The Enlightenment was the eighteenth century era in which Western culture shifted from traditional church and monarchy led authority to an emphasis on science, reason and democracy. It was not a single, cohesive set of ideas rather than a movement which advocated debate and rhetoric, the scientific process and the freedom of the individual. The legal procedures of modern Germany evolved from this time via the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch of the late nineteenth century.
An important Germanic figure who advocated the aims of the Enlightenment was Frederick the Great of Prussia.
Dr. Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931) was an Austrian author and playwright. He initially achieved his doctorate in medicine but gave up this career to devote himself to writing. He is noted for being the first German writer to use stream-of-consciousness in his work and tended to write mostly short stories and one act plays. He faced controversy for his frank and open explorations of sexuality, later leading his output to be described as ‘Jewish filth’ by Adolf Hitler; this comment could also have been due to Schnitzler’s passionate stances against Anti-Semitism. His short story ‘Dream Story’ (1925/6) was made into the film ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ (1999), the final completed work of Stanley Kubrick.
Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), a Russian writer and physician, is considered to be one of the greatest short story writers. He best known include ‘The Bet’, ‘The Black Monk’, ‘The Lady with the Little Dog’, ‘Kashtanka’ and ‘The Lion and the Sun’. In addition, he authored four plays which are now classics of the theatre: The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. He continued to practice medicine all his life, despite his success as a writer, and died of tuberculosis aged only 44. Chekov was modest about his achievements; he once said he did not think people would continue to read his work for very long after he died. Thousands of mourners attended his funeral.
Gottfried Keller (1819-1890) was a Swiss born writer of German literature. As a young man he trained to be a painter, experiences he drew on when he wrote his best known work, ‘Green Henry’. The popularity of this book established him as a writer of note, and in time he also became famous for his short stories and poems.
Theodor Fontane (1819-1898) was a German realist novelist and poet. He began his writing career with journalism, and once wrote several observational books about Britian whilst living in London. Writing his first novel at the age of 57, he went on to create a prolific oeuvre of work, demonstrating a keen understanding of the social structures of his day.
Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) was an important German Romantic poet. His family background was Jewish, but he converted to Lutherism in 1825, and admitted that this was due to the social restrictions Jews faced at the time. Alongside the Romantic themes, he developed more political ideas in his work; although patriotic, he was critical of rising nationalist ideas and narrow mindedness in any form. In 1821, he wrote the famous words, “Where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people”. 112 years later, his work was among the thousands of books burnt by the Nazis on the Opernplatz in Berlin on 10th May 1933.
Eduard Mörike was a German Romantic poet born in 1804. He began his career as a Lutheran pastor, becoming a professor of German literature after retirement. His poetic works were characterised by a lyrical yet clean style; at one stage he was inspired by the Classical Greek and Roman myths.
Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was one of the most innovative and influential writers of the twentieth century. He was born in Prague to a German speaking Jewish family; his ambiguous feelings towards the religion he inherited would be something which later greatly occupied his critics and biographers. Most of his work was published posthumously, despite his instructions that it should be burnt. He is best known for ‘The Trial’, ‘The Castle’ (both novels) and ‘The Metamorphosis’ (a short story). His work has been assessed through such lenses as modernism, surrealism, existentialism and anarchism. His style can most keenly be seen in the work of later 20th Century writers, particularly in the fields of magic realism and post-modernism. New works with themes of isolation, the absurd and futility will often earn the epithet ‘Kafkaesque’.
Max Frisch (1911-1991) was a Swiss novelist, playwright and architect, noted for his post World War Two writings. Characteristically for the period, he explored themes such as personal responsibility, morality and identity; the same issues that Michael has to wrestle with. He also published journals leading from his young adulthood up to the year 1971.
Samuel Johnson has been described as “arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history”. Born in 1709, he was a poet, essayist, biographer, travel writer, critic and more. Key achievements included the first ‘Dictionary of the English Language’ (1755), an annotated edition of the works of Shakespeare and ‘Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets’, a biographical and critical assessment of the key 17th and 18th Century poets. He was conservative, a devout Anglican and opposed to slavery. He lived to the age of 75, despite suffering from scrofula, gout, testicular cancer, hypertension, Tourettes Syndrome (this was not a known condition at the time) and extreme bouts of depression. His contribution to the content and form of English letters is immeasurable; after his death, his friend James Boswell published ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’, the first example of what we now recognise as the modern biography.
Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-73) was an Austrian poet and author. After gaining her university doctorate in 1949 she worked at a well known radio station, which was also where she was able to premier her first dramatic works. She later moved to Rome, continued her development as a writer and gained success. She also had a relationship with Max Frisch (see above) until 1962. The prestigious Ingeborg Bachmann Prize is awarded annually in Austria for achievements in German literature.
Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz (1751-92) was a Baltic writer born in what is now Latvia. As a young man he befriended Goethe (though their friendship later soured) and met many other practising writers of the day. Alongside his writing, he worked as a private tutor to secure an income. He died at a young age, following many years of mental illness related to schizophrenia.
Programmes such as these are common and help newly released prisoners integrate back into society. They serve as an extension of rehabilitation, by teaching people certain skills, or acting as advocates in helping them to find housing and employment. Some organisations are run by ex-offenders themselves.