Hermann Sudermann  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
The Song of Songs (1909)

Hermann Sudermann (September 30, 1857November 21, 1928) was a German dramatist and novelist.

Contents

Life

Early career

He was born at Matzicken, a village just to the east of Heydekrug in the Province of Prussia (now Macikai and Šilutė, in southwestern Lithuania), close to the Russian frontier. The Sudermanns were a Mennonite family long settled near Elbing (now Elbląg).

His father owned a small brewery in Heydekrug, and Sudermann received his early education at the Realschule in Elbing, but, his parents having been reduced in circumstances, he was apprenticed to a chemist at the age of fourteen. He was, however, able to enter the Realgymnasium (high school) in Tilsit, and to study philosophy and history at Königsberg University.

In order to complete his studies Sudermann went to Berlin, where he was tutor to several families. Next he became a journalist, and was in 1881 and 1882 the editor of the Deutsches Reichsblatt. He then devoted himself to fiction, beginning with a collection of naturalistic short stories called Im Zwielicht ("At Twilight", 1886). His novels, Frau Sorge ("Dame Care", 1887), Geschwister ("Siblings", 1888) and Der Katzensteg ("Cats' Bridge", 1890) failed to bring the young author as much recognition as his first drama Die Ehre ("Honour", 1889), which inaugurated a new period in the history of the German stage.

He married the novelist Clara Lauckner, née Schulz on 20 October 1891. She had already had three children from her previous short-lived marriage, and she would have one child with Sudermann: a daughter, Hede. They lived in Königsberg for the next two years, before moving to Dresden, and then Berlin in 1895. They were not particularly happy together.

Fame

Another successful drama, Heimat (1893), was translated into English as Magda, and productions featured some of the best known actresses of the time including Helena Modjeska, Sarah Bernhardt, Eleonora Duse, and Mrs Patrick Campbell. He even had a large following in Japan. Throughout the 20th century, his plays have been the basis of more than thirty films.

Sudermann returned to novels with Es War ("It Was", 1894, the title referring to Section 2, §1 of Nietzsche's Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen). In 1902, he moved to a mansion with extensive grounds at Blankensee, and used his newfound wealth to collect paintings and sculpture, and to take trips to Italy, Greece, Egypt and India.

At the commencement of World War I, Sudermann was enthusiastic, publishing a Kaiserlied ("Song of the Kaiser"). In autumn 1917, he organised the Frohe Abende ("Cheery Evenings"), a programme promoting artistic endeavours among the common people, for which he received an Iron Cross Second Class on 5 April 1918. After the end of the war he helped found the Bund schaffender Künstler ("Society of Creative Artists"), which posed as a centrist political force and which earned him the reputation of an opportunist.

The most important of his later works are Litauischen Geschichten ("Lithuanian Stories", 1917), a realistic portrait of his homeland, and a volume of memoirs in 1922. His last major work, written after the death of his wife in 1924, was Die Frau des Steffen Tromholt ("The Wife of Steffen Tromholt", 1927), a semi-autobiographical novel. He had a stroke in 1928, and died of a lung infection shortly afterwards, in Berlin, aged 71. His stepson Rolf Lauckner set up the Hermann Sudermann Foundation to support young dramatists.

Posthumous reputation

Sudermann's nationalism, and his delight in romanticized ideas of ethnicity and homeland, particularly noticeable in his later works, made him a favourite during World War II. Jürgen Fehling staged Johannisfeuer in Berlin, with Maria Gorvin, Maria Koppenhöfer and Paul Wegener in the lead roles.

After 1945 his plays and novels were almost completely forgotten. He is chiefly remembered today for his Lithuanian stories, for his autobiography and for the 1927 silent film Sunrise, based on his short story Die Reise nach Tilsit.

