Johann Peter Hebel (1760-1826)

Hebel’s Schatzkästlein des rheinischen Hausfreundes (1811) (Treasure Chest of the Rhineland Family Friend) is a collection of short, profound, comic anecdotes, which draws on the medieval tradition of the Schwank (comic tale). These popular tales communicated the spirit of the Enlightenment to a wide audience. Hebel writes in the tradition of oral storytelling, as described by Walter Benjamin in his essay Der Erzähler; The Storyteller. Hebel is a man who has experienced the world and can give good counsel.

Hebel’s book, translated into English as The Treasure Chest, is one of the treasures of world literature. Kafka loved it. Like all great books, if you read it, it will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Hebel also wrote poetry and stories in the Alemannic dialect, and versions of Biblical stories.

Commenting on Hebel’s work, Robert Gillett writes: ‘When it comes to brevity, wisdom, limpidity, and complexity, only Kafka and Benjamin are in the same league. In his generic range, Hebel outdoes even them’ (Modern Language Review 109:2 (2014), p. 553).

English Translation

Johann Peter Hebel, The Treasure Chest, trans. by John Hibberd (London and New York: Penguin, 1995)

Further Reading in English

E. M. Hopwood, Johann Peter Hebel and the Rhetoric of Orality (Stuttgart: Heinz, 1994)

Nicholas Jacobs, ‘Bertolt Brecht and Johann Peter Hebel: A Footnote’, Oxford German Studies 40:1 (2011), 58-61

Charlotte Lee, ‘Johann Peter Hebel and the Dynamics of Hope’, German Life and Letters 68:4 (2015), 517-28

Julian Preece and Robert Gillett (eds.), Remembering Johann Peter Hebel: Anniversary Essays, Oxford German Studies 40:1 (2011) (special issue)

Ernest Schonfield, ‘Masters and Menials in Hebel’s Calendar Stories’, Oxford German Studies 40:1 (2011), 35-45

Further Reading in German

Achim Aurnhammer and Hanna Klessinger (eds.), Johann Peter Hebel und die Moderne (Freiburg in Breisgau: Rombach, 2011)

Lothar Wittmann, Johann Peter Hebels Spiegel der Welt: Interpretationen zu 53 Kalendergeschichten (Frankfurt am Main: Diesterweg, 1969)

Web Link


‘The greatest German storyteller’? British Library blog on Johann Peter Hebel by Susan Halstead