Lesson 11 Table of Contents Lesson 13

L e s s o n 12


1. Key personalities

Charles Sealsfield, pseudonym of Karl Anton Postl (1793-1864). After becoming a monk in early life, Sealsfield ran away from the monastery and for the rest of his life carefully concealed his real name and identity. He traveled widely in the U.S. and Europe, writing travel books as well as fiction.

Friedrich Gerstaecker (1816-1872). A world traveler who spent years in the American West and found an enthusiastic public in Germany for his novels and stories set in the New World. One of his short stories, "Germelshausen," is said to have inspired the American musical Brigadoon.

Otto Ruppius (1819-1864). Ruppius lived for years in different American cities and wrote a number of stories and novels describing German-American life in his day. He eventually returned to Germany to become editor of the popular magazine Gartenlaube.

Friedrich Armand Strubberg (1806-1889). A physician who played a prominent role in the settlement of eastern Texas by German immigrants in the 1840s. He wrote more than 50 novels describing life on the American frontier.

Robert Reitzel (1849-1898). A journalist and poet, he was the publisher and editor of Der arme Teufel (The Poor Devil), a widely read German-American literary magazine. Abenteuer eines Grünen (Adventures of a Green-Horn) is a memoir of his early days in America.

Reinhard Solger (1817-1866). Solger's novel Anton in Amerika is a humorous work which is perhaps the best German-American novel of its time.

2. Main trends

During the 19th century there were a number of poets who wrote verse in the Pennsylvania German dialect. The best known of these was Henry Harbaugh, famous for his book of lyrics Harbaughs Harfe (Harbaugh's Harp). The tradition has been maintained in the 20th century by John Birmelin. Pennsylvania-German dialect literature also includes a number of popular plays.

Lyric poetry was extremely popular with German immigrants during the 19th century, so much so that almost any German-language newspaper published in America during the period contained some examples. Much of this verse is ephemeral and trivial, but occasionally one hits upon a poet with talent above the average. The Wisconsin poets Konrad Krez and Curt Baum are examples.

Among the more interesting German-language writers in the U.S. during the 19th century were German radical liberals who fled to America following the unsuccessful 1848 Revolution. A typical example is Karl Peter Heinzen, who met Karl Marx in Germany and corresponded with the German revolutionary poet Ferdinand Freiligrath. Mathilde Franziska Anneke was an early German-American feminist.

Many of the German-language writers in 19th-century America were journalists who wrote fiction as a sideline. During the twenty years that preceded the Civil War, these writers often serialized their novels in the German-language press, often writing with considerable local color about the particular places in America where they had settled. Rudolf Lexow wrote about New York, Heinrich Boernstein about St. Louis, and Emil Klauprecht about Cincinnati. The novels produced by the journalist authors have a melodramatic quality and meandering plot line which today strikes us as rather quaint. Nonetheless, they provide an interesting insight into a little-explored area of American cultural history. Some of these novels have recently been reissued in English translation.

During the 19th century a number of German writers drew inspiration from the fiction of James Fenimore Cooper, author of The Last of the Mohicans. One German-American writer, Heinrich Balduin Möllhausen, was even known as "the German Cooper." Perhaps this title should have been bestowed on Karl May (1842-1912), the most prolific writer of popular adventurous fiction which presents an idealized image of heroic woodsmen and noble Native Americans. Karl May never set foot on American soil.

The German-American experience has also had a certain resonance in works of fiction written in English. In particular, a number of American regional novelists have depicted German immigrant communities in America. Elsie Singmeister (1879-1958) was one of several American novelists who wrote about the Pennsylvania Germans. Ruth Suckow (1892-1960) was a regional novelist who wrote about German-Americans in small towns in Iowa.

3. Suggested further reading

Don Heinrich Tolzmann. German-American Literature. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1977.

Robert E. Ward. A Bio-Bibliography of German-American Writers 1670-1970. White Plains, NY: Kraus International Publications, 1985.

Friedrich Gerstaecker. In the Arkansas Backwoods, ed. & trans. by James William Miller. Columbia, MO: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1991.

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Created: 4 August 1998, SEL
Updated: 17 November 2007, BAS
Comments to: Eberhard Reichmann, reichman@ucs.indiana.edu
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