from the Christian crusades to Martin Luther up to Wilhelm Marr’s racial antisemitism (1096–1879); third, he has also to define what literary antisemitism is and how it is represented through genres, language, and argumentation. Thus, more than well prepared, he can make Gustav Freytag a test case in the second half of his dissertation. The result, after so much preparation, cannot surprise: Freytag is a literary antisemite. Gubser is, of course, not the first to discover this, but he does it with so much didacticism and so deductively that [End Page 136] one is overwhelmed by the evidence, especially in the case of Soll und Haben, which is perhaps the best chapter of the book.

This would almost be enough to characterize this book and recommend it to readers who need all the information they can get to understand German literary antisemitism in the nineteenth century. There are a few things, however, which bothered this reviewer. As a teacher of German-Jewish culture I am tempted to recommend the book for its richness of information; as a literary historian I am a bit surprised by its simpli fications; and as a literary critic I am disturbed by its style. I don’t want to argue about Gubser’s short history of Jewish emancipation in Prussia since 1812, which one can find much better described in many other books, but I would strongly disagree with his characterization of Moses Mendelssohn or the Haskalah as forerunners on the slippery road of assimilation. The dialectic of emancipation and assimilation in nineteenth- century Germany is well known, but reading Gubser’s history of antisemitism in Germany one has the impression that there were hardly any voices opposed to it. The same is true for his history of literary antisemitism in the nineteenth century. He quotes the well-known examples, like Clemens Brentano (Gockel und Hinkel),Wilhelm Hauff (Jud Süss), Wilhelm Raabe (Hungerpastor), Karl Immermann (Die Epigonen) Wilhelm Busch (Die fromme Helene, Plisch und Plum), Felix Dahn (Kampf um Rom), and Freytag of course, but again the book leaves the reader with the impression that German literature from Romanticism to Realism was entirely antisemitic. (Not to mention...

Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 136-138
Launched on MUSE
2001-07-01
Open Access
No
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