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Title: The presentation of personality in the novels of Max Frisch and Uwe Johnson
Author: Cock, Mary Edna
ISNI:       0000 0004 2742 8015
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1969
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In the twentieth century several writers from Rilke onwards have written prose works which deal with various problems of personality in a manner far removed from that of the traditional 'linear' novel, where events appear more or less chronologically and there is a fairly consistent point of view. Both Max Frisch and Uwe Johnson, while recognizing that in this century the serious novelist may no longer be able to assume the omniscience of a Balzac, have disclaimed all connection with any particular school of literary or psychological theory. Both however write novels of apparently loose construction, like Rilke and Hesse before them; the critic must therefore seek to establish whether Frisch's and Johnson's claims to literary independence are justified by true originality in their novels, and above all whether their use of non- traditional form makes a valuable contribution to the significance of each of thair works, or whether this 'form' is after all simply a means of creating a spurious appearance of profundity and complexity. Frisch's early novels, Jürg Reinhart and Die Schwierigen, reveal signs of influence in their subject matter by Albin Zollinger and Gottfried Keller, and show no remarkable manipulation of form. In the former work, the construction is loose, a number of different individual problems being touched upon and either left undeveloped or summarily solved with unfounded optimism. It Is a youthful work of some charm but little depth or originality. The looseness of construction of Die Schwierigen, which is written in fragments of considerably varying length as opposed to the traditional chapter division, is more justified as an expression of the theme which embraces all the main characters: the theme of the vanity of the attempt to find absolute freedom, the drifting aimlessness of life with its autumnal atmosphere of beauty and decay, which contrasts well with the characters' mistaken efforts to achieve aims beyond their abilities. This is the first albeit slight indication in Frisch's prose writing that he has begun to make the manner of presentation convey to the reader some truth which the central figures do not fully perceive. It is the contrast between what the central figure knows of himself and what is revealed to the reader by the particular manner of presentation which characterises Frisch's next novel Stiller, written after an interval of ten years in which Frisch had given much thought to literary matters, including Brecht's theory of 'alienation', the forcing of reader or audience to think rather than respond emotionally. Frisch's central concern in the sphere of human relationships emerges in this period before Stiller. The disastrous effects of 'image-making' preoccupy him, of creating a set picture in one's mind of oneself and of others and behaving accordingly. This is the source of Stiller's guilt: in the past he has constricted his wife by his view of her, and in the 'present' he is trying to refashion his own identity because he cannot accept his own insignificance and weakness as final. But the fight against 'images' is carried also into the form of the work: the reader is not told Stiller's qualities, nor precisely what is happening to him. He is faced with a series of fragmentary notebook entries, and the gulf between Stiller's inflated view of himeelf and his basic weakness can be fully appreciated only by careful attention to the types of material Stiller includes in his notebooks, to their relative proportions, and to the frequency of their occurrence. There then emerges the picture of a man longing to impress, haunted by failure but basically wilfully blind about his own nature. The reader watches his gradual progression from confidence to humbler fear, and near despair, but is also able to detect the remnants of pride and ridiculous hope which he carries with him into his 'new' life as Stiller, in which the old difficulties then sadly recur. The overall theme of the danger of making set images of oneself and others emerges most clearly in the 'Nachwort', but as well as clarifying, it also carries on the theme, as it is written not by an anonymous narrator, but by a character already introduced whose vision is clearer than Stiller's although still limited. Absolute, active self-acceptance is seen to be an immensely difficult task, and perfect self-knowledge impossible, but there are degrees of honesty, and the reader is made to fight like the characters for depth of understanding through the fragmentation. In his next novel, Homo Faber, Frisch presents a different type of misunderstanding of self. Faber is a man whose practical, unemotional approach to life has been fostered by his job as a 'Techniker', and his image of himself is that of an eminently rational man, rationality and logic being his criteria of worth. But again the central figure is made - by the arrangement of the fragmentary material - to give himself away against his own knowledge and will. Having lived for years a somewhat selfish bachelor existence without regard for the feelings of others, Faber is shaken by the death of a young girl who attracted him and then proved tragically to be his daughter. He refuses to believe that the 'faults' of his nature - the excessive practicality - are responsible for this death, and yet is sufficiently disturbed to attempt to prove this on paper. There is indeed some doubt as to whether this accusation which would appear to be held against him really is justified. The work is also marred by indications that we are perhaps to understand the tragic events as retribution for past inadequacies in Faber: the question of the nature of Fate in the novel is an intricate one and suggests Frisch may not have clarified his purpose sufficiently. But the work can move the reader nevertheless. Faber is shaken into the discovery that in his own nature there was a sensitivity and emotional capacity he had denied, and that emotion, personal devotion to others can bring intense joy, which he has missed. But this recognition he long fights against, and it emerges primarily through the subjective unchronological ordering of his account of the tragedy: the depth of his attachment to Sabeth, for instance, is shown by his care to try to prove his unconcern, his reluctance to describe her death. The role of Fate since it cannot be accepted literally could be seen simply as an overall framework, to emphasise the seriousness of the events, and yet it is liable to antagonise the reader by its anachronism nevertheless. However, the reader is also justifiably challenged, as in Stiller, to participate in and thence to understand the painful process of a mind used to understanding but now fitting for clarity, yet fearing to reach it. We - like Faber - progress in understanding without ever reaching a complete 'image'. Mein Name sei Gantenbein, however, can be accused with even more justification of lack of clarity. The fragmentariness no longer seems a means to provoke the reader to active thougfct, but rather to mystify him. Although the work's roost outstanding feature is humour, it is not unambiguously gay: there are serious moments which suggest a psychological crisis such as formed the basis of the two preceding novels, but no one aspect of the work dominates sufficiently for it to be seen as a 'Schelmenroman' or as the profound record of a struggle for new identity. It seems rather to be the product of unclear intention shielded by a form of apparent complexity - a confused, mystifying rather than stimulating work, whereas the preceding two novels both made use of 'mystery' as a structural element to capture attention initially for serious problems.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: German literature ; History and criticism ; Personality in literature ; 20th century