J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Original Sturm und Drang

The phrase Sturm und Drang, alliteratively translated from German as “storm and stress” but more accurately as “storm and urge-of-some-sort,” was the name of a late-eighteenth-century proto-Romantic artistic movement in Germany. I was intrigued to learn that it came from the title of a play about the American Revolution. Or did it?

The drama was apparently published in 1776 and produced first in 1777. Histories differ on how successful it was. I found what looks like the play’s text, which would be a lot more interesting if I could read German. In English, the best I could find was a footnote under a short excerpt in An Anthology of German Literature:

Friedrich Maximilian Klinger (1752-1831) was a fellow townsman and friend of Goethe. His Sturm und Drang, which was at first named Wirrwarr, came out in 1776. The scene is America. The speakers are Wild, a lusty and masterful man of action; Blasius, a blasé worldling; and La Feu, a sentimental dreamer. They propose to try their fortunes in the French-Indian War.
So the drama might not take place during the Revolutionary War at all, though it might have been impossible for audiences not to think about what was happening in North America as they saw it. Then again, nobody might have cared about the subtle distinction between one war and another. In a 1906 article titled “Schiller and America,” William Herbert Carruth wrote, “Klinger, indeed, locates his drama Sturm und Drang in America, but it betrays no intimate acquaintance with the colonies nor much concern for their cause.”

Do any German readers want to add anything?

1 comment:

homeroomteacher said...

Just on an initial glance, in the very first scene, Wild (one of the chief protagonists, and perhaps the brains of the bunch, states that "We're in the middle of a war here..." A few lines further down he states that he would like to "Take part in the campaign here as trainee or volunteer" (or unpaid apprentice perhaps?).

My German is not as good as it once was when living in Germany, but I get the idea that, at least in the first scene, they are using the war as a backdrop and are even close to an ongoing campaign.

For whatever this is worth. However, I'm sure you have other readers who are much more fluent than I am. Regardless, thanks for posting this. I've saved the play and may take time to read it later and practice my German.