From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Karl Georg Büchner (17 October 1813 – 19 February 1837) was a German dramatist and writer of poetry and prose. He was the brother of physician and philosopher Ludwig Büchner. Büchner's talent is generally held in great esteem in Germany. It is widely believed that, but for his early death, he might have attained the significance of such central German literary figures as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller.
Life and career
Born in Goddelau near Darmstadt, Hesse-Darmstadt, the son of a doctor, Büchner attended a Humanist secondary school that focused on modern languages, including French, Italian, and English. Nevertheless Büchner studied medicine in Strasbourg.
In 1828 he became interested in politics and joined a circle of William Shakespeare aficionados which later on probably became the Gießen and Darmstadt section of the "Gesellschaft für Menschenrechte" (Society for Human Rights). In Strasbourg, he immersed himself in French literature and political thought.
While Büchner continued his studies in Gießen he established a secret society dedicated to the revolutionary cause. With the help of the evangelical theologian Friedrich Ludwig Weidig, he published the leaflet Der Hessische Landbote, a revolutionary pamphlet criticizing social grievances in the Grand Duchy of Hesse. The authorities charged them with treason and issued a warrant of apprehension. While Weidig was arrested, tortured and died imprisoned in Darmstadt, Büchner fled across the border to Strasbourg where he wrote most of his literary work and translated two plays by Victor Hugo, Lucrèce Borgia and Marie Tudor. Two years later, his dissertation, "Mémoire sur le Système Nerveux du Barbeaux (Cyprinus barbus L.)" was published in Paris and Strasbourg. He was influenced by the utopian communist theories of François-Noël Babeuf and Claude Henri de Saint-Simon. In October 1836, after receiving his doctorate and being appointed by the University of Zurich as a lecturer in anatomy, Büchner relocated to Zurich where he spent his final months writing and teaching until he died of typhus at the age of twenty-three.
In 1835, his first play, Dantons Tod (Danton's Death), about the French revolution, was published, followed by Lenz (first partly published in Karl Gutzkow's and Wienberg's Deutsche Revue, which was quickly banned); Lenz is a novella based on the life of the Sturm und Drang poet Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz. In 1836 his second play, Leonce and Lena portrayed the nobility. His unfinished and most famous play, Woyzeck, was notable as a literary work because the main characters were members of the working class. Published posthumously, it became the basis for Alban Berg's opera Wozzeck which premiered in 1925.
By the 1870s, Büchner was nearly forgotten in Germany when Karl Emil Franzos edited his works; these later became a major influence on naturalism and expressionism. Arnold Zweig described Lenz, Büchner's only work of prose, as the "beginning of modern European prose".
- The Hessian Courier, 1834 – in cooperation with Friedrich Ludwig Weidig (Flugschrift)
- Danton's Death, 1835 (Drama)
- Lenz, 1835 (Short story)
- Leonce and Lena, 1836 (Comedy)
- Woyzeck, 1837 (Drama – fragment)
- Pietro Aretino, his drama about Pietro Aretino, has been lost.
- Georg Büchner, Werke und Briefe. Münchner Ausgabe (dtv, 1997). ISBN 3-423-12374-5.