Part 03, Chapter 1 : Hermann Sudermann
Part 03, Chapter 1
IT has been said that military conquest generally goes hand in hand with the decline of creative genius, with the retrogression of culture. I believe this is not a mere assertion. The history of the human race repeatedly demonstrates that whenever a nation achieved great military success, it invariably involved the decline of art, of literature, of the drama; in short, of culture in the deepest and finest sense. This has been particularly borne out by Germany after its military triumph in the Franco-Prussian War.
For almost twenty years after that war, the country of poets and thinkers remained, intellectually, a veritable desert, barren of ideas. Young Germany had to go for its intellectual food to France, -Daudet, Maupassant, and Zola; or to Russia -Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Dostoyevski; finally also to Ibsen and Strindberg. Nothing thrived in Germany during that period, except a sickening patriotism and sentimental romanticism, perniciously misleading the people and giving them no adequate outlook upon life and the social struggle. Perhaps that accounts for the popular vogue of Hermann Sudermann: it may explain why he was received by the young generation with open arms and acclaimed a great artist.
It is not my intention to discuss Hermann Sudermann as an artist or to consider him from the point of view of the technique of the drama. I intend to deal with him as the first German dramatist to treat social topics and discuss the pressing questions of the day. From this point of view Hermann Sudermann may be regarded as the pioneer of a new era in the German drama. Primarily is this true of the three plays " Honor," " Magda," and " The Fires of St. John." In these dramas Hermann Sudermann, while not delving deeply into the causes of the social conflicts, nevertheless touches upon many vital subjects.
In " Honor " the author demolishes the superficial, sentimental conception of " honor " that is a purely external manifestation, having no roots in the life, the habits, or the customs of the people. He exposes the stupidity of the notion that because a man looks askance at you, or fails to pay respect to your uniform, you must challenge him to a duel and shoot him dead. In this play Sudermann shows that the conception of honor is nothing fixed or permanent, but that it varies with economic and social status, different races, peoples and times holding different ideas of it. Smith " Honor " Sudermann succeeded in undermining to a considerable extent the stupid and ridiculous notion of the Germans ruled by the rod and the Kaiser's coat.
But I particularly wish to consider " Magda," because, of all the plays written by Hermann Sudermann, it is the most revolutionary and the least national. It deals with a universal subject,-the awakening of woman. It is revolutionary, not because Sudermann was the first to treat this subject, for Ibsen had preceded him, but because in " Magda " he was the first to raise the question of woman's right to motherhood with or without the sanction of State and Church.
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