Sheffy, Rakefet 1992. "The Eighteenth Century German "Trivialroman" as Constructed
by Literary History and Criticism." Texte (Revue de Critique et
de Théorie Littéraire [Toronto]), 12 (Texte et Histoire
Littéraire
), pp. 197-217.
© by Rakefet Sela-Sheffy 1992, 1998. All rights reserved.
This scanned text preserves the original layout. it is uploaded on
http://www.tau.ac.il/~rakefet/papers/rs-trivl.htm).


THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY GERMAN
"TRIVIALROMAN" AS CONSTRUCTED
BY LITERARY HISTORY AND CRITICISM

Rakefet SHEFFY

Le corpus considérable de connaissances concernant le roman allemand du
18e siècle se divise grosso modo en deux catégories qui sont non seulement
informatives mais aussi normatives : « le roman populaire » (Trivialroman,
pour recourir à la terminologie des études littéraires allemandes) d'une part,
et e le roman » en tant que forme artistique, genre littéraire, d'autre part.
Par conséquent, il existe deux différents types d'histoire littéraire allemande
de la même période, dont les méthodologies sont tout à fait divergentes. Les
histoires du « roman populaire » sont abordées à partir d'une perspective
« sociologique » et la conception dominante est celle d'un modèle de produc-
tion, déterminé par des principes de marché et surtout par « le goût public »
(quel que soit le sens que l'on donne à cette expression). Les histoires
littéraires canoniques, en revanche, sont organisées, d'habitude, selon « les
formes littéraires », les idées, ou les notices biographiques concernant les
auteurs individuels, sans que grand cas soit fait de facteurs sociologiques. Il
arrive que le discours « sociologique » -- qui définit « le populaire » par voie
de négation, en l'opposant à « l'authentiquement littéraire » -- serve à
établir une différen.ciation hiérarchique ayant pour effet d'exclure toute
production littéraire « non convenable ». Cela est certes plus révélateur des
luttes qui ont lieu à l'intérieur du champ littéraire que de « la production
littéraire » en tant que telle.

La distinction entre le roman « populaire » et le roman « artistique » ne se
manifesta dans la littérature allemande que pendant les dernières décennies
du 18e siècle. L'attaque contre e le roman des masses », qui se fondait sur le
concept péjoratif du « goût du public », s'intensifia dans la critique littéraire
allemande comme moyen, pour les agents littéraires, de lutter pour prendre
définitivement le dessus en déterminant les règles et les critères d'évaluation
à l'intérieur de leur champ d'action restreint sans aucun égard pour la
situation réelle du « public des lecteurs ». Le débat concernant « le public
des lecteurs » devait devenir un concept crucial pour la critique littéraire
contemporaine, laquelle, plus tard dans le siècle et précisément en réaction
contre ce débat, promut l'idée opposée de « l'autonomie littéraire », dont
l'expression extrême devait s'incarner dans la théorie littéraire (notamment

198 TEXTE

dans celle des Romantiques) qui établit, par définition, un rapport inverse-
ment proportionnel entre l'accessibilité et « la littérarité » : le « roman artis-
tique » s'y présentait comme la manifestation la plus exemplaire d'une telle
conception.

THE present-day thought of the late eighteenth-century German novel is
divided into two categories: the "popular novel" on the one hand, and
"the novel" as an "art" form, a literary genre, on the other. Indeed, the interest
in the "popular novel" ("Trivialroman"1, to use the terminology of German
literary studies, or "Trivialliteratur" in general), emerges as exceptionally
characteristic of German literary history of that particular period. However,
the basis for this split of categories is rather vague. To begin with, the
"popular navel" does not refer to any specific poetic form. Even scholars who
tirelessly seek classifications agree that there are no common features shared
by the different forms included here, whether in terms of conventions of
writing or as regards historical sources (see especially Kreuzer 1967). That
is to say, there is no generic basis for the formalization of this category.
Furthermore, these two categories are hardly linked in the historical perspec-
tive. Often, the "popular" is viewed as the earlier, "primitive" phase of the
"artistic" novel, with a linear continuity leading from the former to the latter.
Yet, as a rule, the reason for this evolutionary leap is left rather obscure.
Where exactly did the power of navel writing as a cultural practice lie, which
facilitated (or was the reason for) such a "transformation"? Why and how the
novel could induce such a cultural change and acquire such dominance in our
notion of the late eighteenth-century literary achievements?

Apparently, the "problem" lies to a large extent in the very ways of writing
the "history of the German novel". Roughly speaking, there are two different
types of literary histories from which information on the German novel of
the very same period
is obtained, in fact -- two genres of historical writing,
which are utterly divorced from one another in their methodology, exhibiting
a clear incongruity between two different perspectives in constructing the
history of the German novel: traditional literary histories2 on the one hand,


1
I do not intend to deal here with questions of terminology. Both terms have a pejorative
tone to them, in spite of attempts to define them an an "objectively.semantic" basis. The
"popular" is a more general and widespread term, while the "trivial" is more specifically
characteristic of modern German literary criticism, especially in relation the eighteenth-'
century novel. Helmut Kreuzer points out that this term, used in this sense, has been
available since 1855, and became a current one in the realm of literary study in the 1920s
when used by Marianne Thalmann' (Helmut KREUZER, "Trivialliteratur als Forschungs-
problem: Zur Kritik des deutschen Trivialromans seit der Auklärung", DVjs, no. 41, 1967,
pp. 173-91.). In this paper I shall apply both concepts without making any significant
distinction between them.

2
Histories of German Literature in general, such as Wolfgang BEUTIN (et al.), eds.
Deutsche Literaturgeschichte: von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart (Stuttgart, Metzler,

THE GERMAN "TRIVIALROMAN" 199

and histories of the "popular novel" on the other3. Consequently, I find this
body of historical writing a perfect example of the manipulative use of the
idea of "the popular" in scholarly cultural analysis and cultural history.
My most general claim in this connection is that although this category thus
pervades discussions of cultural stratification, it nevertheless does not reflect
an adequate methodological conception, but rather, its function lies primarily
in its rhetorical potency. That is to say, the category of "the popular" indicates
an attitude towards the object under discussion (that is, its image) more than
it accounts for or explains the object as such. In spite of all the methodologi-
cal introductions to the histories of the "Trivialroman", it is still unclear what
kind of "entity" "the popular" is, whether it defines properties of special
types of products, attitudes or special practices characterizing specific
social groups, or the technology of production and distribution ("for the
masses")4.


[footnote 2 continued from previous page]
1984 [1979]), Eduard ENGEL, Geschichte der Deutschen Literatur: von den Anfängen bis
zu Goethe
(Leipzig & Wien, 1907), Kuno FRANCKE, A History of German Literature (as
Determined by Social Forces
) (New York, AMS Press, 1969 [1901]), Ernst ROSE, A History
of German Literature
(New York University Press, 1960), E. L. STAHL, Introduction to
German Literature
(London, The Gresset Press, 1970); or of the particular relevant sections
thereof, such as the German Enlightenment or the German Novel (for instance, Jürgen
JACOBS, Prosa der Aufklärung: moralische Wochenschriften, Autobiographie, Satire,
Roman: Kommentar zu einer Epoche
(München, Winkler, 1976), Wolfgang MARTENS,
Die Botschaft der Tugend: der Aufklärung im Spiegel der deutschen moralischen Wochen-
schriften
(Stuttgart, Metzler, 1968), Herbert SINGER, Der deutsche Roman zwischen
Barock und Rokoko
(Literatur und Leben) (Köln, Graz, Böhlau Verlag, 1963), Heinrich
SPIERO, Geschichte der deutsche Romans (Berlin, Walter de Gruyter, 1950), E. L. STAHL
and W. E. YUILL, German Literature of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries and
Introduction to German literature (London, The Cresset Press, 1970), "Classicism" and
"Romanticism" (for instance, Walter MÜLLER-SEIDEL, Die Geschichtlichkeit der deut-
schen Klassik: Literatur und Denkform um 1800
(Stuttgart, Metzler, 1983), Gert UEDING,
Klassik und Romantik: Deutsche Literatur im Zeitalter der französischen Revolution
1789-1815
(München, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, coll. "Hansers Sozialgeschichte der
deutsche Literatur vom 16. Jahrhundert bis zur Gegenwart", 1988)) and a host of others.

