German literature

The Eighteenth Century

Sturm und Drang and Classicism

The great age of German literature began in the 18th cent. The classicist theories of Johann Christoph Gottsched aroused violent critical reactions, indirectly paving the way for Friedrich Klopstock and especially for Gotthold Lessing, the greatest preclassical critic and dramatist. The period known as Sturm und Drang embraced the works of Johann Hamann, Johann Gottfried von Herder, and Jakob Lenz.

The period also encompassed the early works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller. Goethe and Schiller were widely considered the greatest figures in the subsequent classical period, when artistic forms in general were characterized by restraint, lucidity, and balance (see classicism). Their cultural ideals, expressed in the novel of self-formation or Bildungsroman, were also spread by C. M. Wieland and Friedrich Hölderlin, the age's greatest German poet.


At the end of the 18th cent. literary romanticism, initiated in Germany by the brothers Friedrich and H. W. von Schlegel and by Novalis, brought greater emphasis on subjective emotion. A new literary form appeared in the novelle, a prose tale often dealing with supernatural elements. Typical early romantic poets were Ludwig Tieck, Clemens Brentano, and Joachim von Arnim, who were also collectors and editors of folktales and folk songs, sometimes set to music by Robert Schumann and other composers.

Freiherr von Eichendorff, Adelbert von Chamisso, and Ludwig Uhland were other notable German romantics. The movement's historical tendencies were supplemented by the philological and folkloristic researches of the brothers Grimm. The writer E. T. A. Hoffmann was romanticism's greatest psychologist of the unconscious. Hovering between classicism and romanticism, Heinrich von Kleist's stories and plays were masterpieces of dramatic economy, other important playwrights were Franz Grillparzer and C. F. Hebbel.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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