Liberal Affect and Literary Culture: The Politics of Feeling in Mid-Nineteenth Century German Fiction Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • Grell, Erik
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures
  • Liberal Affect and Literary Culture: The Politics of Feeling in Mid-Nineteenth Century German Fiction, develops a new model for understanding the role of literature in the formative years of German liberalism. Traditional narratives about the emergence of liberal ideology in nineteenth-century Germany frequently stress political failure by way of arguing for a Sonderweg approach to German modernity. In partial dissent from these accounts, I explore how German liberalism is significant for what it does achieve, and not only as a result of its failures. Against the grain of teleological accounts of German political development and their narrative of political and institutional miscarriage (e.g., Mommsen, Fischer, Wehler), my research engages the diverse and far-flung culture of popular prose fiction between 1830 and 1860 as a site where German liberalism succeeded during its formative years. In so doing, I am mindful not to conflate liberal success entirely with bourgeois success, an impulse that tacitly informs the basis of Geoff Eley and David Blackbourn’s seminal work. Insisting on the distinctness of the political and the social, my dissertation emphasizes their complex entanglement within literary form and culture, ultimately revealing literature as a crucial site for constituting early German liberalism as a form of Gemütsstimmung (attunement). While a variety of discourses and institutions played a role in the formation of a German model of liberalism, such as philosophy (e.g., Kant, Hegel, Bauer), historiography, and legal theory, this project explores its development by cultural proxy. Following on the heels of increased book production and rising literacy rates, narrative prose fiction developed into a pillar of German culture during the nineteenth century. My project examines several key texts and genres written with an intent to intervene within this culture at the level of politics, including Karl Gutzkow’s social critique, Die Zeitgenossen (1837), Heinrich Heine’s fragmentary novel, Florentinische Nächte (1827/35), Berthold Auerbach’s Schwarzwälder Dorfgeschichten (1843), an anonymously published serial novel, Die Geheimnisse von Berlin: Aus den Papieren eines Berliner Kriminalbeamten (1844), Adalbert Stifter’s canonical novella, Brigitta (1844), and Theodor Mügge’s historical and adventure novel, Afraja (1854). By appealing to this broad collection of texts and genre concepts, my project sheds light on an equally broad collection of political concerns, disclosing how literature helped readers negotiate Jacobin and Anglo-Saxon political influences, the concepts of Volk, Nation and Bildung, and a number of eighteenth-century literary and cultural traditions. In particular, I scrutinize these political themes within the context of an eighteenth-century affective model of sensibility, the legacy of which has been inadequately explored by literary scholars and historians alike. I show how early German liberalism appropriates, adapts, and repurposes this model, with each of my chapters locating the historical significance of prose fiction in the way it engaged readers as a form of emotional attunement (Stimmung) with themselves and larger communities. By investigating the figural strategies, including allegory and synecdoche, within these individual works as well as reconstructing their broader historical reception, my dissertation illuminates a tension between literary and historicist modes. My research reveals how the effort to foster politics through literature betrays a fundamental ambivalence at the level of affect and literary form, which necessarily informs the political work performed by nineteenth-century prose fiction.
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  • In Copyright
  • Jarausch, Konrad Hugo
  • Downing, Eric
  • Trop, Gabriel
  • Hess, Jonathan
  • Pfau, Thomas
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2015
Place of publication
  • Chapel Hill, NC
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