3
Studies of the "Trivialroman", such as Marion BEAUJEAN, Der Trivialroman in der
zweiten Hälfte des 18. Jahrhunderts
(Bonn, Bouvier, 1964), Eva D. BECKER, Der
deutsche Roman um 1780
(Stuttgart, Metzler, 1963), Heinz Otto BURGER, ed., Studien zur
Trivialliteratur
(Frankfurt am Main, Vittorio Klosterman, 1968), Carl MüLLER-
FRAUREUTH, Die Ritter- und Räuberromane (Hildesheim, Georg Olms, 1965 [1894]), M.
SPIEGEL, Der Roman und Sein Publikum im Frfiüheren 18 Jahrhundert 1700-1767 (Bonn,
Bouvier, 1967) and others, including bibliographies, e.g., Michael HADLEY, The German
Novel in 1790
(Berne, Peter Lang, 1983); Romanverzeichniss: Bibliographie der zwischen
1750-1800 erscheinenen Erstausgaben
(Berne, Peter Lang, 1977), W. Manfred
HEIDERICH, The German Novel of 1800 (Berne and Francfort/m, Peter Lang, 1982), Ernst
WEBER and Christine MITHAL, eds., Deutsche Originalromane zwischen 1680 und 1780
: eine Bibliographie mit Besitznachweisen
(Berlin, E. Schmidt, 1983) and many others.

4
This confusion characterizes also "theories" of the "popular arts". The following formula-
tion is quite representati ve of 1970s American debate of "popular culture": Donald Dunlop
cites, inter alia, Ray BROWNE, "Popular Culture: Notes Toward a Definition" in Ray
BROWNE & Ronald J. AMBROSETTI, eds.. Popular Culture and Curricula (Ohio,

200 TEXTE

Following the semiotically oriented social analyses of culture, I proceed
from the assumption that literary histories (like other types of meta-literary
discourse) are agents in the institutionalization of literature, in that they
reflect the strategies maintained by interested literary parties in their efforts
to establish an authorized "description" of this field and its history. Let me
state my thesis in advance: The conventional methods of writing the literary
history of the German novel establish and adhere to an evaluative and
ahistorical dichotomy between the "popular" and the "artistic" navel. This
dichotomy seems to be the crystallization of a once functional distinction
which apparently played an important role in the organization of the literary
field of the time. Accordingly, the fact that this distinction endures all the
more strongly in the work of present-day literary historians, may indicate the
extent to which it was firmly established and sanctioned in the formative
stage of the then newly canonized late eighteenth-century literary notion of
the novel.

In this paper I shall first introduce the contemporary discussion of the
"Trivialroman" against the background of "the novel" as a topic in traditional
literary histories, and try to show that the category of "the popular" is based
an a problematic idea of "public demands". Then I shall try to show how this
category was established in the literary criticism of the eighteenth century,
not so much out of interest in real "public demands", but more as a result of
"inside" struggles over the construction of a literary canon and the in-
stitutionalization of a small and exclusive literary field.

1. the "Trivialroman" in contemporary German literary criti-
cism

In the context of traditional canonical literary histories, studies in the German
popular novel differ dramatically. To begin with, these studies exhibit a


[footnote 4 continued from previous page]
Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1970), according to whom "a viable definition
for Popular Culture is all those elements of life which are not narrowly intellectual or
creatively elitist and which are generally though not necessary, disseminated through the
mass media
" (Donald DUNLOP, "Popular Culture and Methodology", Journal of Popular
Culture
, vol. 9, no. 2, 1975, pp. 375-83.). In the final analysis, the tag "popular" usually
presupposes an inherent link between all these factors, (as if the nature of consumption of
the "popular" product is supposedly incorporated in its "properties"). Certainly, such
deterministic idea of "the popular form" can not serve as an explanation for the rise of the
"genuinely literary form" of the novel, if only because, according to these histories' own
logic
, "mass production" cannot give rise to anything of "artistic value" (see discussion
below). What we have in this case, then, is but a pointer to that alleged "special type" of
culture for which -- and only for which -- such determinism is considered "appropriate",
that is, an indication of a patronizing attitude towards the cultural section under discussion.
The question which thus arises is whose interests do this historical conception serve in our
particular case
?

THE GERMAN "TRIVIALROMAN" 201

methodological awareness, which is rather uncommon in uaditional literar.y
histories. Most of these works, to judge from their apologetic introductions,
share a great deal of "uneasiness" concerning the fact that they chose to deal
with "popular" material, hence material which is "problematic" according to
their standards, and take trouble to excuse its inclusion as a legitimate object
of scholarly discussion in its own right. As a rule, the "popular novel" is
defined in these studies by way of negation vis-h-vis what is considered
"genuine literature". Broadly speaking, attitudes towards the subject matter
oscillate between two poles: it is either viewed as "literature", however
questionable its value (which falls short of aesthetic literary standards); or it
is viewed as a "non-literary" corpus altogether (i.e., a corpus which is not
intended to meet aesthetic literary criteria in the first place) since it is
believed to be subject to different rules -- not "literary", but "social" or
"economic".

Consequently, there are, in principle, two legitimate ways to deal with such
a corpus: either as a body of social documents, or as an active index of literary
traits, marked out by their absence. In the introduction to her book Der
Trivialroman in der zweiten Hälfte des 18. Jahrhunderts
, Marion Beaujean
concludes after a detailed survey of the issue: "Apart from its significance as
a mirror of still prevalent outlooks, the eighteenth-century popular novel is
also of interest for the evolution of the novel's literary genres."5. In any
event, the "Trivialroman" is by definition a "literary entity", which is also by
definition marked as excluded from the framework of literature (it lacks
recognition, is irregular, etc.). Naturally, this kind of definition functions first
and foremost as means of selection and control: more than saying anything
about its subject matter -- the "popular novel" as such -- it embodies, and
helps determine, precisely those norms of "literariness", from which the
novel is judged to diverge.

Secondly, studies in the "Trivialroman" are marked by the stamp of socio-
logical methods. As mentioned above, while declared ineligible for literary
consideration, the "popular" material is nevertheless assigned legitimacy
through its worth as a social document. It so happens that the histories of the
popular novel (in sharp contrast to canonical literary histories) are, as a rule,
"social" or "economic" histories. It may, in fact, be rightly concluded that
once a certain section in culture is declared "popular", it automatically
becomes a "sociological issue", or conversely: "sociology" exists only for
what is viewed as "popular". Hence, it emerges that the only way to "define"
the "popular" is actually as "something that is investigated using a sociologi-


5
My translation. - Außer seiner Bedeutung als Spiegel für die noch herrschenden
Anschauungsformen gewinnt der Trivialroman im 18. Jahrhundert also auch ein Interesse
für die Entwicklungsgeschichte der literarischen Gattung des Romans
." (Marian BEAU-
JEAN, Der Trivialroman in der zweiten Hälfte des 18. Jahrhunderts (op. cit., p. 9).

