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  • Das Haus. Eine deutsche Literaturgeschichte 1850–1926 by Nacim Ghanbari
  • Frederick Betz
Das Haus. Eine deutsche Literaturgeschichte 1850–1926. Von Nacim Ghanbari. Berlin und Boston: de Gruyter, 2011. viii + 160 Seiten. €79,95.

Drawing on modern social anthropological, ethnographic, and micro-historical (esp. Claude Lévi-Strauss, Alfred Radcliffe-Brown, David Warren Sabean) research on kinship, house, and house societies (Chapter I), Ghanbari presents a literary history of 19th- and 20th-century German “Häuserromane,” focusing on three dynastic “operations” historically used to perpetuate a corporate house or family business: “Adoptieren” (Chapter II), “Ehen stiften” (Chapter III), and “Schenken” (Chapter IV).

Adoption is a legal means to perpetuate a “house” when there is no actual or suitable heir or successor. The adoptee, usually an apprentice or employee, gives up his name and claim to his inheritance before he is accepted as “fictitious” son and marries the heiress, a daughter, or a sister of the “house.” In Gustav Freytag’s Soll und Haben (1855), Anton Wohlfart marries the sister Sabine and becomes a partner in the firm T.O. Schröter, while Herr von Fink marries the daughter Lenore of Baron von Rothsattel, whose once great fortune is partially retrieved for them by Anton. Friedrich Hackländer’s Handel und Wandel (1850) may well have served as a model for Freytag’s novel, and both illustrate the importance of unmarried and childless brothers and sisters (Geschwisterpaare) as a prerequisite for adoption of an outsider (Fremder) to perpetuate the “house.” But by delaying adoption and marriage to the end, these two novels avoid portraying how relations between (the members of) two different families are given a stable, ordered form in the new alliance.

According to Radcliffe-Brown (1965), such relations are based on “avoidance” or “joking.” In Ricarda Huch’s Erinnerungen von Ludolf Ursleu dem Jüngeren (1893), the plan for parallel cousins Ezard and Galeide Ursleu to marry fails when Ezard [End Page 513] marries instead the governess Lucile Leroy, who jokingly suggests that Galeide succeed her upon her death. When Lucile prematurely dies, Ezard indeed marries his deceased wife’s “sister” in the legally accepted manner of a “sororate” in order to perpetuate the “house,” but the hostile former brother-in-law Gaspard Leroy goads Galeide into suicide. Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks (1901) portrays the “Verfall einer Familie” announced in the sub-title, and the term “Buddenbrooks Effect” has been coined by economic historians to describe three phases (generations) of the founding, consolidation, and decline of family businesses in the 19th and 20th centuries. Decline results here from Thomas Buddenbrooks’ marriage to Gerda Arnoldsen and alienation from the sickly and artistic son Hanno, but also from the failed marriages of sister Tony and unsuccessful adoption of these sons-in-law as potential business partners. Ghanbari sees “rudiments” of the “Häuserroman,” however, in the constellation of brother (Thomas), sister (Tony), and brother’s son and sister’s nephew (Hanno). In Otto Stoessel’s Das Haus Erath oder Der Niedergang des Bürgertums (1920), the “Verfall eines Hauses” is completed by the daughter Charlotte, who rejects the “sororate” with the adopted business partner and husband of her deceased older sister, and takes over the firm herself when her father dies. In Felix Holländer’s Salomons Schwiegertochter (1920), the “Untergang des Hauses” results when the only son of a prestigious Berlin firm thwarts the plan for him to marry a girl from a good (wealthy) Jewish family by marrying a sales girl at Wertheim, who ambitiously gets herself adopted as “fictitious daughter” and “Angestellte,” but then leaves the firm when both her husband (heir) and mother-in-law die and the father-in-law withdraws in grief. Whereas in the previous “Häuserromane,” sisters articulate “die Sprache des Hauses,” here the “Angestellte der Firma” does so; but there is still a structural overlapping of kinship and employment, while in Kafka’s Das Schloß (1926), this relationship is completely separated, for all land surveyor K.’s efforts to make contact with the Castle fail, but he is ultimately employed by the Wirtin of the Herrenhof (frequented by the “Herren vom Schloß”) as her personal tailor.



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pp. 513-515
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