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By Gerhart Hauptmann
Translated by Stanley Radcliffe
London: Angel Books, Headline Publishing Group, 2007
From the 1906 original
ISBN: 0-946162-28-X Pbk, 1989
111 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
June 2014


Gerhardt Hauptman was influenced by “. . . Schopenhauer, with its stress on the challenge to the individual posed by an oppressive reality.”

He was born in 1862.

1880 he studied art at Breslau Kunstschule. Art was an influence the rest of his life.

1882 he studied philosophy and literature at the University of Jena

1885 he married the daughter of a wealthy man and lived in Berlin.

1887 he published some of the stories that appear in this volume.

1920s, a number of his stories were made into films. “Courted and then dropped by the Nazis, Hauptmann led an isolated existence in the 1930s. He died at the age of eighty-three in 1946 at Agnetendorf, Silesia.”

The novella, “Lineman Thiel” became known as a representation of German Naturalism. His “anti-hero” was “. . . a pathetic helpless being, who suffers the impact of events instead of creating them through positive action.”

“The call is for us to understand: and to understand is to forgive.”

“The Apostle” was written between 1887-90. Here “. . . the presentation of Nature is positive…” He focuses on nature’s freshness and invigorating quality.

While Hauptman added important fictional material to the story it is based on some actual experiences he himself had with two people he met in Zurich.

This volume contains only three “novellas” as he thinks of them. I see them more as longish short stories, but during Hauptmann’s time the designation of novellas was used.

CARNIVAL. Pp: 25-50

This is the story of a young couple, who live in a small village near a lake. They marry, love each other very much, and simply adore dancing and dances. They have a small child whom they often take to the dances with them. They also have a grandmother living with them who at times can care for the child, but at other times is too old and sickly to do so.

The couple, Marie and her husband only identified by his last name, Kielblock, are modestly well-off, have a decent business and just love life.

Carnival time comes and they are the hit of the masked ball and an all-night party doesn’t even phase them, so they carry on an entire second day, ending up crossing the frozen lake to visit relatives, leaving grandmother at home alone.

The story ends in tragedy. Up to the very last part of the story it was quite interesting and well-written, but the ending was a bit too telegraphed and too trite for my tastes. I did enjoy that the author tried to write in the local dialect as much as would work for him.


Lineman Thiel is one of two railway workers who work on a place in the forest where tracks split into two different directions. Each worker has half the day, rotating day and night shifts. Thiel lives in a near-by village. Early on he marries a woman he deeply loves but she dies in child birth just a short couple of years after their marriage. Thiel deeply loves Tobias, the son.

After a while he marries a second woman, Lena, and they have a second child. Lena, unlike Minna, his first wife, is rough and often downright mean. The two struggle, but have survived.

Eventually Thiel is allowed to use some land near his train station and this necessitates Lena coming to tend the small potato patch in this area where he works in isolation, and where his mind and heart are really with the dead Minna. It’s his place of escape. He realizes too late that he himself has, by accepting the use of this land which Lena will have to tend, that he’s destroyed his connection to Minna, and his escape from Lena.

On her first visit to the farm and train outpost there is a great deal of trouble between the two and on Lena’s way back to the village with the two boys there is an accident an young Tobias, his adored first son, is killed by a train. Thiel, seemingly justly, blames Tobias’ death on Lena, and he simply loses him mind and behavior in agony.

This is a beautifully written story, where the violent ending is not really much telegraphed, but the reader does realize along the way that something simply must change. Thiel and his second wife, Lena, are on a collision course which has to come. It is the how that is understandable and tragic, but not really an outcome that most readers would expect.

THE APOSTLE Pp. 93-111

As the story open we meet a person claiming to be a monk, dressed in a white habit, with blond hair and even a sort of crown of flowers or some other material on his head. He has just arrived in Zurich by train in the early morning hours. He first walks up the hill to the top, overlooking the town, then comes back down just as people are waking and commerce begins.

As he walks about, his dress attracting attention, he is imagining all sorts of responses from the people, and imaging all sorts of things about himself. He virtually never speaks to anyone, nor anyone to him, but his thoughts run on and on as he sees himself as an apostle of Jesus, come to these people to save them. Yet, he also imagines, or says he does, both rejection and acceptance by the people.

We never know who he really is. He seems to be a very conflicted individual with some delusions of grandeur, but the reality of it all just isn’t clear.

I hesitate to say I “enjoyed” these stories since there aren’t very happy tales, but I was quite satisfied to have come to this author, read these stories and experienced his compelling manner of writing. I will be looking for some further work of Gerhart Hauptmann to read in the future.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett