Date of Award
Senior Scholars Paper (Colby Access Only)
Colby College. German and Russian Dept.
Henry O. Schmidt
The effect of the Zeitgeist on the literature of a period has often been noted. In contemporary literature this is especially true; the times which saw two world wars less than a generation apart have produced a literature which is vitally concerned with man and his problems. This can be seen with particular clarity in German literature, perhaps because on Germany there has been laid the guilt for war and she has suffered directly as a battlefield. Man's greatest problem, according to most German author's, is his lack of faith in a higher being. This lack is seen by them as the source of man's concern about death and his exit into what is called the "Jenseits." German writers have sought a solution to this problem; although their efforts have been largely unsuccessful, they have brought the problem into the awareness of an ever-widening circle of people. Among the more effective of these writers are the group known as "christliche Dichter" who seek to restore man's faith in God. Their growing acceptance and popularity may, perhaps, be considered an indication of modern man's rejection of the idea that his ultimate end is total extinction. Man still seeks proof of his immortality. To the "christliche Dichter" belong Gertrud von le Fort and Franz Werfel. Their writings reflect a deep awareness of the needs of modern man and the effects of the time in which he lives. Though each of them is entirely individual, there is still an underlying similarity. Through a belief in God and His essence in man they strive to "beheimaten" modern man in a world which becomes increasingly complex. Although Werfel was a Jew and le Fort is a Catholic the similarity of approach is unmistakable. Their beliefs come from the depths of the Judeo-Christian tradition and are centered in the Love and Mercy of God. Because of their deep regard for the inherent nobility of man and his right to independence and freedom of choice neither writer makes an attempt to "preach." Both show clearly and simply the conditions in which they find the world and the means to better it. The choice to accept or reject is left to man. Werfel's writing covers the period from the beginning of the Expressionist movement until his death in 1945. From the beginning he was what is called a "Gottesucher." In all his works he sought to establish a close relationship with his fellowman and to glorify man and God. His writings never lost the early appeal to man's higher values, never abandoned the attempt to re-establish man as the child of God. Although le Fort was born in 1876 she did not begin writing seriously until 1924 with the publication of her Hymmen an die Kirche. She is not usually associated with any special school of writing but may be compared with Expressionist writers in her regard for man. Life Werfel she weeks to restore man's faith in himself as a child of God. Her writings, however, all stem from the same center. They treat the same problem from a number of different viewpoints: the relationship of man to God. Because both Werfel and le Fort are closely concerned with man, they are not unaware of the problems which he faces. They acknowledge the presence of evil and recognize it is an actual force. For both of them the greatest evil is the absence of love. From this absence arise all other evils. In a world without love, there can be no meaning in any human relationship. Individual rights are disregarded until even the right not to be killed is lost. The result is the chaos of the twentieth century with its concentration camps and atom bombs. The apparent helplessness of modern man when he is faced with the evil of his times has grown out of his unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of an actual force of either good or evil. Because God does not exist, there can be no Devil; both le Fort and Werfel see the necessity for acknowledging both. Both Gertrud von le Fort and Franz Werfel are "Dichter der Zeit;" their works are intimately concerned with the problems of modern man. Although Werfel died in 1945 and le Fort is now almost ninety years old, their writings have not lost their immediacy. Because they are concerned with the essence of man, with his relationship to God, they are concerned with a problem that it timeless, independent of contemporary references. The work of these two authors is based upon respect for man and love of God; it is drawn from the beginnings of time and reaches far into the future. For them it is not a matter of Christian or Jew, Protestant or Catholic; a love of God is sufficient. Without an awareness of Him, man cannot be true to himself.
Gertrud von le Fort, Franz Werfel, Theistic Expressionism, Christian traditionalism, German literature
Recommended CitationWiswell, Dawne Rae, "A Comparative Study of the Theistic Expressionism and Later Developments in the Writings of Franz Werfel with the Elements of Christian Traditionalism in the Works of Gertrud von le Fort" (1964). Senior Scholar Papers. Paper 533.
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