202 TEXTE

cal method". Let me detail the most striking characteristics of this "sociologi-
cal" discourse:

1.1. the use of statistics

On the whole, there is hardly any study on the "Trivialroman" which is
without statistics. This fact is clearly loaded with a signifying value: statis-
tical analysis and graphic representation in tables and diagrams are certainly
the trade-marks par excellence of "sociological research" (no matter how
reductive such an idea of sociological research is), serving conventionally to
authenticate the reliability of the argument6. Here they are certainly intended
to indicate that in this context, by contrast to literary discourse whose finesse
lies in the virtuosity of interpretations, the name of the garne is the solidity
of "empirical research" and "scientific precision".

Consequently, unlike literary histories which deal with "important" in-
dividual texts and writers, here the material is often anonymous and is treated
merely as statistical evidence: even when they deal with the textual aspects
of the "popular novel", these studies ultimately aim to construct a typology
for large corpora, individual navels thus usually serving as "samples". As a
rule, the generic characteristics, rather than particular properties of individual
works are perceived to be central. This is perfectly obvious, for instance, in
Michael Hadley's bibliography The German Novel in 17907. In his introduc-
tion, Hadley dedicates a whole chapter to listing "Narrative TECHNIQUES and
Literary CONVENTIONS in 1790"8, to which a "STATISTICAL Table of Themes
and TECHNIQUES in 35 Extant Novel of 1790 ACCORDING TO TYPES"9 is
appended, where the distribution of 28 listed literary conventions (e.g.,
epistolary conventions, dialogue, the use of the first-person, prefaces, digres-
sions, the bourgeois hero, etc.) is measured according to genres (Hadley lists
the following genres: the love-, historical-, satirical- and character-novel).
Needless to say, nothing of the sort is even cbnceivable in ordinary literary
histories (but indeed is the order of the day in the study of "folklore").

1.2. a "consumer oriented" model of explanation

The massive deployments of statistics reveal the conception of a whole
mechanism of production based on the model of relations "producers-ar-
tifacts-consumers", so current in discussions of "popular art". According to


6
See Thomas Kuhn's analysis of "The Function of Measurement in Modern Physical
Science" and its emergence into "the paradigm of sound knowledge" (Thomas KUHN, "The
Function of Measurement in Modern Physical Science", Isis, no. 52, 1961, pp. 161-90.).

7
See note 3.

8
M. HADLEY, op. cit., pp. 39-71.

9
Ibid., p. 238.

THE GERMAN "TRIVIALROMAN" 203

this model, the novels (that is, the "texts") are perceived as no more than
products (as opposed to "masterpieces"); the most dominant factor regulating
production is "public demand", and "distribution" (or "market") plays an
indispensable role of mediation10. What is crucial here is the shift of em-
phasis in perception of the responsibility for the generation of texts from the
pole of the "producer" (the writer) to that of the "consumer": the reading
public is attributed primacy here as the chief factor determining the properties
and "quality" of this kind of literary production. This is often lamented as a
misfortune: "Popular literature was in fact a response to the demand of
public taste; the public, NOT THE AESTHETICIANS, established the criteria
."11.
Here, the idea of the absolute "literary creation" is relinquished. Instead, it
is basically assumed that the writers of such material, by contrast to writers
of "genuine" literature, neither enjoy nor aspire to any "freedom of creation"
whatsoever, hut respond rationally to the pressure of "public taste".

Such an attitude underlies the relatively broad interest in the cost of books
and the public's purchasing power; in the level of education of social groups;
marketing channels, etc., issues which are the order of the day in studies of
the "popular novel". This fact is indeed striking: all these "sociological"
issues, which hardly arise in -- and in fact are excluded as blasphemy from
-- canonical literary histories whose interest is in "genuine literature", are
applied in the case of the "popular novel" as supposedly the natural and sole
method
of dealing with it. Is there no "sociology" of "genuine" literature --
or is it a priori impossible to construct one for "genuine" literature? (It is an
indisputable axiom that to deal with such issues in the context of canonized
literary material would be to miss its essence entirely.) At any rate, it appears
that confining the application of "sociological" discourse to the context of
"the popular" alane, actually serves to draw the boundaries of the "literary",
as precisely the particular domain for which sociological analysis is sup-
posedly irrelevant12.


10
Such a "model of production" predominates in most "theories" of the "popular arts". Donald
Dunlop, for instance, proposes a "rudimentary scheme" to illustrate the relationships among
what he views as the three factors which must be involved in a "systematic analysis of the
popular arts
": the artist, the artifact, and the audience. The relationship between the artist
and the artifact are governed by a formula. The relationship between the artist and audience
are governed by the middlemen. And the relationship between the audience and the artist
are governed by the medium.

11
Michael HADLEY, op. cit., p.l.

12
Whenever researchers show any awareness of this methodological discrimination, they feel
obliged to substantiate it with rational excuses. One most conspicuous such rationalization
is made with reference to the situation in the eighteenth century: researchers are usually at
pains to support their discriminatory methodology precisely on the grounds that 'such was
the state of affairs at the time'. In his book on Book Production, Fiction and the German
Reading Public 1740-1800
(Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1974), Albert Ward explains why the
"classical works" (in his words) do not exactly constitute part of his object of study. For
Ward, their exclusivity relies simply on their material scarcity. His argument goes as

204 TEXTE

Of course, the approach of studies of "the popular" need not always be that
of extreme "economic determinism". The assumption that popular novels
were merely designed to meet the "lowest common denominator" (whatever
that might be) of the public's expectations is even more common. Hadley
voices this cynical view of the novelists' opportunism very colorfully, yet
with great contempt, not accidentally using figurative language drawn from
the semantic field of digestion: "Novelists of 1790 [...] 'joined cookery with
authorship' by 'serving up' works of 'considerable corpulence' with 'some-
thing for every palate', and even for 'all digestive systems'
[...]"13.

However, careful attention should be paid to the fact that, for all the
argument's air of "pragmatism" (for all the seeming demystification of
literary activity and the down-to-earth analysis of its mechanism of produc-
tion), the notion of "the public" in histories of "the popular" remains vague
and mystified all the same. The most favorable axiom about the public's
character (its "needs" and "desires"), is so regularly repeated that it seems to
be accepted without debate as genetic -- although its basis is never convinc-
ingly elaborated. Yet what is the specific content of the alleged character of
the "public"? Ostensibly, the answer is at everyone's disposal: it is the
average combination of both "light entertainment and amusement" on the one
hand, and "instruction" on the other. How was this combination established
-- if not precisely through the activities of the very critics and writers on the
basis of whose testimony it was deduced in the first place? Furthermore, what
kind of social entity is "the public", and who exactly are the people who are
said to appropriate these expectations? How are the public's expectations
expressed, and how da novelists detect and successfully respond to them?


[footnote 10 continued from previous page]
follows: First, he argues that books in general were rather expensive, even late in the
cenfury: "[...] The capacity to afford to buy books is of obvious relevance in our present
context; indeed, for those of the lower fringes of the reading public the price of the book is
often the decisive factor
" (pp. 149-50). Ward concludes that "the over-all verdict must he
that even the most popular type of novel was by no means cheap
" (p. 151), yet he finds it
particularly vital to specify that "beyond any doubt the classics were not a commercial
success
" (p. 131), to say the least. In fact, he asserts that "classical works were read as
rarely as they were bought
" (p. 132). This implies an ostensibly clear argument regarding
the question of the novel's "popularity": literature was apparently beyond the public's
financial means altogether, therefore, it is doubtful whether it could have constituted a
"mass culture" at all. However, Ward manages to state his claims in a manner that
simultaneously leads to two opposing conclusions concealed within a single argument. On'
the one hand, knowledge of the economic conditions and the market situation of the period
is crucial for understanding the evolution of the novel; on the other hand, with regard to
what he calls "the classics" these gatters are of no interest whatsoever, since "classical"
works transcend even these basic rules of reality. This is ultimately only another way of
stating that by restricting the discussion of economic constraints to the realm of the
"popular" novel, one merely perpetuates the same historical value distinctions which
isolated the particular segments of cultural production from the rest.

