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German literature

The Twentieth Century

Symbolism, Impressionism, and Expressionism

Antinaturalistic movements grew stronger in the German imperialistic period. They became evident as symbolism and impressionism in poetry (Stefan George, Rainer Maria Rilke, Hugo von Hofmannsthal) and in the novel (Thomas Mann, Alfred Döblin, Hermann Hesse, Franz Kafka, Robert Musil, Hermann Broch) and as expressionism in verse (Georg Trakl, Georg Heym, Gottfried Benn) and drama (Frank Wedekind, Georg Kaiser, Bertolt Brecht). The literature of the Weimar Republic carried forward prewar traditions and excelled in formal experimentation and innovation. This activity was stifled by the rise of National Socialism, which forced leading writers like Thomas Mann and Arnold Zweig into emigration.

Postwar Literature

The postwar decades saw a gradual literary resurgence, with the social and critical novels of authors like Heinrich Böll, Günter Grass, and Max Frisch gaining prominance. Two important centers of literary activity were Group 47, organized by Hans Werner Richter in Germany, and the Vienna Circle, which attracted a number of experimental writers, such as H. C. Artmann and Ernst Jandl in Austria. East Germany's writers generally upheld the tenets of socialist realism, while those in the west were more varied.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, both groups were preoccupied with the Nazi period. Among the significant German writers were Ingeborg Bachmann, Horst Bienek, Johannes Bobrowski, Uwe Johnson, Arno Schmidt, Martin Walser, Peter Weiss, and Christa Wolf. Some of the German-language writers who have received the greatest recent international attention are the Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard and the Romanian-Jewish poet Paul Celan.

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

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