Aspects of philistinism in nineteenth-century German literature : Eichendorff, Keller, Fontane
The thesis aims to explore philistinism as a German literary topos, in the nineteenth century. It begins with an examination of the extra-literary metaphorical usage of key words like Philister and proceeds to a summary of its impact on writers in the period. By so doing, I have tried to present an image of the developing tradition of the literary depiction of philistines. The main part of the thesis is devoted to three writers - Richendorff, Keller, Fontane - whose work presents us with contrasting responses to the problem of philistinism. Unlike previous investigations, my approach is not only through explicit linguistic and visual markers, but also implicit depictions of philistines in the work of the three writers. To achieve this, attention is focussed on tone and literary devices, comic mode, irony, metaphor. I aim thereby to show the function of philistinism in these writings, an analysis not previously attempted. Eichendorff's work is shown to be imbued with a fundamental antithesis between the lives of Dichter and Philister, so comprehensive as to include eschatological implications. In Keller we notice a questioning of such a dichotomy, an unwillingness to acquiesce in its distinctions and an emphasis on society in determining the worth of his characters. Fontane's work represents the most radical reassessment of the Romantic position and displays a clear shift from categorical thinking to a pervasive ambivalence. Whilst philistinism is an issue for all three writers, the differences in their approach and consequent portrayals are revealing: my Epilogue suggests that their different modes of presentation reflect changes of ethos from Romanticism to realism, which in turn reflect changes in social values over the course of the nineteenth century. The interest of the present thesis is its demonstration that such changes can, in German literary culture, be so precisely observed in the changing treatment of the topos of philistinism.