Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > Narration and Consciousness in the Late Eighteenth-Century German Novel

The dissertation analyzes third-person hetero-diegetic narrators in three representative German novels from the late eighteenth century in order to illustrate the complexity of modern subjectivity at its emergence: Karl Philipp Moritz’s Anton Reiser: A Psychological Novel (“Anton Reiser. Ein psychologischer Roman,” 1785/86), Jean Paul’s Life of the Cheerful Little Schoolmaster Maria Wutz in Auenthal (“Leben des vergnügten Schulmeisterlein Maria Wutz in Auenthal,” 1793), and Johann Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (“Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre,” 1796/96). The three analyzed texts stem from an era in which the notion of the modern autonomous subject came into being and each portray protagonists that one might characterize as modern subjects. Likewise, their narrators are usually seen as largely omniscient and authoritative. The dissertation calls into question this view of the novels’ narrators as representatives of modern subjectivity and counterparts to the protagonists whose lives they present. Instead, it shows that—despite the narrators’ self representations as confident and self-reliant mediators of their stories and contrary to the equivalent impression their readers might develop at first glance—the narrators’ storytelling (the discours) is changed by the content of the stories (the histoire). That is, the narrative presentation of the protagonists lives and particularly of their psyche by means of psycho-narration changes how subsequent parts of the story are presented. While these changes in the narrators and their histoires manifest themselves differently in the three novels, the dissertation conceives of them as symptoms of historical changes taking place at the end of the eighteenth century and as expression of the insecurities and anxieties that accompanied the demands that were placed onto the modern, self-reliant, and self-determined subject in the wake of movements such as the Enlightenment. The dissertation puts forth the thesis that these historical changes found their way not only into the content of the experimental form of the novel (e.g., in genres such as the Bildungsroman), but that they manifested themselves perhaps even more poignantly (and unintentionally) in the way stories were told. In stories that are presented by third-person narrators facing the subjectivity of an other thus becomes particularly apparent.