13
Ibid., pp. 4-5.

THE GERMAN "TRIVIALROMAN" 205

The answers to all these questions are confusing. As a matter of fact, any
response is based an the abstraction of heterogeneous factors, the construc-
tion of an average that has no actual existence nor any specific manifestation
in reality. It thus transpires that precisely this quasi-sociological nation of
"the public", which was supposed to ground the more solid and pseudo-scien-
tific level of discussion, implies a rather obscure, certainly not "sociologi-
cal", assumption that a seemingly anonymous, uniform and passive
population exists, and that it supposedly acts in an "average manner". Cer-
tainly, the notion of the public bears no genuine reference to any real social
group, and to the ways social groups generate or appropriate their practices
according to their variable (and usually conflicting) interests and circumstan-
ces. There is nothing, therefore, in this notion that explains the nature and
functions of the cultural products (e.g., novels, in this case) which these
groups really "consume". Apparently, what we have here is nothing but an
empty formal index of sociological discourse.

In short, "the public", which plays no role in traditional literary histories,
is regarded as the major factor in the histories of the "popular novel". These
studies exhibit a different historical model -- a history of production and
consumption (albeit quite dogmatically), in other words, a history of the
"large scale field of production"14. Such conspicuous divorce of methodol-
ogy reveals, by way of elimination, the ideology of "literary autonomy". This
ideology finds its direct expression in the structure of canonical literary
histories, which hardly take into consideration any factor other than the
producers (the writers) and the products (their works), namely, what is
considered the finalized (selected) product of literary activity. The canonical
literary history is, then, a history of the "restricted field of production", to
use Bourdieu's terms. It refers to a rather intact cultural field, in which the
producers are also the consumers, and in which the very notion of production
and consumption, and the distinction between them, are actually prohibited
and inconceivable. In such cultural fields the agents are entitled, and in fact
obliged, to ignore the basic dynamic in culture, that of offer and demand, to
the extent that pointing out this dynamic alone serves to mark out the
"excluded". Consequently, it may be further concluded that the very rise of
interest in the "popular", and the "sociological" discourse associated with it,
are indicative precisely of the state of affairs of the cultural elite, in which
the demand apparently arises to reestablish its boundaries, block its canon
and secure its exclusivity.


14
Pierre BOURDIEU, "The Field of Cultural Production, or: The Economic World Reversed",
Poetics, vol. 12, nos. 4/5, pp. 311-56, and "The Market of Symbolic Goods", Poetics,
vol. 14, no. 1/2, 1985, pp. 13-44.

206 TEXTE

2. the problem of the "popular navel" in eighteenth-century
literary criticism

It appears from the above that the German "Trivialroman" is believed to have
the existence of a distinct "entity". However, such distinctiveness was not in
effect at all before the last decades of the eighteenth century. According to
Eva Becker, the Trivialroman became recognizable in this culture only late
in the century when it served as a sign of the then emergent "Romanticism"15;
before that, Becker claims, no "substantial break of 'artistic' with 'enter-
tainment' novel" was valid, and apart from "di fferences in quality, [there was]
no essential differences among the novels that appeared in the period between
1765 to 1790"16. If we bear in mind that the novel was by no means an
"invention" of late eighteenth-century literature, and indeed flourished many
years earlier and for quite same time enjoyed a large measure of "public
interest", the question inevitably arises as to what caused the emergence of
such a dramatic distinctiveness ? What underlies the increasingly massive
attack an the popular novel, especially towards the end of the century17?


15
Eva D. BECKER, Der deutsche Roman um 1780 (Stuttgart, Metzler, 1963), p. 2.

16
Ibid., p. 1. My translation: "Eine grundsätzliche Unterscheidung von 'Kunstromanen' und
'Unterhaltungsromanen' für diese Zeit überhaupt der Berechtigung entbehrt. Es gibt
QUALITATIVE, ABER KEINE PRINZIPIELLEN UNTERSCHIEDE zwischen den Romanen, die in der Zeit
von 1765 bis 1790 erschienen
." Nevertheless, this distinction is so firmly established in
literary criticism, that even those researchers wha are more aware of its historical condition-
ing still fail to avoid it. Christa Bürger, for instance, calls attention to the weakness of
research which retains the "value judgments of literary criticism of the period (such as that
of Nicolai's most influential Allgemeinen deutsche Bibliothek)" as if they were solid
"facts", instead of viewing them as "a momentum of historical process" ("Die Wer-
tungpraxis der Zeitgenössischen Literaturkritik [z.B. der einflußreichen Allgemeinen
deutsche Bibliothek
des Aufklärers Nicolai ] wird dann zum 'Faktum', während sie doch als
Moment einer historischen Entwicklung gedeutet werden müßte". [Christa BÜRGER, "Das
menschliche Elend oder Der Himmel auf Erden? Der Roman zwischen Aufklärung und
Kunstautonomie" in Christa BÜRGER, Peter BÜRGER and Jochen SCHULTE-SASSE,
eds., Zur Dichotomizierung von hoher und niederer Literatur (Suhrkamp, 1982), pp. 172-
207; cf. p. 173]), Yet, at the same time, Bürger unintentionally exercises the very
methodological bias which she seeks to lay bare, by the seemingly naive application of
different terminology for canonical literary study (Literaturwissenschaft, i.e., "the science
of literature") an the one hand, and the study of popular literature which to her is na more
than "research" (Trivialliteraturforschung).

17
It has to be stressed that in the discussion of late eighteenth-century "popular literature",
the navel is without question the most berated genre; it is considered the most typicai
"popuiar" product of the age. The study of other popular genres of the period is rather
negligible in comparison, especially that of lyrical poetry, and above all, of the idyll, which,
for all their longstanding association with the canonical literary tradition, undoubtedly
enjoyed a vast popularity at the time, at least to the extent the navel did.

THE GERMAN "TRIVIALROMAN" 207

Marion Beaujean poses exactly this question when she asserts in her
introduction:

Never before had the discrepancy been so great between the absolute height of intellec-
tual achievements and the coarse items-of-commodity. The existence of a "popular
novel" increasingly emerged into consciousness. Yet what did it look like? What
facilitated its sudden success? What position did it take in the literary life of its time?18

Later on in her discussion, Beaujean rephrases the same question in a way
that reveals her suppositions on the subject -- (1) a question of "quantity":
What was the reason for the production of such an enormous number of
novels, particularly in the second half of the century? and (2) a question of
"quality": Why precisely then, in contrast to previous periods, was the
distinction between the "artistic" and the "trivial" novel so clearly and firmly
drawn19? Indeed, Beaujean's conclusions relate more to the first part of the
question, relying on the prevailing assumption that the growth of the "popular
novel" was the reaction to increased demand an the part of a supposedly
"newly emerging" reading public. Nevertheless, in so formulating her ques-
tion, she also implies the substantial connection between these observations
(and this is what I would like to make the main issue here): It is not accidental
that the "popular novel" become a literary "fact" -- or indeed a literary
"problem" -- exactly simultaneously with the canonization of the navel as
an "artistic" literary genre par excellence (the Kunstroman); that is, the
rejection of the novel as a work of "mass production" ran parallel to all the
efforts to establish it as the supreme achievement of literary creation and to
associate it with the great classical tradition.

