Welcome to www.germanlit.org on Google sites. This website provides very short introductions (by named scholars) to some of the finest texts in German-language literature for educational purposes. It is designed to be accessible to all English speakers and so it is in English throughout, except for bilingual quotations from primary texts. This website gets over five thousand visits per month. The site includes suggestions for further reading in English, in the hope that after a quick look at this website, readers will turn off their computer and read a book instead. For a list of recommended guide books, please click here.
This is an independent website. It is edited by Ernest Schonfield, Lecturer in German at the University of Glasgow, Scotland.
For a full list of contributors to this website, click here: Contributors.
Ernest Schonfield is responsible for maintaining this website and would welcome any comments or feedback.
The contributors are not liable for direct or indirect damage inclusive of lost profit from the use of information offered on this site. This applies in particular to the identified links to other sites over whose content the contributors have no influence and for which they do not assume any responsibility.
Except where otherwise stated, English translations of primary texts have been produced especially for this website.
Except where otherwise stated, primary texts in German are cited from: https://www.projekt-gutenberg.org/index.html, with kind permission.
Please note that printed editions of primary texts are usually more reliable than online texts (see below for why).
Why learn languages?
- If you learn different languages then different worlds will open up to you and it will enable you to experience the world differently.
- ‘Jede Sprache enthielt die Vorstellungsweise eines Theils der Menschheit’; ‘Every language contains the imaginary faculty of a part of humanity’ (Wilhelm von Humboldt, 1836)
Why learn German?
- German is relatively easy for English speakers to learn because it is closely related to Anglo-Saxon.
- Learning German gives you access to countries - Germany, Austria and Switzerland - and cultures which are at the forefront of developments in art, science, literature, music and philosophy (and have been since the 18th century).
- German is important for economic reasons because Germany has the largest economy in the European Union.
- German is a very ‘romantic’ language: the idea of Romanticism (die Romantik) was developed around 1800 by a German (Friedrich Schlegel). (To get an idea of Romanticism, see the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich).
Why read literature?
- Literature is one of the most advanced methods that we have to understand ourselves and others. Human beings are hybrid creatures, they are full of contradictory needs and desires. Literature can do justice to these contradictions because literature offers an imaginary format where different ideas and feelings can coexist simultaneously.
- Literature is fun (Die Literatur macht Spaß).
Why read poetry?
‘Its study can enrich, beyond any other discipline, our emotional together with our intellectual life.’ - S. S. Prawer, German Lyric Poetry: A Critical Analysis of Selected Poems from Klopstock to Rilke (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965), p. 7.
Why read German literature?
- Reading literature is the best way to learn a language because creative writers are the people who use a language to its full potential.
- Reading German literature is particularly rewarding because it offers an insider’s view of many events which shaped today’s world: the Reformation, the Enlightenment, secularisation, Romanticism, industrial and technological modernity, political modernity, imperialism, World War One, World War Two and the Holocaust (Shoah), the Cold War and the formation of the European Union. The arrival of industrial modernity in 19th-century Germany, Austria and Switzerland was particularly turbulent and it inspired writers such as Marx, Nietzsche and Freud whose works are central to our understanding of our own contemporary condition. For Marx, the essence of human beings is the ensemble (aggregate) of social relations (Theses on Feuerbach, 6). For Nietzsche, the essence of human beings is the will to power. For Freud, the essence of human beings is the unconscious.
Why not just read German literature in translation?
Translations can only ever offer an approximation of the rhythm, flow, nuances and beauty of the original language. If you take the time to read the original version, or a bilingual or parallel text edition, then your experience will be more rich, authentic and profound.
Why are books better than websites?
Because they go through professional editorial procedures in order to ensure quality, including peer reviews in the case of scholarly work. More time and effort goes into them, and as a result they are more reliable. Online versions of primary texts can be unreliable because they are usually based on older editions with lapsed copyright. Recent print editions tend to be more reliable because they are based on recent scholarship.
Printed books also have the following advantages to ebooks and e-readers:
they are beautiful; every publication is unique in terms of design; with books your experience is private, but e-readers record and monitor your reading activity for the manufacturer (Source: Guardian Review 1 September 2012, p. 17). Paper is more pleasant to touch than plastic and it comes from renewable sources. Books are tactile; they open out towards you; they have spines; you can write on them; you can flip between pages; they are more memorable; book pages are white, cream or yellow, not cold, mechanical silicon grey; they don't need batteries; they don't break down after five years.