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||Gerhart (Johann Robert) Hauptmann (1862-1946)|
Prominent German dramatist of the early 20th century. Hauptmann won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1912. His naturalistic plays are still frequently performed. Hauptmann's best-known works include The Weavers (1893), a humanist drama of a rebellion against the mechanisms of the Industrial Revolution, and Hannele (1884), about the conflict between reality and fantasy.
"It is a sultry day toward the end of May. The clock points to twelve. Most of the waiting weavers stand like men before the bar of justice where, tortured and anxious, they must await a life-and-death decision. The all give the impression of being crushed, like beggars. Passing from humiliation from humiliation and convinced that they are only tolerated, they are used to making themselves as inconspicuous as possible." (from The Weavers, Act One)
Gerhart Hauptmann was born in Ober-Salzbrunn (now Szczawno Zdrój, Poland), a fashionable resort in Silesia. His father was Robert Hauptmann, a hotel owner, and mother Marie (Straehler) Hauptmann. After failing at the gymnasium in Breslau, Gerhart was sent to his uncle's estate. There he became aware of Pietism and learned to know the peasants with whom he worked. Already as a child Hauptmann had started to draw, and he entered the art academy in Breslau, intending to become a sculptor. At the age of twenty he moved to Jena, where he studied history at the university.
From 1883 to 1884 Hauptmann studied art in Rome and wrote a romantic poem based on the myth of Prometheus. Ill health forced him to return to Germany. In 1885 he married Marie Thienemann; they had four children. Marie Thienemann was a beautiful, rich heiress, whom he had met in 1881, and who supported him through the four years of their engagement. Hauptmann settled with Marie in Berlin. She admired her husband, but did not much understand literature and was devastated when Gerhart's attention strayed. However, her wealth gave him the freedom to start his career as a writer.
In 1885 Hauptmann set up a home with his wife in the little lakeside village of Erkner. Abandoning his early romantic ideals, he became convinced that life should be depicted as it is. From the intellectual currents of his day he adopted a belief in scientific causality and materialism. His early stories 'Fasching' (1887) and 'Bahnwärter Thiel' (1888) were tales of simple people, although there is also a level which transcends the boundaries of realism.
Vor Sonnenaufgang (1889, Before Sunrise), Hauptmann's his first play, with its shocking realism, created an uproar among the audience when it was first performed in Freie Bühne in Berlin. During a scene, in which a mother gives birth to a stillborn child, a doctor in the audience gave the forceps to the doctor on the stage. In the drama, Alfred Loth, a young socialist, falls in love with Helene Krause, the sister-in-law of his former college friend, a ruthless coal-mining engineer, and is corrupted by his power. Alfred leaves Helene, who kills herself. Theodor Fontane, in his unprejudiced review, wrote that Hauptmann is "ein stillvoller Realist" (realist in good style), and compared Hauptmann to the robber captain, whereas Ibsen was merely the cadet. "It is quite false to assume that realism is once and for all married to ugliness. It will be wholly genuine only when it is married to beauty and when the accompanyimg ugliness, which is a part of life, is transformed." (Theodor Fontane: Literature and History in the Bismarck Reich by Gordon A. Craig, 1999, p. 143) In Berlin Hauptmann came in contact with progressive intellectuals, among them the poet and dramatist Arno Holz (1863-1929), whose play Neue Gleise (1892) deeply influenced him. Holz had earlier published Die Kunst, ihr Wesen und ihre Gesetze (1891), in which he tried to give naturalism a theoretic base. The first edition of Vor Sonnenaufgang was dedicated to "Bjarne P. Hohnsen"; it was the pseudonym used by Arno Holz and Johannes Schlaf.
Hauptmann's early dramas reflect the influence of Henrik Ibsen, but the production of Die Weber, a dramatization of the Silesian weavers' revolt of 1844, brought him fame as the leading playwright of his generation. Hauptmann did not only want to give realistic details, but he paid a great deal of attention to historical accuracy, and studied various dialects. The weavers are, as Hauptmann describes in 'Act One,' "flat-chested, coughing creatures with ashen gray faces: creatures of the looms, whose knees are bent with much sitting." The women's clothes are old and torn, but some of the young girls have some charm – they have "delicate figures, large protruding melancholy eyes." (Three Plays: The Weavers, Hannele, and The Beaver Coat by Gerhart Hauptmann, translated from the German by Horst Frenz and Miles Waggoner, 1977, p. 3) Structurally the play, which was at first banned, was innovative – there is no single, individual hero in the cast of more than 70 characters.
In Der Biberpelz (1893), a comedy set in the neighborhood of Berlin in the 1880s, and in Hanneles Himmelfahrt (1894), Hauptmann began to try to abandon the naturalistic style, but still focused on the life of ordinary people. The heroine of Hannele is an abused, motherless child who escapes hard reality into dreams and fantasies. After scrupulous studies Hauptmann wrote the passionate and lively Florian Geyer (1896), which dealt with the peasant wars of the sixteenth century. It was not as successful as Hauptmann had expected, but later on it has been considered among his major works.
