The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Sudermann, Hermann

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Sudermann, Hermann
Edition of 1920. See also Hermann Sudermann on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

SUDERMANN, Hermann, German dramatist and novelist: b: Matziken (near Heydekrug, East Prussia, 30 Sept. 1857). His father was a brewer, descended from a family of Dutch Mennonites, one of whom was the diddactic and moralistic author Daniel Sudermann (1550-1632), who wrote in German. Hermann Sudermann attended the Realschule at Elbing, the Realgymnasium at Tilsit, earning a living at the same time as an apothecary's apprentice, and went to the University of Königsberg, where he studied philology and history until 1877. In the latter year he went to Berlin and became a tutor to various Berlin families, including that of the author Hans Hopfen (1835-1904). He then turned to journalism (his first charge was that of co-editor of the Deutsches Reichsblatt, 1881-82), which was to be his introduction to literature. In 1891 he married the authoress Klare Lauckner, a widow (née Schulz, b. 14 Feb. 1861). Sudermann later retired to a villa at Grunewald, a suburb of Berlin, and now spends much of his time at his castle of Blankensee, near Trebbin, which the enormous royalties on his plays enabled him to acquire. But his first successes were not in the field of the drama, but in the novel and short story. ‘Im Zwielicht’ (‘In the Twilight’), a volume of short stories, appeared in 1887 (36th ed., 1910), followed in the same year by ‘Frau Sorge’ (English translation may be had under the name ‘Dame Care’), his most famous novel. The latter is a powerful, simply constructed, objective work, excellent in suggestion of tone and milieu, with a somewhat sensational ending. Björnson's story, ‘Arne,’ was probably used as a model, and Sudermann's work in turn served as the model for Frenssen's great success, ‘Jörn Uhl.’ The 125th edition of ‘Frau Sorge’ was printed in 1912. After another volume of short stories (‘Die Geschwister’ 1888), came another strong but somewhat more vulgar novel, ‘Der Kauensteg’ (1889; English translation to be had under the title ‘Regina’). Although his talent as a narrator is very great, he felt his skill as a dramatist to be greater, and in the same year (1889, which is the year of the opening of the realistic movement the German theatre; (consult articles on Fontane, Gerhart Hauptmann), his first play, ‘Ehre’ (‘Honor’) was played in the Lessing Theatre, Berlin, on 27 November. This play, which had been originally intended to be a tragedy, and which, on Blumenthal's advice, had been conducted to a ‘happy ending,’ was a pseudo-Nietzschean attack on the morality of the lowly and had a great success. The next play, ‘Sodoms Ende’ (5 Nov. 1890), a tragedy of artistic life in Berlin, was not a success. It was followed by ‘Heimat’ (7 Jan. 1893), in which Sudermann again emphasizes the right of the artist to a freer moral life than that of the petty bourgeoisie, and which is constructed with such telling dramatic effect, that this play has carried Sudermann's reputation all over the world. Every great actress considers ‘Magda’ (in English the play is known by that name), the heroine of ‘Heimat,’ to be one of the touchstones of her profession. There is in this play some of the moralistic and didactic tendency of the later French dramatists, especially the younger Dumas, and all of their technical finesse. Sudermann attempted another long novel, ‘Das hohe Lied’ (English translation, ‘The Song of Songs’) in 1908. His latest work of which any report has reached this country is the dramatic cycle ‘Die entgötterte Welt’ (‘The World made Godless’), of which one section, ‘Die gutgeschnittene Ecke’ (performed at the Lessing Theatre, 28 Jan. 1916), treats satirically of the sordid commercial phases of theatrical art in Berlin. On the whole, Sudermann must be regarded as a seeker for sensational effect and high royalties, in which he has been extremely successful. The permanent value of his work is slight. But its present popularity renders it important to study it as a symptom of the times. His other works are ‘Iolanthes Hochzeit’ (short story, 1892); ‘Es war’ (novel, 1894); ‘Die Schmetterlingsschlacht’ (1895); ‘Morituri’ (three one-act plays, 1896); ‘Das Glück im Winkel’ (1896); ‘Johannes’ (1898); ‘Johannisfeuer’ (1901); ‘Es lebe das Leben’ (1902); ‘Das Blumenboot’ (1905); ‘Strandkinder’ (1909); ‘Der Bettler von Syrakus’ (1911); ‘Der gute Ruf’ (1912). See Magda.

Jacob Wittmer Hartmann,
The College of the City of New York.