Such a conclusion may be drawn from the histories of German literature,
even when they do not make it explicit: The "history of the novel", as
summarized above, is generally perceived in German literary history as a shift
from a lower, popular phase to a more "developed", canonical one, as if the
novel transformed itself from one "entity" -- the "popular" work, to another
-- the "artistic". This "evolution", usually located in the last decades of the
eighteenth century, is presented in literary histories in terms of a gap between
the initial phase when the navel was merely a "negligible product for mass
consumption" and the "final" one in which the "outstanding" navels ap-
peared, turning this genre into an important "literary form". Here is, for
instance, Stahl and Yuill's view fo the navel's evolution:


18
My translation. "Nie zuvor schien die Diskrepanz zwischen der absoluten Höhe der
Geistesschöpfung und der profanen Gebrauchsware großer zu sein. Die Existenz eines
'Trivialen Romans' war bewußt geworden. Wie aber sah er aus? Was bedingte seinen
plötzlich einsetzenden Erfolg? Welche Stellung kam ihm im literarischen Leben seiner Zeit
zu
?" (Marion BEAUJEAN, op. cit., p. 178).

19
Ibid., p. 178.

208 TEXTE

Already in the 17th century the sheer volume of navel production MAKES IT NECESSARY
TO SELECT FOR DISCUSSION ONLY THESE WORKS OF TYPICAL SIGNIFICANCE OR OF INTRINSIC
MERIT. With the widening of the reading public, in the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries there developed a vast literature of entertainment, largely in the form of novels
and short stories. In any account of prose fiction of this period it must be born in mind
that one is dealing with peaks and landmarks -- at most with the contours of a vast
landscape. It goes without saying that the celebrated works of any era are frequently
surrounded in their historical context by a host of imitations, sequels and parodies.20

However, on the basis of ."socio-economic" histories of German literature,
as weil as judging from the history of its criticism, it appears that instead of
such a linear description, it would be more appropriate to speak about a
simultaneous process during which both categories were established at the
same time and focused the attention of literary critics in relation -- and, in
fact, in opposition -- to one another.

The literary field in Germany during the last decades of the eighteenth
century is generally mapped out as hearing the mark of the following two
dramatic changes: the unprecedented flourishing of the literary market and
of "public reading habits" on the one hand, and the "autonomization" of
literature, on the other. That is, broadly speaking, there are two (seemingly)
contradictory tendencies regarding the function of literature as a cultural
institution that are claimed to have held sway within literary life at the time:
an increased adherence to the conception of "Art for Art's Sake" in terms of
which literature is accessible to restr'icted circle of experts only, versus the
tendency to enlarge the literary public, and to make literature a means of
conveying, as weil as shaping, a whole cultural (ideological and economic)
system. Ultimately, the fierce intellectual combats over the issue of "the
autonomy of literature" also served those who had interests in the literary
market. Essentially, this polemic was part of the struggle for domination over
the literary field.

The idea of "the autonomy of literature" is viewed as a "new" concept which
became prevalent at this relatively late phase in the consolidation of modern
German literature, as a reaction against its earlier phase when literature was
judged to be "engaged" with the intellectual endeavours of the Enlighten-
ment. The concept of "literary autonomy" endorses the break of literature
with "life" in two respects: Christa Bürger21, for instance, discusses it mainly

as opposing the "instrumental" ("didactic") conception of literature (i.e., as.
committed to reporting "reality", to moralizing, educating, etc.). In her
opinion, the cali for "literary autonomy" voiced the need to free literature
from its bands of social mission as a means of constructing a "large public


20
E.L. STAHL and W.E. YUILL, op. cit., p. 38.

21
Op. cit.

THE GERMAN "TRIVIALROMAN" 209

life". Jochen Schulte-Sasse22, on the other hand, discusses "literary
autonomy" more as opposed to the "commercial" phase of literature, which
is said to have developed strongly in response to the increasing "market
principle". Whether literary autonomy be the reaction against making litera-
ture a "consumer product" yielding to market principles only, or a reaction
to the "subjugation" of literature to "ideological ends", in the name of the
unity and harmony of culture, the role played by "the public" became a crucial
question in the struggles that took place in the literary arena. "The public",
a vague and anonymous object in whose name the senior agents of the literary
institution had acted up to this time, became, from the viewpoint of the
promoters of literary autonomy, a "threat" against "pure literary quality", an
impediment.

I shall not dwell on the reasons for this state of affairs. For the present
context, it is important only to stress that the debate concerning "the public"
and "public taste" was basically established as a convention of literary
criticism, as the exclusive business of the rival factions in the field. To put it
marc boldly, this subject seems to have been invented to suit the critics'
purposes in accordance with their desired image of literature, but with scant
connection to a concrete "readership" or to its real nature.

2.1. "the public" and the idea of literary autonomy

The ideology of "literary autonomy" (i.e., the ethos of "freedom of aesthetic
rules" and disregard of "public demands") was advocated by elitist circles
(especially the "Weimar Classicists", and subsequently, the early Romantics)
who set the tone in literary criticism at the end of the century. There was
nothing essentially novel about these slogans as such: in canonical Baroque
literature which relied on the classicist tradition (a literature undoubtedly
familiar to eighteenth-century intellectuals), there were no criteria other than
the rules of rhetoric and poetics of "the Ancients". "Public taste", in any
event, was never considered a literary criterion. However, from the perspec-
tive of literary agents at the end of the century, this matter had a totally
different significance: it was by no means a reliance on tradition', but conver-
sely, an attempt to establish an alternative to the existing literary institution
that continued to bear the mark of the Enlightenment. By the last decades of
the eighteenth century, the modern literary system weh all its institutions of
distribution and control (e.g., journals and almanacs of various kinds, book
fairs, libraries, etc.) was constituted in the name of the Enlightenment.
Regardless of the question to what extent the literary milieu had indeed
expanded, all these were certainly very effective at least in that they helped


22
Jochen SCHULTE-SASSE, "The Concept of Literary Criticism in German Romanticism
1795-1810" in Peter Uwe HOHENDAHL, ed., A History of German literary Criticism
1730-1980
(Lincoln and London, Nebraska University Press, 1988 [1985]), pp. 99-178.

210 TEXTE

to determine the image of literary life as "mass culture": literary criticism
up to this point strongly endorsed the idea of "readership" ("die Leser-
schaft
"), which meant (to the Enlightenment) a "homogeneous public that
could he shaped by criticism and expand without limit
"23, no matter how
restricted the number of "scholars, art lovers and educated individuals" this
notion encompassed de facto24.

A particular literary atmosphere prevailed in which the ratio between the
properties of the literary product and "public demands" became a prominent
issue: whoever had anything to win or lose in the literary arena expressed his
stance in terms of "meeting" or eise "shamelessly yielding to" public expec-
tations. The long-standing position of Friederich Nicolai, the gigantic figure
of the Enlightenment until the end of the century, in the broad field of
production is a weil-known example: His journal Allgemeinen Deutsche
Bibliothek
, which persisted for about forty years and had the largest distribu-
tion of all the journals, was intended to review (and thereby to expose to as
large a public as possible) the entire prose production of the time, including


