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"Fromm und Frohlich" : the conception of happiness in Eichendorff's Ahnung und Gegenwart Vogel, Betty

Abstract

In Ahnung und Gegenwart Eichendorff makes no specific reference to the subject of happiness. Because of this, this theme must be explored indirectly through an analysis of the society and characters depicted in the novel. By abstracting those characteristics which Eichendorff describes as creating happiness in the society and the individual one can construct a thesis representing his views in this regard. In this novel Eichendorff contrasts two societies— the artificial permissive society of the court, whose attitudes he satirizes, and the wholesome rural society, whose attitudes he condones. The latter conserves the traditional Christian-Germanic virtues of "treue Sitte und Frömmigkeit" and, as such, one assumes, represents the author's ideal of the truly happy society. Eichendorff recognizes individual differences and realises that human beings seek happiness in many different ways. He realizes that men and women differ radically in this respect. Men seek happiness primarily through a career. Women seek it in love. Eichendorff also realizes the variation in human temperament which transcends sexual differences. He realizes that extroverts seek happiness actively in the world— possibly in some political commitment—and are likely to seek fulfillment through marriage. (This is true of Leontin.) Introverts, on the other hand, tend to seek fulfillment through their own inner resources—through the practice of art or religion. They are also more apt to sublimate their desire for human love into some aesthetic or spiritual ideal. (This is true of Friedrich.) But although Eichendorff does not prescribe any particular form of human fulfillment, he does prescribe the conditions under which happiness is to be sought. He is convinced that there are certain inner qualities which the individual must possess if he is to achieve it. These are the same qualities which motivate the ideal rural society, "treue Sitte und Frömmigkeit," morality and religion. Only by subjecting himself to these ordering influences can the individual attain peace and harmony, the fruits of happiness. If the individual does not subject himself to them, his life becomes disordered and he shatters on life. Morality is necessary to protect the individual from disturbing emotional experiences which may disrupt his life. Spirituality is necessary to ensure the inner equilibrium which is conducive to happiness. Eichendorff, however, does not present a facile, Victorian view of life. Although he stresses the necessity of morality and religion as bases of an ordered and happy life, he nowhere promulgates the naive view that all individuals are capable of exercising these virtues. He realizes that all individuals are limited by heredity and environment and that, consequently, "will-power" itself is an inherited, or acquired, characteristic. Not all individuals, when frustrated in their search for happiness have the capacity to restrain themselves by morality or sublimate themselves in religion. (Thus, Romana commits suicide, Erwin dies of a broken heart, and Rudolf escapes into a life of magic.) Eichendorff does not give preference to any particular form of human fulfillment. Nevertheless it is not unreasonable to assume that Friedrich, from whose viewpoint the novel is written, represents Eichendorff1s ideal of human development. Friedrich is a contemplative, a self-contained personality able to attain fulfillment through his own inner resources. He is able to experience the joy of creativity and that of an intimate relationship with God, profound human experiences unrelated to the vicissitudes of the external world. His happiness is thus more enduring than- that of those who seek it outside of themselves. And yet, although he is physically isolated from the world, he has the assurance of serving it in the most meaningful manner. Through his prayers as a religious he hopes to reawaken those forces of morality and religion which alone will restore happiness to his society.

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