Works

  • Im Zwielicht: Zwanglose Geschichten ("At Twilight", 1886)
  • Frau Sorge ("Dame Care", 1887)
translated by B. Overbeck in 1891
  • Geschwister: Zwei Novellen ("Siblings: Two Stories", 1888)
    • Die Geschichte der stillen Mühle ("The Tale of the Idle Millstone")
    • Der Wunsch ("The Wish")
the second story translated by Lily Henkel in 1894
  • Die Ehre ("Honour", play, 1889/91)
  • Der Katzensteg ("Cats' Bridge", 1890)
  • Sodoms Ende ("Sodom's End", play, 1891)
  • Jolanthes Hochzeit ("Iolanthe's Wedding", play, 1892)
translated by Adele S. Seltzer in 1918
  • Heimat ("Homeland", play, 1893)
translated by C. E. A. Winslow in 1896 as "Magda"
  • Es War ("It Was", 1894)
translated by Beatrice Marshall in 1906 as "The Undying Past"
  • Die Schmetterlingsschlacht ("Battle of the Butterflies", comedy, 1895)
  • Das Glück im Winkel ("Happiness in a Quiet Corner", 1896)
  • Morituri (three one-act plays, 1896)
    • Teja, Fritzchen, Das Ewig-Männlich ("The Eternal Masculine")
  • Johannes (tragedy concerning John the Baptist, 1898)
  • Die drei Reiherfedern ("Three Heron-Feathers", dramatic poem, 1899)
  • Drei Reden ("Three Lectures", 1900)
  • Johannisfeuer ("The St John's Eve Fire", 1900)
  • Es lebe das Leben! ("Let Life Live!", 1902)
translated by Edith Wharton in 1903 as "The Joy of Living"
  • Verrohung der Theaterkritik (1902)
  • Der Sturmgeselle Sokrates ("Stormfellow Socrates", comedy, 1903)
    • Die Sturmgesellen: Ein Wort zur Abwehr ("Stormfellows: a Defence", essay, 1903)
  • Stein unter Steinen ("Stone Among Stones", 1905)
  • Das Blumenboot ("The Flower Boat", 1905)
  • Rosen ("Roses", four one-act plays, 1907)
    • Die Lichtbänder ("Streaks of Light")
    • Margot
    • Der letzte Besuch ("The Last Visit")
    • Die Feen-Prinzessin ("The Fairy Princess")
translated by Grace Frank in 1912, the last with the title "The Faraway Princess"
  • Das hohe Lied ("The Song of Songs", 1908)
translated by T. Seltzer in 1910 and by Edward Sheldton in 1914
  • Strandkinder ("Beach Children", 1909)
  • Der Bettler von Syrakus ("The Beggar of Syracuse", 1911)
  • Die indische Lilie ("The Indian Lily", 1911)
translated by L. Lewisohn in 1911
  • Der gute Ruf ("The Good Name", 1912)
  • Die Lobgesänge des Claudian ("Hymns to Claudian", 1914)
  • Die entgötterte Welt ("The Godless World", 1915)
  • Litauische Geschichten ("Lithuanian Stories", 1917)
reprinted 1984, 1985, 1989
  • Die Raschoffs ("The Raschoffs", 1919)
  • Der Hüter der Schwelle ("Watcher at the Step", 1921)
  • Das deutsche Schicksal ("The German Destiny", 1921)
  • Jons und Erdme: eine litauische Geschichte ("Jons and Erdme: a Lithuanian Tale", 1921)
  • Das Bilderbuch meiner Jugend: Autobiographie ("The Picture Book of my Youth", 1922)
reprinted (Ernst Osterkamp, ed.) 1980, 1988
  • Wie die Träumenden ("Like Dreamers", 1923)
  • Die Denkmalsweihe ("Ceremony at the Monument", 1923)
  • Der tolle Professor: Roman aus der Bismarckzeit ("The Mad Professor: a Novel of the Bismarck Years", 1926)
translated by Isabel Leighton in 1929
  • Der Hasenfellhändler ("The Trader of Hareskins", 1927)
  • Die Frau des Steffen Tromholt ("The Wife of Steffen Tromholt", 1927)
  • Purzelchen (1928)

References

  • W. Kawerau, Hermann Sudermann, 1897
  • H. Landsberg, Hermann Sudermann, 1902
  • H. Jung, Hermann Sudermann, 1902
  • H. Schoen, Hermann Sudermann, poète dramatique et romancier, 1905
  • I. Axelrod, Hermann Sudermann, 1907
  • Dorothea Kuhn, Hermann Sudermann: Porträt und Selbstporträt, 1978
  • Walter T. Rix (ed.), Hermann Sudermann: Werk und Wirkung, Königshausen und Neumann, 1980
  • Cordelia E. Stroinigg, Sudermann's "Frau Sorge": Jugendstil, archetype, fairy tale, New York: P. Lang, 1995
  • Karl Leydecker, Marriage and divorce in the plays of Hermann Sudermann, Frankfurt am Main: P. Lang, 1996
  • Jutta Noak, "Hermann Sudermann – ein Schriftsteller zwischen Litauen und Deutschland", in Annaberger Annalen l 1/2003





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