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The vision of Germany's rebirth in the novels of Gustav Frenssen, Georg Von Ompteda and Jakob Wasserman Adams, Paul Simon

Abstract

Through an examination of the vision of Germany's rebirth in the novels of Gustav Frenssen (1863-1945), Georg von Ompteda (1863-1932), and Jakob Uassermann (1873-1934), this study investigates the social, political and ethical goals of three widely read authors of the Uilhelminian era. The central problem of the novels is defined as the attitude towards the industrialization of Germany after 1870 and the way in uhich this attitude prevented the authors from facing up to the problems of industrial society, thereby contributing to the failure of German democracy and the rise of National Socialism. The underlying common theme of all three authors is the necessity for national unity, both to put an end to social discord and to enable Germany to repel an attack by foreign enemies. In Frenssen's novels the aspects of social, political and religious reform contribute to the ideal of a state whose harmonious unity is secured by a framework of common goals based on a foundation of ethnic homogeneity, Georg von Ompteda's works concentrate on the problems of the Prussian aristocracy. Ompteda endeavours to demonstrate to the 3unkers themselves the necessity of reform of certain aspects of the aristocratic code, such as the duel and the urgent problem of economic decline due to the Dunkers1 refusal to accept employment outside the service of the state, Ompteda seeks to foster national unity by showing that the aristocracy performs a vital function as the source of military and civil administrators with an essential community of interest with the rest of the nation. Uhile 3akob Uassermann represents in some ways the antithesis of the other two in that he is anti-nationalist and anti-authoritarian, he too aspires to a unified national community, but on the basis of humanitarian idealism. His vision of a,reborn society lacks the national orientation of the "Heimatdichter" and his hope for social improvement through a revitalized humanitarian ethic gave way to despair after the collapse of the Ueimar Republic. Ompteda similarly abandoned his vision of a stratified but harmonious state after the Revolution of 1918, and only Frenssen modified his vision to accomodate the Third Reich. None of the three authors belongs aesthetically in the first rank: their novels are epigonal in style, rambling in structure, and generally far too long. Since they were not first-rate thinkers, they were unable to subject their vision of a reborn society to the kind of consistent, penetrating analysis which would have revealed their failure to find solutions to the problems of industrial society. In consequence the novels retreat from the modern world into a mythical past where Germany was self-sufficient and the population lived in harmony on the land. For all his pretensions of belonging to the literary avant-garde, Uassermann's position is essentially analogous: his heroes all withdraw from the problems of industrial society into a sheltered and sharply limited sphere where they can engage in good works on an individual level. Had there been no Third Reich, the "Heimatroman" would have been merely a transitory phenomenon of dubious literary merit, worthy of scant attention forty years after the last representative of the genre left the printing press. The justification for its retrospective analysis lies in the fact that millions of Germans read these novels over a period of forty years and found in Adolf Hitler's rejection of liberal parliamentary democracy a sympathetic and familiar echo of the "Heimatroman’s" rural idyll.

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