23
Klaus L. BERGHAHN, op. cit., p. 23.

24
Furthermore, it appears that even for Enlightenment agents par excellence as far back as
the 1740s, such as Johann Christoph Gottsched, the recognition of "the public" in the
context of literary discourse derived more from the demands for a model of criticism than
it constituted a rational response to the state of the readership as such. In his analysis of
Gottsched's Versuch einer Critischen Dichtkunst vor die Deutschen, which is viewed as a
pioneering work in the realm of German literary criticism, Berghahn indeed claims that
Gottsched opened the way to discussing the notion of "taste" (hereby establishing a
different standard for criticism, based on "common sense" and seemingly not dictated by
the Classicist dictum). Berghahn also mentions that Gottsched dedicated a special chapter
to the subject, a fact which was unprecedented in works an poetics until then. However, he
shows that Gottsched's intentions were by no means "anti-elitist". To Gottsched, "taste"
was something that every poet should haue and which he was to deliver to his audience in
order to "improve" it, hut which could not be determined by the public. The poet "müssen
sich [...] niemals nach den Geschmacke der Welt, das ist, des großen Haufens oder
unverständigen Pöbels richten. [...] Er muß vielmehr suchen, den Geschmack seines
Vaterlandes, seines Hofes, seiner Stadt zu läutern
[...]" (The poet "may [...] neuer take his
direction from the taste of the world, that is, from the great mass of the uncomprehending
mob [....] The poet must instead try to purify the taste of his fatherland, of his court, of his
city." Johann Christoph GOTTSCHED, "Veruch einer Critischen Dichtkunst vor die Deut-
schen" in Schriften zur Literatur (Stuttgart, Reclam, 1982 [1751]), pp. 12-196, cf. p. 73.
Cited by Klaus L. BERGHAHN, "From Classicist to Classical Literary Criticism 1730-
1806" in Peter Uwe HOHENDAHL, A History of German literary Criticism 1730-1980
[Lincoln and London, Nebraska University Press, 1988]. Originally published in German:
Geschichte der deutsche Literaturkritik [Stuttgart, Metzler 8r Carl Ernst Poeschel, 1985],
pp. 13-98). It follows from this, finally, that the notion of taste suited Gottsched's require-
ments in the realm of poetics. His need to establish the authority of "taste" (which,
previously, was not legitimate in matters of literary judgment) discloses his motives as an
interested literary party marc than it reveals his supposedly ideological concern for "the
public". Apparently, it was the invocation of canonical literary authority at the service of
the intellectual project of the Enlightenment, which eventually enabled hirn to bypass at
the same time the tyranny of the "formal literary rule" of generic forms and "aptum",

THE GERMAN "TRIVIALROMAN" 211

the "mediocre trash which many people still think has merit"25. Yet, because
of this "commercial" might Nicolai had to pay the price of contempt and
devaluation of his intellectual achievements by those whose journals were
hardly sold and could not survive more than a year or two. In defence of the
rapid downfall of his own journal, Die Horen, Schiller turned the failure into
an "intellectual profit": "Evidently, there are readers who prefer the watery
soup of other journals to the heartier fare offered by the
Horen."26.

This was a struggle for survival formulated in terms of "popularity". Nicolai
was at pains to affirm that his strength as a publisher, journalist and novelist
also had intellectual merit; he denounced Schiller's Horen for its "essays full
of scholastic sophistry, presented in an impenetrable style, [and which] were
ill suited" to its declared purpose as directed at the public mind27. However,
Goethe and Schiller denied hirn literary value and sentenced hirn to be
omitted from the canon of German literature for the coming generations28.
Thus, "the public" indeed served as a decisive argument in literary combats.
Yet to what extent did this argument reflect the actual weight of "the
readership" in determining the state of affairs in the literary field
? It seems
that on neither side of the dispute, were the positions regarding the question
of "public demand" and its role in shaping literary production based on
rational conclusions concerning the actual readership of the time.

2.1.1. "the public" and the question of the literary market

The general impression, usually taken for a solid historical truth, is that in
the late eighteenth century, literature enjoyed unprecedented prosperity and
its status shifted dramatically: whereas in the first half of the century it is
possible to cite complaints that people did not read books, the second half
provides endless reproaches about exaggerated and tasteless public reading
habits, now referred to as an obsession, a mania or an epidemie (Lesesucht,
Lesewut, Leseseuche
). The prevailing assumption was that everyone read
books, that reading had become a "bare necessity" for all social strata
(viewed, this time, as "cultural affliction)"29. The situation is most commonly
described as follows: At this point even the advocates of the Enlightenment


25
Cited by Berghahn in ibid., p. 68. According to the figures offered by Berghahn, this journal
reviewed 80,000 books in forty years (1765-1805); from 1769 onwards, he argues, the
journal could no langer "keep pace with a production rate of 1,300 new books a year" and
could only review half of the new publications. Of course, the figures are still too
approximate and one should draw no hasty conclusions. Note that no more than 2,000 copies
a year of this most popular journal were circulated on average (Ibid., p. 68).

26
In his letter to Cotta, Nicolai and Schiller's publisher, cited by Berghahn in ibid., p. 67.

27
Friedrich NICOLAI, Anhang zu Schillers Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1797. Cited by
Berghahn in op. cit., p. 65.

28
Ibid., p. 63.

29
See Albert WARD, op. cit., p. 60.

212 TEXTE

were disillusioned by its consequences which turned out to be more damaging
than constructive, in that the Enlightenment'brought about a flooding of the
market at the expense of literary quality, and failed in its goal to "improve
the public". And so, the argument goes, frustration led to a new literary wave
which sought to restore the excellence of literature and to rescue it from the
"populism" of the Enlightenment.

Yet it remains questionable to some scholars whether this gives an accurate
picture of the state of the readership at the time. Helmuth Kiesel, following
Rudolf Schenda, claims that "Empirical reconstruction of eighteenth-century
readership is in fact impossible"30. The partial figures about the different
factors which bare on the nature and scope of the readership are often
contradictory, according to the interests of the reporters -- namely, writers
and publishers of the period31. The assumption that the "reading mania" even
reached the lower classes is particularly disputable. According to Kiesel and
Schenda, this assumption is hardly reconcilable with the figures they have
about the high rate of illiteracy at the time32. Even if they take their con-
clusions too far, it still casts doubt on the assumption that the popular novel
spread throughout Germany simply as a direct response to an uncontrollable
demand for reading matter. Whether as a result of questions concerning thor
market and the public's access to reading material (quantities of books, their


30
My translation. Helmuth KIESEL & Paul MUNCH, Gesellschaft und Literatur im 18.
Jahrhundert
(München, Beck'sche Elementärbücher, 1977), p. 159.

31
Ibid., pp. 154-79.

32
Rudolf SCHENDA, Volk ohne Buch: Studien zur Sozialgechichte der populären Lesestoffe
1770-1910. (München, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1977 [1970]). As stated above, the
figures are far from uniform and complete. Berghahn surveys several sources (Ibid., p. 23):
according to Schenda, in 1770, only 15% of 'the population (which he estimates at 25
million) could read and write. Kiesel is even more skeptical and puts it at only 1% of the
population (relying, for instance, on Friederich Nicolai's report in Das Leben und die
Meinungen des Herrn Magister Sebaldus Nothanke
(see below), or an the figures reported
by Friederich The Second in his De la littérature allemande (On German Literature, 1780)
where he claims that out of 26 million Germans only 100,000 were capable of reading or
engaging in any literary activity whatsoever (op. cit., p. 159). Kiesel cites in detail a critical
report of reading habits of different social strata published in 1782 by Zuschauer in Bayern.
This report mockingly supports the suspicion that reading was by then restricted to the
milieu of the "learned bourgeoisie", and that it was, on the whole, a rather borderline
activity. Here are same brief extracts from this report: "What does the bourgeois read? He
reads the newspaper of Munich or Augsburg. His son reads nothing! The 'gentle lady' reads
a lot but ultimately remembers nothing. The only one who reads everything is the
'semi-learned'." (my translation). Of the reading habits of the aristocracy it says: "Ich habe
Bibliotheken angetroffen, wo man den Band nicht Rennen konnte von Staub; und wieder
andere, wo die treplichsten Bücher verschmutzt, verkritzelt und ganze Blätter herausgeris-
sen waren, weil man sie, wie man sagt, einst der jungen Herrschaft zum Spielzeug gegeben
hatte
." ("I saw libraries in which it was impossible to identify the volumes due to the thick
layers of dust which covered them; and yet other libraries, where the most excellent books
were filthy, scratched, and with entire pages ripped apart, because, as they say, they were
once given to the young Lords as toys." [Ibid., pp. 157-9. My translation]).

