[This page by Catherine J. Minter]
Jean Paul regarded his four-volume novel Titan as his most significant literary achievement, believing it to be his most mature and tightly constructed novel. Titan is a ‘Bildungsroman’ with classical pretensions which sets out to show the development of a young man’s character towards harmony and balance. It also owes much to eighteenth-century Gothic fiction, featuring many mysterious characters and events.
The plot of this massive novel is elaborate and complex, but its main elements can be outlined as follows. At the beginning of the novel, the youth Albano is taken to the island of Isola Bella in Lake Maggiore to meet his supposed father, Don Gaspard, for the first time. Here, he is introduced to many mysteries concerning his own past. Part Two follows Albano as he returns from Italy to Germany in order to continue his education in the town of Pestitz in the principality of Hohenfließ. Here, the hero becomes involved with the charismatic, self-destructive Roquairol, and falls deeply in love with Roquairol’s fragile sister Liane. Disaster strikes in Part Three: Roquairol rapes Albano’s sister; and Liane dies. At the end of Part Three, Albano thus seizes the opportunity to leave Germany for Italy again, now in the company of Don Gaspard.
Unfortunately, Gaspard’s motivation in taking Albano back to Italy is dubious: he seeks to unite Albano, who is not in fact his son, with his (Gaspard’s) daughter Linda. For a while, it seems that Gaspard has been successful. However, when Albano returns to Germany in Part Four, events and revelations intervene to make a union between him and Linda impossible. Roquairol, who has long been in love with Linda, now seduces her; and Albano’s mentor and companion Schoppe now reveals that Albano is actually the heir to the crown of Hohenfließ (which explains why the aspirational Gaspard had wanted to unite Albano with his daughter). The end of the novel sees Albano embracing his new role as ruler and beginning a relationship with Princess Idoine, who is presented as his ideal match.
It is less the hero Albano than the figures of Roquairol and Schoppe who remain in the memory of readers of Titan. Probably the most interesting character in the novel, Roquairol is talented and charismatic, but burnt-out, inwardly empty, and dissipated. He is intended to represent a contemporary type of cynical, self-destructive ‘genius’. Schoppe is also marked by cynicism, but for different, more philosophical, reasons and in different, more intellectual, ways. Both characters meet tragic ends. Roquairol puts an end to his own life after his seduction of Linda by shooting himself on stage. Schoppe dies after seeing what he believes is his own self embodied (but which is in fact his friend and double Siebenkäs). Although both of these figures may seem implausible by modern standards, they are intended by Jean Paul as serious warnings against certain philosophical excesses of his time.
Titan contains two substantial ‘comic’ appendixes which command attention in their own right. The ‘Clavis Fichtiana’ explores the problems surrounding German Idealism raised by the figure of Schoppe. ‘Luftschiffer Giannozzo’ is a satire on contemporary manners and mores from the bird’s eye perspective of the hot air balloonist.
In his Vorschule der Aesthetik (1804), Jean Paul placed Titan in his own ‘high’ or ‘Italian’ class of novels owing to the lofty scenes and sentiments it contains, and its general remoteness from the reader’s everyday experience. A work of great linguistic, structural and emotional complexity, Titan has challenged readers since its publication, but it rewards those who persist. The novel has been translated into English just once, by the New England translator Charles Timothy Brooks, in 1862.
Robert G. Eisenhauer, Mythology of Souls: Philosophical Perspectives in the Novels of Jean Paul (New York: Peter Lang, 1987), pp. 181-217
Theodore Geissendorfer, ‘Jacobi’s Allwill and Jean Paul’s Titan’, Journal of English and Germanic Philology 27 (1928), 361-70
Wulf Koepke, ‘Bildung and the Transformation of Society: Jean Paul’s Titan and Flegeljahre’, in Reflection and Action: Essays on the ‘Bildungsroman’, ed. by James N. Hardin (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1991), pp. 228-53