Knowledge beyond sun loungers and other stereotypes

The Novel in Anglo-German Context
November 17, 2000

This compilation of conference papers could be located floating buoyantly somewhere between Hamburg and Harwich, on a meandering course. The contributions deal with a multitude of aspects concerning the transmission of fictional texts between cultural contexts, be it translation, cross-fertilisation or inclusion in the teaching curriculum.

In the light of the strength and diversity of this compilation, it is a shame that the introduction does not attempt to draw conclusions from the debates in the essays. It leaves them rather isolated, without integration or cross-referencing and ordered only broadly chronologically. As this is the fate of most conference collections, however, this cannot be a major criticism.

This new compilation fits the trend since the 1980s in researching the literary interconnections between England and Germany through collaboration of Anglicists and Germanists. The 31 papers range from the 18th century to recent years. They debate various questions of the influence and the reception of English fictional texts and philosophical and personal influences in German fictional writing, and vice versa.

As Hartmut Steinecke points out in his essay on Hoffmann and Scott, it is important for future research to move away from tracing only the direct relationships between two authors (as represented by older research by Lawrence Marsden Price) and to take into consideration those involved in transmission and distribution and to explore the field of productive reception.

In pursuing these questions, most of the contributors restrict themselves to exploring authors strongly embedded in the literary canon (Swift, Richardson, Kleist, Scott, Joyce, Rushdie and Grass). However worthy it is to make familiar ground accessible from fresh perspectives, it is the more unusual contributions that give this collection its depth.

Only a few articles stray from the paragons of German and English literature and venture as far as debating a theme, such as the German professor in 19th-century English fiction, or discussing newer German trivia, such as Dieter Schwanitz's university novel. There are also contributions that explore formerly well-known or bestselling authors now often forgotten by research, such as Wilhelm Meinhold or Hall Caine.

The presence of two articles debating literary canons and the place of literature in foreign language teaching is invigorating. It underlines the importance of schools and universities in cross-cultural transmissions. Gary Chambers, in his essay "The German novel on the A-level syllabus", tells us that of "the 124 trainee teachers of German taking the Postgraduate Certificate in Education at the University of Leeds in the past five years, only 48 per cent have had experience of literature as part of their university course".

Although the editors claim that "the volume is essential reading for anyone with a broad interest in Anglo-Irish, German, Austrian and Swiss literature, the development of fiction as well as Anglo-German literary and cultural relations", its target audience is chiefly readers already well acquainted with the period and these authors. The danger is, however, that the individual essays might not be specialised or expansive enough for true scholars.

Nevertheless, the collected papers provide stimulating reading and illuminate the literary exchange between England and the Continent.

Anja Zenk is researching a PhD at Philipps-Universitat Marburg, Germany.

The Novel in Anglo-German Context: Cultural Cross-Currents and Affinities

Editor - Susanne Stark
ISBN - 90 420 0698 6
Publisher - Rodopi
Price - £50.00
Pages - 466

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