Jan Philipp Reemtsma: Christoph Martin Wieland in a new biography

Jan Philipp Reemtsma
Christoph Martin Wieland in a new biography

Jan Philipp Reemtsma brings Christoph Martin Wieland out of the shadow of Goethe and Schiller. photo

© CH Beck/dpa

Even German scholars can’t think of much when they hear the name Wieland. Wrongly so, as Jan Philipp Reemtsma shows in his well-founded biography, which also presents the works of this author in their context.

Perhaps one or two older readers still know the verse novel “Oberon” or the “History of the Abderites”, but basically Christoph Martin Wieland is a thoroughly forgotten author. Of course, he always stood in the shadow of the poet princes Goethe and Schiller, but the Weimar classics actually begin with Wieland, who was brought to the court in Weimar by Duchess Anna Amalia in 1773 as tutor to the princes – two years before Goethe came.

In the first biography in seventy years, the Hamburg literary scholar Jan Philipp Reemtsma re-explores the life and work of Christoph Martin Wieland – his almost 700-page, very readable work has been nominated in the non-fiction category for the Leipzig Book Fair Prize.

The polyphonic narrative flow

We get to know a highly diverse, extremely productive, and also politically wide-awake author. In addition to novels, verse narratives, and translations of Shakespeare, Lukian and Horace, Wieland also published the “Teutschen Merkur” from 1773, one of the most successful and long-lived cultural magazines of its time. Here he later also commented on the events of the French Revolution, whose epochal significance the editor immediately recognized. But Wieland, and this is typical of this author, does not take sides. Rather, he weighs the arguments for and against the overthrow of the political order in the form of a dialogue.

Reemtsma emphasizes that Wieland was not a dogmatist who only allows one view of things. In the epistolary novel “Aristippus and some of his contemporaries”, which is set in ancient Greece and which the author himself regarded as his main work, different voices have their say and things are repeatedly viewed from different perspectives. There is not one all-knowing narrator, but a polyphonic narrative flow. “The problem is that you have to be interested in a lot if you want to enjoy Wieland,” writes Reemtsma. His book is a wonderful invitation to rediscover a forgotten author.

Jan Philipp Reemtsma, Christoph Martin Wieland. The invention of modern German literature, CH Beck Verlag Munich, 704 pages, 38 euros, ISBN 978-3406800702


source site-8