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Transformations of the German Novel

"Simplicissimus" in Eighteenth-Century Adaptations


Monique Rinere

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the German literary establishment considered the novel the contemptible entertainment of the uneducated. By the end of the century, the novel had eclipsed the epic poem as the most appropriate genre for depicting humankind and its preoccupations. The story of the novel’s emergence as a respected and productive artistic genre is intimately bound up with the vicissitudes of the most popular of all German baroque works, Hans Jacob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen’s (1621/22-1676) Der abentheurliche Simplicissimus: Teutsch (1668/69). Between 1756 and 1785, Simplicissimus quietly found its way into bookshops three times in radically different forms, in adaptations that were not, as critics have asserted, arbitrary, but quite purposeful. This investigation discusses the ways in which this canonical text was reworked to reflect the thinking of leading – and warring – Enlightenment aestheticians. At the genre war’s end, the novel emerged triumphant and Simplicissimus adaptations had been instrumental in securing the victory; the multi-faceted Simplicissimus had served as a vehicle for reifying theoretical positions in the conflicts. For, as the social and aesthetic climate shifted radically, Grimmelshausen’s work not only survived, but took on new life in the most important literary campaign of the century.
Contents: The Shift in the Aesthetics of the Novel via Gottsched – The 1756 Simplicissimus – The 1779 Simplicissimus – The Shift in the Aesthetics of the Novel via Wieland and Blanckenburg – The 1785 Simplicissimus.