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  • Chronik der deutschen Literatur. Daten, Texte, Kontexte
  • Matthew Lange
Chronik der deutschen Literatur. Daten, Texte, Kontexte. Herausgegeben von Peter Stein und Hartmut Stein. Stuttgart: Kröner, 2008. v + 992 Seiten. €39,90.

This volume provides a chronological overview of 985 of the most important—i.e., representative of their era—works of German literature arranged by year of publication or premiere from the middle of the 8th century to the present (2007), including 26 works from the current century. The editors admittedly understand the contentious nature of creating an authoritative list of works and stress that they do not intend to either reinforce or establish a specific canon. Instead, they emphasize what academic scholarship in the last 60 years has accented and merely attempt to address the most discussed works of prose, drama, and lyrical poetry that appear in leading lexica and compendia.

After a short preface, usage guide, and list of abbreviations, the works of literature are listed in uniform entries. Following the year of publication and title— including any titular variations and subtitle(s)—there is a brief biography of the author including notes about the location of monuments, museums, and the author’s grave. Details about the genesis of the work and the year of first publication / premiere precede a synopsis of the work that includes contextual information and at times quotations [End Page 569] from both the work itself and secondary literature (minus specific bibliographic details). The entry also mentions similar literary treatments of the work’s theme and concludes with a short reception history as well as information about whether the work has been dramatized, filmed, set to music, adapted as a radio play, and even if original recordings of the author exist.

Interspersed among the entries are an additional 131 “Kastentexte” that delve deeper into epochs (Aufklärung, Romantik, etc.), genre (Legende, Fabel, etc.), forms (Spielmannsdichtung, Narrenliteratur, etc.), media (Zeitschriften, Autorenfilm, etc.), aspects of literary culture (literarische Gesellschaften und Salons, Popliteratur, etc.), and links between literature and history (Reformation, Holocaust, etc.), or they simply mention authors and additional works that apparently merited no separate entry (Judith Hermann, among others). The volume concludes with an index of listed authors and their works as well as an index of the “Kastentexte,” which lists not only the page number of the actual “Kastentext,” but also all pages on which a reference to it appears.

The Stein brothers’ Chronik is the latest resource in the small niche of literary chronologies, and it is designed well to challenge the virtual hegemony of the standard work in this area, namely Herbert A. und Elisabeth Frenzel’s Daten deutscher Dichtung. Chronologischer Abriss der deutschen Literaturgeschichte (1962; 35th ed. 2007). While the two Frenzel volumes have served many students of German literature for almost half a century with their traditional overview of numerous aspects of the major literary movements, very terse entries on the literary texts themselves left much to be desired. Also, the editors’ ‘brown’ past seems to have led to some omissions regarding National Socialism. The first major challenge to the Frenzel monopoly came only decades later with Volker Meid’s Metzler Literatur Chronik. Werke deutschsprachiger Autoren (1993; 3rd ed. 2006), which abandoned the Frenzel categorization of works into epochs in an attempt to demonstrate the flowing nature and overlapping aspects of literary movements and trends. Meid limited his volume solely to the works of literature themselves, whose entries he expanded considerably with details about the genesis of the work, an extended synopsis of the work that includes contextual information, and at times quotations, but he neglected biography. He did, however, provide a bibliography for further research.

The Stein Chronik can be seen as a hybrid of these two previous offerings. The editors accept Meid’s organization principle of a simple chronology and eschew the compartmentalization of works into movements offered by the Frenzels. But the addition of the “Kastentexte” provides interesting and even crucial contextual details that Meid often lacked. The absence of compartmentalization of the chronology into literary movements, however, might also cause the reader to overlook a topic if merely browsing. Moreover, the “Kastentexte” are uneven for specific topics. For example, there...


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