An Introduction to Wilhelm Raabe

At this point it is probably important to say a little bit about who exactly Wilhelm Raabe is.  He is, of course, a German realist author, and he is the author who inspired Wilhelm_Raabe_1910my dissertation project.  Unlike the other authors I am covering, Adalbert Stifter and Theodor Fontane, Wilhelm Raabe is unfortunately less familiar to audiences beyond the German speaking countries.  There are several reasons for this, not the least of which are a historic dearth of translations, a rocky reception history in his own lifetime, and the appropriation of his legacy by a conservative and frequently anti-semitic circle of readers after Raabe’s death in 1910, who in turn paved the way for the author’s integration into National Socialist cultural politics in the 1930s.1  Beyond that, Raabe can be a pretty hard author to read.  By “hard,” of course, I mean that he demands of his reader a certain level of intellectual labor and a willingness to accept that there are certain things that we won’t “get.”  His stories are narrated in a rather idiosyncratic idiom, he reduces plot in some cases down to nothing (the “climax” of Stopfkuchen is the word “yes”), and he sprinkles his texts with numerous allusions that even people steeped in 19th century philology might not get right away.  Of course, to my mind his singular language and his subversion of narrative conventions and genre typologies is the pleasure of reading him in the first place!

For the curious beginner, I would recommend Stopfkuchen (translated under the rather awful title of Tubby Schaumann, but the title means Stuffcake) which is available in print in English in the collection Wilhelm Raabe: Novels. I can also recommend the novella At the Sign of the Wild Man available in new translation in the collection German Moonlight; Höxter and Corvey; At the Sign of the Wild Man.

Here is a little bit of information from a handout I give to students and others forced to listen to me talk about this guy.

Biographic Details

  • Wilhelm Raabe: German Realist Author, born 1831 in Escherhausen, active 1856 – 1900 in Berlin, Stuttgart, and Braunschweig, died 1910 in Braunschweig.
  • Major Works: Die Chronik der Sperlingsgasse (Chronicle of Sparrow Alley, 1856), Der Hungerpastor (The Hunger Pastor, 1864), Abu Telfan, Oder die Heimkehr vom Mondgebirge (Abu Telfan, or the Return from the Mountains of the Moon, 1867), Pfisters Mühle (Pfister’s Mill, 1884), Die Akten des Vogelsangs (The Documents of the Birdsong, 1896).

Notable Works Available in English

1. On this point see Jeffrey Sammons’ history of Raabe reception in the 20th century The Shifting Fortunes of Wilhelm Raabe: A History of Criticism as a Cautionary Tale.

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