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Leben des Maria Wutz

[This page by Catherine J. Minter]
Leben des vergnügten Schulmeisterlein Maria Wutz in Auenthal (1793)
Life of the Merry Little Schoolmaster Maria Wutz in Auenthal

Wutz, described by Jean Paul as a ‘kind of idyll’, was included as an appendix to his first published novel, Die Unsichtbare Loge (1793). It is generally accepted, however, that its links with the novel are relatively tenuous.

Wutz is a short prose piece which depicts the uneventful life and peaceful death of a schoolmaster in Jean Paul’s fictional village of Auenthal. Wutz is a master of the art of contentment, possessing the ability to inject pleasure into every moment of his life despite the fact that his social situation is far from idyllic and his existence is uneventful and uniform. Wutz exemplifies Jean Paul’s definition of the idyll from his Vorschule der Aesthetik (1804) as an epic representation of perfect happiness within limits. Throughout, there is some tension between Wutz’s ‘naïve’ contentment and the narrator’s ‘sentimental’ melancholy as he reflects on the short-lived nature of all human existence (including that of Wutz), but neither the character’s nor the narrator’s perspective is presented as the ‘right’ one.

Wutz contains themes and stylistic elements that would become Jean Paul’s trademarks. These include the themes of childhood, transience and death; the use of digressions; witty, original similes and metaphors; leaps from one subject to a different, often unexpected one; and carefully crafted, detailed descriptions of celebratory events and key moments of existence. The first of several idylls by Jean Paul, Wutz would become one of his best-known works, representing what he describes in his Vorschule der Aesthetik as his own ‘low’ or ‘Dutch’ style, characterized by a focus on the familiar, domestic sphere and the inclusion of comic elements. Perhaps the most memorable and charming comic element in Wutz is the library of versions of contemporary works that Wutz has written himself because he cannot afford to buy the originals.

Further Reading

Kathleen Blake, ‘What the Narrator Learns in Jean Paul’s Wutz’, German Quarterly 48 (1975), 52-65
Richard W. Hannah, ‘The Tortures of the Idyll: Jean Paul’s Wutz and the Loss of Presence’, Germanic Review 56 (1981), 121-27
Jean Paul’s Schulmeisterlein Wutz, ed. by Eva J. Engel (The Hague: Mouton, 1962)