Die versunkene Glocke (1897), a symbolic story of a master bell founder and his struggle as an artist, has been one of Hauptmann's most popular plays. After this Hauptmann wrote the tragedies Fuhrmann Henschel (1899), Michael Kramer (1900), and Rose Bernd (1903). These works also reflected the personal turmoil Hauptmann was then in he had fallen for a fourteen-year-old girl, a promising violinist Margarete Marschalk. She was the opposite of his wife, interested in his work, and in such outdoor sports as hiking, ice-skating, andf skiing. After Hauptmann wife found out about her rival, she moved with the children to Dresden. Hauptmann had a son, Benvenuto, with Margarete, and in 1904, after a long period of agonising thought, Hauptmann divorced Marie and married Margarete. However, a year later he met a sixteen-year-old actress, Ida Orloff, who became a new object of his obsession. Hauptmann described her in his letters as a moth flirting with flames, as a bewitching Siren, as a mermaid, and as a cruel spider.
Und Pippa tanzt! (1906), about the fragility of beauty, is one of Hauptmann's most poetical works. Pippa also owed much to Hauptmann's study of the legends and myths of Silesia. Ida Orloff played the title role and later she starred in August Blom's film adaptation of Hauptmann's novel Atlantis, in which she performed a "spider-dance". She committed suicide during the final weeks of WW II in Berlin, after being raped and abused by Russian soldiers.
Hauptmann's journey to Greece in 1907 inspired the travel diary Griechischer Frühling (1908), where he brought up the theme of Christian heritage and paganism. Hauptmann returned to the theme in two novels, Der Narr in Christo Emanuel Quint (1910), a summation of his lifelong interest in the figure of Christ, and Die Insel der großen Mutter (1924). Kaiser Karls Geisel (1908) dealt with nymphomania. In Der Bogen des Odysseus (1914) the hero regains his power through the contact with his native soil.
"Thanks to this elemental feeling for his fellow men, Hauptmann has
remained the foremost social poet of Germany. And thanks to this deep
feeling for humanity he is counted among those modern dramatists who,
like Ibsen, Strindberg, and Shaw, have outlasted the changes of time
and fashion." ('Introduction' by Horst Frenz, in Three Plays: The Weavers, Hannele, and The Beaver Coat by Gerhart Hauptmann, translated from the German by Horst Frenz and Miles Waggoner, 1977, p. xiv) In the 1920s Hauptmann took the subjects for his plays from fantasy, mythical symbolism and folklore. Die Insel der großen Mutter
featured a republic of women located on the Ladies' Island in the
Pacific Ocean. The women and one young boy, named Phaon, live there a
happy life after a shipwreck, without the restrictions of the
patriarchal society. Pheon's precocious sexual activities result in the
birth of children. Boys over the age of five are exiled to a distant
corner of the island called Man's Land. "I certainly would never have
written it," Hauptmann
recalled in 1942, "if I had not, for years, seen the many beautiful,
often complete naked, women's bodies on [the island of] Hiddensee and
observed the carryings on there." (Understanding Gerhart Hauptmann by Warren R. Maurer, 1992, p. 155)
Hauptmann himself considered Till Eulenspiegel (1928), an epic in hexameters fusing reality and fantasy, his greatest work. Vor Sonnenuntergang (1932) was a tragic love story of an old man and a young girl, which had some autobiographical basis. Im Wirbel der Berufung (1936), Hauptmann's last novel, was followed by Das Abenteuer meiner Jugend (1937), a book of memoirs of his first 26 years.
Throughout the Nazi regime, Hauptmann remained in Germany, which Goebbels used as a propaganda tool, claiming that he had made his peace with the Nazis. Privately he was appalled by their politics, saying that "This scum will bring war to the whole world." When his friend asked, "Why don't you protest or emigrate, like Zweig and Thomas Mann", he replied, "Because I'm a coward!" (A Noble Treason: The Story of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Revolt Against Hitler by Richard Hanser, 2012, p. 78) The Third Reich refused to allow him to receive the Schiller Prize, for which he was almost continuously recommended. A complete seventeen- volume edition of his works came out in 1942. Hauptmann died on June 6 1946 of pneumonia, at his home in Agnetendorf. His last work, the unfinished Der neue Christophorus, was again a story of suffering humanity.
For further reading: Gerhart Hauptmann by P. Schlenther (1897); Gerhart Hauptmann by K. Holl (1913); Gerhart Hauptmann by P. Fechter (1922); Gerhart Hauptmann by H.F. Garten (1954); Gerhart Hauptmann, His Life and Work by C.F.W. Behl (1956); Gerhart Hauptmann: The Prose Plays by M. Sinden (1957); Witness of Deceit by R.L. Shaw (1958); Der schwarze Zeus, Gerhart Hauptmanns zweiter Weg by R. Michaelis (1962); Gerhart Hauptmann, der ewige Deutsche by J. Améry (1963); Gerhart Hauptmann oder der letzte Klassiker by H. Daiber (1971); Gerhart Hauptmann and Utopia by P.A. Mellen (1976); The Image of the Primitive Giant in Gerhart Hauptmann by C.T. Dussere (1979); Understanding Gerhart Hauptmann by W.R. Maurer (1982); Gerhart Hauptmann by P.A. Mellen (1984); Understanding Gerhart Hauptmann by Warren R. Mauer (1992); Domination, Dependence, Denial and Despair by C.F. Good (1993); Gerhart Hauptmann: Bürgerlichkeit und grosser Traum: eine Biographie by Peter Sprengel (2012); "... und weiche Klänge quellen auf wie Rauch": Gerhart Hauptmann und die Musik, herausgegeben von Wolfgang de Bruyn und Stefan Rohlfs (2017)