From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
During his life time, Jean Paul was a bestselling author. After his death, however, his popularity faded. This might have been caused by the negative verdicts of Goethe and Schiller on his works. Since the 20th century, he is again counted among the greatest German writers, though he is considered difficult to read because of his exuberant style and satirical footnotes. Strongly influenced by the English comic tradition of Sterne and Smollett, he did not belong to the literary canon that was studied in the German Gymnasiums of the 19th century, which obscured him to the younger generations.
Characteristics of his work
Friedrich Schiller said of Jean Paul that he would have been worthy of admiration if he had made as good use of his riches as other men made of their poverty — the classic approach of "Weimar".
But in working out his conceptions, Jean Paul found it appropriate to express any powerful feeling by which he might happen to be moved. He made it his style to use seemingly out-of-the-way facts or psychological notions which occurred to him. Hence every one of his works is irregular in structure and his style lacks directness, though never grace. His imagination was one of extraordinary fertility, and he had a surprising power of suggesting great thoughts by means of the simplest incidents and relations. The love of nature was one of Jean Paul's deepest pleasures; his expressions of religious feelings are also marked by a truly poetic spirit, for to him visible things were but the symbols of the invisible, and in the unseen realities alone he found elements which seemed to him to give significance and dignity to human life. His humour, the most distinctive of his qualities, cannot be dissociated from the other characteristics of his writings. It mingled with all his thoughts, and to some extent determined the form in which he embodied even his most serious reflections. That it is sometimes extravagant and grotesque cannot be disputed, but it is never harsh nor vulgar, and generally it springs naturally from the perception of the incongruity between ordinary facts and ideal laws.
Jean Paul's personality was deep and many-sided; with all his willfulness and eccentricity he was a man of a pure and sensitive spirit, with a passionate scorn for pretence and an ardent enthusiasm for truth and goodness.