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Empire in Decline

Fritz Mauthner's Critique of Wilhelminian Germany

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Katherine Arens

Fritz Mauthner (1849-1923), a Jewish Austro-Hungarian author born in Bohemia, grew up in Prague, and moved to Berlin to become a noted novelist, newspaper writer, and cultural critic turned philosopher of language. He retired from public life just before World War I to pursue the philosophy and politics of language. This first extensive study of Mauthner’s popular essays and fiction traces his critiques of Wilhelminian Germany and of rising European nationalism. Mauthner dissects the era’s dominant culture, including its class-, ethnicity-, and gender-bound identity politics, judicial discrimination, ethnic nationalism, and the press. In other works, in the traditions of Naturalism, he draws on popular science to anticipate his own critique of language, echoing more famous contemporaries such as physicist Ernst Mach and biologist Ernst Haeckel and influencing authors Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Max Nordau.