The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Gutzkow, Karl

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Gutzkow, Karl
Edition of 1920. See also Karl Gutzkow on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

GUTZKOW, gūts'kō, Karl, German dramatist and novelist: b. Berlin, 17 March 1811: d. Sachsenhausen, near Frankfort, 16 Dec. 1878. He is best known in German literature by reason of his connection with the group of writers known as “Jung-Deutschland.” He was born of an extremely poor family, not proletarian, but of the lowest and most menial branch of state employees. His father had become pietistic and puritanical in his outlook and demands, and Gutzkow's later agnosticism is probably a reaction against the excessive religiosity of his early surroundings. In 1829 he matriculated at the University of Berlin, under the faculty of philosophy. News of the 1830 July Revolution at Paris moved him deeply. The general atmosphere of radicalism pervading Europe at that time, and perhaps more specifically, a reading of the ‘Life of Jesus,’ by D. F. Strauss (q.v.), influenced Gutzkow in the composition of his first novel, 'Wally die Zweiflerin' (1835), which exalts the agnosticism and emancipated views of the heroine, Wally. There are incorporated in this book many ideas that Gutzkow had recently absorbed from French writers, notably Saint-Simon (q.v.), particularly the latter's theory of the emancipation of the flesh. For a decade (1839-49), Gutzkow turned his attention to the German drama, which had declined rather sadly, in the hands of commercial exploiters and romantic book-drama traditions, to a very subordinate position; while only one of his dramatic works a permanent value (the tragedy ‘Uriel Acosta’). Gutzkow really made the German drama once more a dignified and living institution, dealing with subjects of interest to the people and treating them with dramaturgic skill. 'Uriel Acosta' (1846) is still one of the most popular German plays. Gutzkow had treated the same theme in a short story, ‘Der Sadducäer von Amsterdam’ (1833). The hero, a young Portuguese Jew living in Holland, is excommunicated by the synagogue for having written a book of heresy. His love of the truth prevents him, in spite of his strong affection for his friends and brethren, from recanting, and he commits suicide. Unlike ‘Uriel Acosta,’ the other good plays of Gutzkow are all in prose.

In turning his attention to the novel, Gutzkow was actuated by the desire to produce works that were modern not only in theme but also in treatment, and characterized by an acceptance of the latest achievements in philosophy and social psychology. He sets up the following three principles as a guide for the novelist: (1) No longer is the novel to give a merely consecutive presentation of the events in the life of an individual hero; there is to be a simultaneous development of numerous persons, groups and classes, so that the total impression will be that of an organic society, and not merely an exaggerated notion of the importance of certain individuals; (2) “Heroes” in the old sense of the word are to be discarded; simple and sublime motives do not move tbemi they must have complexity and doubt and uncertain interrelations with other persons; (3) the writer must subordinate all the persons and events of his work to a dominant idea that must govern the whole (“ideal unity”), and must correlate all the persons and motives with this idea, thus producing a unified and coherent story (“real unity”). In the pursuit of these principles, Gutzkow turned out two enormous novels, ‘Die Ritter vom Geiste’ (1850-51, abridged ed., 1869), and ‘Der Zauberer vom Rom’ (1858-61, abridged ed., 1872). The former is a study of a revolutionary movement, a sort of ideal organization, which is to assist its members, with the aid of a free press and of a guarantee of work, in the rebirth of Germany after the revolution. The latter is an attack on the growing power of the Catholic Church. Both are confusing in the immensity of their details, and uninviting to the reader, as novels in nine volumes are not to the taste of the present day.

Gutzkow was essentially a journalist, a disseminator of the opinions of others, and the lot of the journalist, with its distracting lack of concentration and unity of purpose, was his to a fatal degree. He fell into a condition of persecutory mania (1861-78), in the course of which he made fruitless attempts to settle down in various parts of Germany, finally committing suicide at Sachsenhausen. His other works are the dramas, ‘Richard Savage’ (1839); ‘Wullenweber’ (1848); ‘Zopf und Schwert’ (1844); ‘Das Urbild des Tartuffe’ (1844); ‘Der Königsleutnant’ (1849); the critical writings ‘Briefe eines Narren an eine Narrin’ (1832); ‘Zur Philosophie der Geschichte’ (1835); ‘Ueber Goethe im Wendepunkte zweier Jahrhunderte’ (1855); ‘Die Zeitgenossen, ihre Schicksale, ihre Tendenzen, ihre grossen Charaktere’ (1836-37).

Jacob Wittmer Hartmann,
Assistant Professor of German Language and Literature, The College of the City of New York.