Publication: Marvels & Tales
Date published:
Language: English
PMID: 67904
ISSN: 15214281
Journal code: MAAT

Erfahrung schrieb's und reicht's der Jugend: Geschichte der deutschen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur vom 18. bis zum 20. Jahrhundert. Gesammelte Beiträge aus drei Jahrzehnten. By Hans-Heino Ewers. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2010. 336 pp.

Notwithstanding Germany's central role in folklore and fairy-tale research since the Grimms' pivotal contribution, the development of criticism about German childrens literature has still received insufficient attention. Hans-Heino Ewers successfully reevaluates the history of German children's literature, analyzing the fundamental aspects of the situation of children and their relationships with adults, school, and religion from the late eighteenth to the twentieth century.

The monograph consists of essays published between 1980 and 2005 and is divided into three parts. The first analyzes children's literature from the Enlightenment to the Biedermeier era, which, for Ewers, represents a fragment of the social history of the emancipation of the bourgeois family. The scholar reconstructs pedagogical attitudes and numerous debates on the most appropriate literature for child recipients.

In the first chapter, Ewers begins his discussion with the 1760-178Os, when books for private tuition of bourgeois children emerged as a specific branch of German literary production. The creation of a market aimed at juvenile readership attests to how this kind of literature was seen as necessary within Enlightenment pedagogy. In the second and third chapters, Ewers discusses the movement of Philanthropism, the major exponents of which set out to reform not only the system of education but also children's literature. Arguing against Locke's idea about early intellectual development, since that method worked to form Wunderkinder, objects of prestige and victims of the parents' vanity, the Philanthropists started looking for material suitable to the child's level of comprehension and transparent in structure that would convey the message of morality through example. Their idea that the processes of learning should be enjoyable changed the structure of handbooks: they took the form of a journey to help engage the child's attention. Philanthropically inspired works were, nevertheless, a strictly authoritative kind of literature; the world of children was separate from that of adults and controlled by them.

In the fourth chapter, Ewers investigates the paradigm shift in the development of children's literature from the Philanthropism to Romanticism, which favored an appreciation for the didactics of traditional storytelling that also allowed them a symbolical or allegorical mise en oeuvre of modern themes or political issues. The Romantic authors preferred the fantastic and the marvelous, declaring folk and fairy tales to be a legitimate form of children's literature. In the fifth section, Ewers focuses on succinct close readings of some tales by Ludwig Tieck, E. T A. Hoffmann, and Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, arguing that they had antiauthoritarian tendencies, which opposed them to the Philanthropists' works.

The sixth and the eighth sections contain references to the Kindertheater, which emerged in imitation of French school drama in the 1770s and centered on the bourgeois family's everyday life. Ewers provides cultural and biographical context for the literal achievements of August Corrodi, the largely unknown late-Romantic dramatist and illustrator, which created a bridge between Romantic and modern children's literature. Further, Ewers discusses the leitmotif of Biedermeier dramas: the representation of the family by August Rode, C. E. von Houvald, and C. E Weiße. Ewers shows how von Houvald's Schuldrama, while still portraying the family as an emotional union, displayed a number of weak and insecure parent figures who needed the children to dispel their preoccupations. The author argues that von Houvald's plays reflect an increasing dissociation of family from society and comes to the conclusion that early nineteenth-century's Kinderschauspiel is no longer centered on the child's welfare, but on the parents' trauma.

The second part of the book addresses children's literature from the postRomantic era until the Weimar Republic. Ewers provides an overview of neoRomantic animal tales and school/holiday stories as well as of gender-differentiated literature for young males, colonial and adventure novels, and sentimental narratives for girls. The scholar highlights the influence of the political culture on all of these genres and the growing orientation toward a proletariat readership. He outlines Heinrich Wölgast's theoretical discussion of religious and politically engaged children's literature. Finally, Ewers focuses on Erich Kästners production as well as on the figure of Walter Benjamin, as a collector of children's books, and his attitudes toward their illustrations. A discussion of Benjamin's scripts for the radio program Jugendstunde and of his theoretical-critical comments on children's literature might also have been desirable.

In the final part of the book, Ewers takes up the question of the evolution of children's poetry and prose from the Enlightenment didactic model to the modern one. The last section deals with the status and functions of the author/narrator and its transformation from simple transmitter of a story to educator or moralist. The volume closes with an appendix that includes recent publications on the history of children's literature.

Ewers's wide-ranging collection of essays constitutes a well-researched reference book. The author deserves great credit for providing a useful tool for surveying characteristics of the different mainstream ideas and changes in the understanding of German children's literature. There are, inevitably, minor criticisms that one could make. It is astonishing not to find in the volume, subtitled Geschichte der deutschen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur vom 18. bis zum 20. Jahrhundert, any mention of the role of female authors. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, writers such as Benedikte Naubert, Bettina von Arnim, Caroline Auguste Fischer, Caroline de Ia Motte Fouqué, Dorothea Schlegel, and Sophie Tieck-Bernhardi had collected and published fairy tales, often adapted for children, that far outnumbered those written by male authors. So far, however, they have not received sufficient scholarly attention. Secondly, no space is given to the interest in French contes de fées and oriental fairy tales that boomed in Germany by the middle of the eighteenth century. In fact, with German translation of Mmes d'Aulnoy and de Beaumont's tales and of the Arabian Nights, these fairy tales were clearly part of the realm of German children's literature. Since Ewers 's volume covers a large time span and range of themes, an index of cited names and subjects would also be useful. Although the volume cannot be considered a comprehensive study of German children's literature, Ewers nonetheless offers a broad historical and ideological panorama of the evolution of its literary criticism in Germany.

Author affiliation:

Tatiana Korneeva

Freie Universität Berlin

Tatiana Korneeva studied classical philology and comparative literature at the Lomonosov Moscow State University (MA), the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa (PhD), and the University of Lausanne (postdoctoral fellowship). She has held grants from the University of Lausanne, the University of Athens, the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, the Hardt Foundation, and the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung. Currently she holds a postdoctoral position at the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies (Freie Universität Berlin). Her research interests include gender and cultural studies, fairy-tale studies, and literary theory.

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