Der Verbrecher aus verlorener Ehre

Der Verbrecher aus verlorener Ehre; The Criminal of Lost Honour (1792)

[first published anonymously as Verbrecher aus Infamie. Eine wahre Geschichte; Criminal of Infamy. A True Story (1786)]

This thirty-page story is based on the real life case of the Swabian criminal Johann Friedrich Schwan (1729-1760), known as the ‘Sonnenwirt’ (Landlord of ‘The Sun’ Inn). Schiller had been told about the case in 1776 by Jakob Friedrich Abel, his teacher at the Karlsschule, who published his own account of the case in 1787 (see reading list below, Abel); Abel’s father had himself interrogated Schwan in 1760. Schiller’s interest in the workings of crime and punishment coincides with Enlightenment attempts at prison reform such as Cesare Beccaria’s (1738-1794) essay On Crimes and Punishments (1764).

The tale begins with the narrator’s statement that he wants to examine the internal and external sources of this criminal’s behaviour:

An seinen Gedanken liegt uns unendlich mehr als an seinen Taten, und noch weit mehr an den Quellen seiner Gedanken als an den Folgen jener Taten.

We are concerned infinitely more with his thoughts than with his deeds, and even more so with the sources of his thoughts than with the consequences of his deeds.

The narrator states that he wants to avoid the cruel arrogance and scorn which usually characterises attempts at criminal psychology. To a certain extent this anticipates the psychological delicacy which would later characterise the works of Georg Büchner (Woyzeck and Lenz).

The story’s fictional protagonist is named Christian Wolf, the son of of an innkeeper. As in the case of J. F. Schwan, the inn is called ‘The Sun’, and Wolf comes to be known as the ‘Sonnenwirt’. The narrator notes that Wolf grew up without the guidance of a father, and that he frequently got into trouble as a schoolboy. Even his physiology speaks against him; according to the pseudoscientific physiognomy of Schiller’s time as expounded by Goethe’s friend Johann Kaspar Lavater, Wolf’s facial features signify that he has a criminal predisposition (see below, Andrew Cusack). Wolf’s criminal career begins when he is caught poaching by his love rival Robert, who works for the local forester. The severe punishments Wolf receives only exacerbate his outsider position. Wolf becomes a feared bandit chieftan, and the story ends with his capture and confession.

Schiller’s story lent its title to Heinrich Böll’s short novel Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum; The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1974), set in the Federal Republic of Germany in the early 1970s, in which a young woman murders a tabloid journalist who has destroyed her life and contributed to her mother's death.

English Translation

Jeffrey L. High (ed.), Schiller's Literary Prose Works: New Translations and Critical Essays (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2008), contains full English translation of ‘The Criminal of Lost Honor’

Further Reading in English

Cesare Beccaria, On Crimes and Punishments and other writings, ed. by Richard Bellamy, trans. by Richard Davies with Virginia Cox and Richard Bellamy (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995)

Andrew Cusack, ‘“Der Schein ist gegen Sie”: Physiognomy and Honour in Schiller’s Der Verbrecher aus verlorener Ehre’, Modern Language Review 101:3 (2006), 759-73

Gail K. Hart, Friedrich Schiller: Crime, Aesthetics, and the Poetics of Punishment (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2005)

Steven D. Martinson, ‘Friedrich Schiller's “Der Verbrecher aus verlorener Ehre,” or: The Triumph of the Moral Will’, Sprachkunst 18:1 (1987), 1-9

Yvonne Nilges, ‘Homo homini lupus? A Man in Wolf's Clothing-Schiller's Variations on a Legal Theme’, Oxford German Studies 38:1 (2009), 13-27

David Rosen, ‘Die Annalen seiner Verirrungen: The Divided Narrative of “Der Verbrecher aus verlorener Ehre”’, New German Review 10 (1994), 11-27

Lesley Sharpe, ‘“Der Verbrecher aus verlorener Ehre”: an early exercise in Schillerian psychology’, German Life and Letters 33:2 (1980), 102-10

Theodore Ziolkowski, Dimensions of the Modern Novel: German Texts and European Contexts (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), pp. 296-309

Further Reading in German

Sophia Avgerinou, ‘Aufklärerische Botschaft und Erzähltechnik in Schillers Der Verbrecher aus verlorener Ehre’, German Life and Letters 68:1 (2015), 1-19

Jakob Friedrich Abel, Karlsschule-Schriften. Eine Quellenedition zum Philosophieunterricht an der Stuttgarter Karlsschule (1773-1782), ed. by Wolfgang Riedel (Würzburg: Königshausen und Neumann, 1995)

Steffen Martus, ‘Verbrechen lohnt sich: Die Ökonomie der Literatur in Schillers Verbrecher aus Infamie’, Euphorion 99:1-2 (2005), 243-71