THE GERMAN "TRIVIALROMAN" 213

cost, means of distribution, etc.); or as a consequence of the enigma of the
rate of literacy (let alone of the motivation to read) in various social strata,
Helmuth Kiesel (adhering, even more extremely, to Rudolf Schenda's skep-
ticism) firmly concludes, citing Schenda's own words, that "[t]he quantities
of reading material consumed by the public was far smaller than critics of
readership would suggest. The complaints about an overall readiny mania and
mass production of books are nothing but ideological fallacy."33.

In point of fact, it was the case that literary "delegates" sought (for different
and opposite reasons) to establish the existence of a "broad public" and to
account for its supposedly critical impact on the nature of literary production.
Those whose activity was still associated with the Enlightenment continued
to invoke the image of "literature for the people" to support their position; in
this milieu, the "politically correct" stance was the cali to ( seemingly) deny
the exclusive access of a restricted circle of "literary experts" -- professors,
students and journalists34. Against this background, those who challenged the
existing state of affairs in the field had no alternative other than to take the
extreme opposite stance and to denounce what, up to this point, had endowed
literary agents with their power as weil as their weakness: "literature for the
masses" now indicated inferiority. At the end of the century, the "correct
stance" was to assert instead the exclusive nature of literature and to distin-
guish competent literary agents from the rest of "the public". The threat was
not the public as such, but the other producers who produced for the public.
Although the struggle manifested itself in terms of a critique of "monstrous"
literary consumption (Vielleserei), it appears that the critics were troubled to
no lesser extent by "excessive" production (Vielschreiberei): Ward teils us
that from 1785 no journal failed to point out the danger of the enormous
number of publications, citing this statement from the Deutsches Museum
(May 1776) in support: "I cannot grasp the art of those three thousand
book-producers who, in three years, were ahle to manufacture four thousand
seven hundred and nine books
."35.


33
My translation. "Das Lesepublikum verbrauchte entschieden weniger Lesematerial, als die
Kritiker des Lesens suggerieren wollen. Die Klagen über eine allgemeinen Lesesucht und
über eine Massenproduktion von Büchern sind eine ideologische Fälschung
." (Helmuth
KIESEL und Paul MUNCH, op. cit., p. 161; Rudolf SCHENDA, op. cit., p. 88).

34
Albert WARD, op. cit., p. 59, citing J. SCHMIDT, Geschichte des geistigen Lebens in
Deutschland von Leibnitz bis auf Lessings Tod
(Leipzig, 1862-4), vol. 2.

35
Ward's translation. "Ich verstehe nicht die Kunst derjenigen dreythausend deutschen
Bücherrmacher, welche in drey Jahren viertausend siebenhundert und neun Bücher verfer-
tigen konnten
." As in other matters, here too the figures often contradict each other, because
of the miscellaneous factors that are taken into account (for instance, are these the figures
of new titles only or do they include further editions of the same titles? What genres are
accounted for? etc.), and also because of the questionable reliability of catalogues and other
sources. Beaujean and Schulte-Sasse, and Ward following them, rely on Kaiser's book
lexicon of 1836 which claims that between 1771-1780 only 413 titles were published,
whereas according to the same source, in the last decade of the century, the number of titles

214 TEXTE

The struggle involved "producers", yet was formulated by them in terms of
a class struggle -- those speaking on behalf of the elite versus those speaking
in defence of "the people". In Das Leben und die Meinungen des Herrn
Magister Sebaldus Nothanker
Nicolai bitterly criticized:

This minuscule scholarly world comprises not more than 20,000 teachers and students;
they so heartily despise their 20 million German-speaking fellows, that they don't even
bother to write for them, and when they occasionally do so, their work [...] appeals to
nobody. The twenty million uneducated accordingly repay the contempt of the learned
with disregard, scarcely aware that the scholars exist in the world.36

By contrast, Schiller expressed his reservation concerning the ideology of
"Volkstümlichkeit" ("populist" ideology) so to speak (that is, the idea of "the
people") as the moral dilemma of a poet who must choose either to go the
easy or the hard way: "[The poet has a choice] either to accommodate himself
exclusively to the intellectual capacities of the great mass, and renounce the
approval of the educated class -- or to transcend the huge gap that exists
between these two classes by the very greatness of his art."

Such a position did not only influence the realm of criticism; it had some
rather material aspects as weil. I have already mentioned Ward's report an
means of blocking access to "classical works": they were relatively expensive
and were printed in small quantities37. Ward also reports on Goethe s efforts
to detach his novels from "die unbekannte Menge" ("the unknown mas-
ses"38), and to ascribe them with a different image, as weil as documenting
his regret at Werther's popularity and his satisfaction, on the other hand, at
his success in creating for his Wilhelm Meister an intimate readership of
friends-admirers -- artist and literature lovers39. In the light of this dynamic,
one must eventually revise Schulte-Sasse.'s claim that the Romantics' aliena-
tion was a direct response to their meager prospects for success in a flooded
market40. To invert this claim: It is more likely that in the last decades of the


[footnote 35 continued from previous page]
amounted to 1700 (cited by Beaujean, op. cit., p. 178, Ward, op. cit., p. 64; see also their
estimates of their sources).

36
My translation. "Dieses gelehrte Völkchen von Lehrern und Lernenden, das etwa 20,000
Menschen stark ist, verachtet die übrigen 20 Millionen Menschen, die außer ihren deutsch
reden, so herzlich, daß es sich nicht die Mühe nimmt, für sie zu schreiben; und wenn es
zuweilen geschiehet, so riecht das Werk gemeiniglich dermaßen nach der Lampe, daß es
niemand anrühren will. Die zwanzig Millionen Ungelehrten vergelten den 20,000 Gelehrten
Verachtung mit Vergessenheit; sie wissen kaum, daß die Gelehrten in der Welt sind
."
(F. NICOLAI in F. BRUGGEMAN ed., Das Leben und die Meinungen [Leipzig, Göschen,
1938 (1773)], p. 72), cited by BERGHAHN, op. cit., pp. 23, 67).

37
A. WARD, op. cit., p. 131.

38
Ibid., p. 129.

39
Ibid., pp. 130-1.

40
Op. cit., p. 102.

THE GERMAN "TRIVIALROMAN" 215

century, the Romantics could only break into the literary arena by spurning
the "broad public" from the outset. Schlegel voiced this stance very clearly:

Two completely different types of literature exist right now alongside one another. Each
has its own public, and each proceeds without worrying about the other. They take no
notice whatsoever of each other, except when they meet by chance, to express mutual
contempt and derision -- often not without a secret envy of one's popularity or the
other's respectability.41

No doubt, such a position involves a serious dilemma: On the one hand, a
small number of literary agents aspire to distinguish their activity, forcing
themselves to defy the rules of the market. Yet on the other hand, their literary
activity depended an the large-scale field of production: their power as a
restricted elite ultimately derived from a broad-based recognition of their
distinctiveness, which could be ascribed to them only against the background
of standards of mass consumption. Therefore, this group was in particular
need of establishing the impact of a large-scale field of production and
consumption, yet establishing it as an inferior category. This elitist conduct
needed, however, an ideological excuse; it had to be legitimized in the name
of "pure literary virtues", in terms of which quantity and accessibility were
defined as the antithesis of "literariness"
. Schlegel's answer to Nicolai's
lament cited above turns the "disastrous" situation into an ideal one: "[The
readers] are always complaining that German authors write for such a small
circle, and even sometimes just for themselves. That's how it should be. This
is how German literature will gain more and more spirit and character."42.
Along the same lines, Schlegel's Brief über den Roman, where he crowns the
novel as the "Romantic book", opens with the following attack on the "heaps
of volumes" which he held to be an insult to the intellect:

