Epic Poetry as Field of Experimentation (1918–1933)

“Now, my thing has always been prose,” begins Thomas Mann’s Song of the Little Child(1919). What follows is his first and only hexameter poem: “Treat me once, Muse, the cheerfully measured gait then”. Alfred Döblin could have introduced Manas (1927) in a similar way, or Gerhart Hauptmann Till Eulenspiegel (1928). In the oeuvre of most poets of the interwar period, the epic written in verse is the exception.

During as late as the 19th century, there was a lively debate about the genre. In addition to a large number of theoretical essays, the publication of (national) epics “reached circulation levels like none of the major realistic novels up to the early 20th century”, as the literary scholar Peter Sprengel remarked. This trend declined noticeably in the following period. Döblin and Hauptmann’s verses were loss-making for S. Fischer Verlag. Nevertheless, the literary studies of the Weimar Republic witnessed a kind of “rebirth of the verse epic” (Martin Rockenbach, 1929) and Robert Musil stated on the occasion of Döblin’s Manas: “Our novel has overcome the epic so thoroughly that the need for a counter-vibration can be felt again at the vanguard of our development, which is certainly not the same as a reversal”.

The dissertation project wants to trace this ‘counter-vibration’. The corpus concentrates on the epics of Mann, Döblin and Hauptmann, which have so far been largely ignored in research on both the respective oeuvre and on the epic itself. The investigation of distinctly heterogeneous epics, which refer in different ways to traditions (Homeric epic, idyll, Indian and religious epics) and modern models that reflect the experience of the First World War, also allows the range of experiments in the field of the epic poem to be represented.

Program funding through the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) 2017–2019
Associate Researcher(s): Clara Fischer