With astonishment and inner anger, I have often seen your servant carry piles of volumes
in to you. How can you touch with your hands these dirty volumes? And how can you
allow their confused and crude phrases to enter through your eye to the sanctuary of
your soul? To yield your imagination for hours to people with whom, face to face, you


41
J. MINOR, ed., Friedrich Schlegel 1794-1802: seine prosaischen Jugendschriften (Vienna,
1882), vol. 1, p. 95: "Ganz dicht neben einander existiren besonders jetzt zwey ver-
schiedene Poesien neben einander, deren jede ihr eignes Publikum hat, und unbekümmert
um die andre ihnen Gang für sich geht. Sie nehmen nicht die geringste Notiz von einander,
außer, wenn sie zufällig auf einander tregen, durch gegenseitige Verachtung und Spott; oft
nicht ohne heimlichen Neid über die Popularität der einen oder die Vornehmigkeit der
andern
." (Cited by Schulte-Sasse, op. cit. p. 108).

42
"[Die Leser] jammern immer, die deutschen Autoren schreiben nur für einen so kleinen
Kreis, ja oft nur für sich selbst untereinander. Das ist recht gut. Dadurch wird die deutsche
Literatur immer mehr Geist und Charakter bekommen." F. SCHLEGEL in Friedrich
Schlegel's "Lucinde" and the "Fragments"
(Minneapolis, Minnesota University Press,
1971), p. 201. Cited by Schulte-Susse, op. cit., p. 104; A. WARD, op. cit., p. 129.

216 TEXTE

would be ashamed to exchange even a few words? It serves no purpose but to kill time
and to spoil your imagination. You have read almost all the bad books from Fielding to
Lafontaine. Ask yourself what you profit by it. Your memory scorns this vulgar stuff

which had become a necessity through an unfortunate habit of your youth [....]43

Similarly, when Albert Ward (1974) reports on the tremendous success of
the prolific writer, August Heinrich Lafontaine, whose literary production
amounted to no less than 160 volumes, he cannot avoid taking the scornful
point of view of Lafontaine's contemporary rivals. Without hesitation, he
relies on the biased assumption that Lafontaine's success resulted directly
from his "yielding to the 'lowest common denominator of public taste",
voicing the most common cliches concerning the supposedly innate ratio
between the product's "popularity" and its properties, overlooking the fact
that these are often rather diverse and mingled:

From 1800 onwards Lafontaine lived by his pen alane, producing an endless stream of
popular novels, which combined the family motifs and the moralizing tone of the
Rationalistic novel, the adventurous twists of the travel novel, the eroticism of the lower
type of fiction and the emotional outbursts of the sentimental novel, and winning for
himself a glace on the book-shelves of every reading woman and many reading men in
Germany.
44.

However, probably without noticing, he lays bare the tactics which
Lafontaine's competitors used to abuse his reputation as a writer, in their
efforts to block his admission into the increasingly restricted literary field of
their time:

From his more "literary" colleagues, Tieck and Menzel, Lafontaine earned nothing but
mockery and contempt; A. W. Schlegel had indeed praised his early navels as amongst
the best Germany could show, but he changed his opinion in later years and joined in
his colleagues' derision of Lafontaine, der Modeerzähler ("fashionable writer").45


43
"Mit Erstaunen und mit innerem Grimm habe ich oft den Diener die Haufen zu ihnen
hereintragen sehn. Wie mögen Sie nur mit Ihren Händen die schmutzigen Bände berühren?
-- Und wie können Sie den verworrnen, ungebildeten Redensarten den Eingang durch Ihr
Auge in das Heiligtum der Seele verstatten? -- Stundenlang Ihre Phantasie an Menschen
hingeben, mit denen von Angesicht zu Angesicht nur wenige Worten.zu wechseln Sie sich
schämen wßrden? -- Es frommt wahrlich zu nichts, als nur die Zeit zu töten und die
Imagination zu verderben! Fast alle schlechten Bücher haben Sie gelesen von Fielding bis
zu La Fontaine. Fragen Sie sich selbst, was Sie davon gehabt haben. Ihr Gedächtnis selbst
verschmäht das unedle Zeug, was eine fatale Jugendgewohnheit Ihnen zum Bedürfnis macht
[...]
." (F. SCHLEGEL in "Brief Gber den Roman" [1800] in Schriften zur Literatur
[München, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Athenaüm, 1972], pp. 312-3. Translated and
cited by Behler and Struc, eds., in Friedrich SCHLEGEL, Dialogue on Poetry, and Literary
Aphorisms
[University Park & London, Pennsylvania University Press, 1968], p. 95).

44
A. WARD, op. cit., p. 145.

45
Ibid., loc. cit.

THE GERMAN "TRIVIALROMAN" 217

At the end of the century, the idea of an inverse ratio between literary quality
and "public taste" was a rather established one, and was even rationalized by
literary theory. It represented the struggle for a mandate to dictate the
legitimate criteria for literary evaluation, or more precisely, it was a struggle
to restrict the number of agents authorized to do so. Indeed, the advocates of
"literary autonomy" still invoked the support of the classical canon, yet they
were ultimately fairly flexible regarding its formal categories, and focused
mainly on formulating a new doctrine, that of the exclusiveness of literary
competence. The prime authority was now in the hands of the poet. Accord-
ingly, the criteria became obscure, mysteriously revealed only to a few
endowed with individual talent. Apparently, the only solid criteria for literary
evaluation offered by this doctrine were incongruity with the market prin-
ciple, and the quality of being incomprehensible to a wide audience
. In
Schlegel's theory, such incongruity (and more so, enigma) is built-in as an
innate property of "genuine" literary production, ultimately becoming its
differentia specifica: "Everyday life -- economy -- is the necessary supple-
ment of all characters who aren't absolutely universal. Often talent and
education are lost entirely in this encompassing element."46. And in a letter
to his brother, August Schlegel, dating from 1791, he presents the whole
theory in a nutshell: "The stronger the bonds [of the secret art of poetry) to
the innate essence of those few for whom it exists, the better it fulfills its
destination and the lesser the possibility that it suits the taste of the
people."47.

Tel Aviv University


46
My translation. Cited by J. Schulte-Sasse in op. cit., pp. 101-2. "Alltäglichkeit, Okonomie
ist das notwendige Supplement aller nicht schlechthin universellen Naturen. Oft verliert
sich das Talent und die Bildung ganz in diesem umgebenden Element
." (F. SCHLEGEL in
Hans EICHNER, ed., Kritische Ausgabe 2 [München, Paderborn und Wien, Verlag Fer-
dinand Schöningh; Zürich, Thomas Verlag, 1967], p. 243).

47
My translation. "Je inniger diese [die geheime Dichtkunst] mit der Eigentümlichkeit der
wenigen, von denen und für die sie ward, verkettet ist, je mehr erfüllt sie ihre Bestimmung
und je mehr ist sie vielleicht dem Volke ungenießbar
." (O. FAMBACH, ed., Der Aufstieg
zur Klassik in der Kritik der Zeit [...]. Ein Jahrhundert deutscher Literaturkritik 1750-1850

[Berlin, Akademie Verlag, 1959], vol. 3, p. 470).