Lost Voices

Rare German Narrative Prose 1840-1940

The research project will investigate German narrative prose between 1840 and 1910. It will analyse mainstream bourgeois realist prose, as well as emerging working-class writing and writing by white-collar workers (and with regard to white-collar workers’ prose, extend the period of investigation up till 1940). It will thus focus on a period which saw Germany developing from a feudal, agriculturally-based society to a bourgeois, industrialized and increasingly pluralistic society. This enormous social development was accompanied by debates in the cultural fields, especially in prose writing, which appealed to the increasing number of literate people. Debates in the cultural sphere became particularly important because, after the failed revolution of 1848/49, public debate had no political arena anymore and was transferred to the cultural sphere.

The project pursues a particular pathway within the larger framework of the increased interest in the decades leading up to the first German unification in 1871 and the Kaiserreich (1871-1918). It has two main aims: 1) To promote a more diversified understanding of German realist prose as a multi-vocal phenomenon, embracing conflicting and suppressed middle-class narrative concepts. 2) To highlight the different strands within narrative evolution after the middle classes ceased to be the sole cultural player by considering under-researched working-class and white-collar workers’ prose fiction.


The project covers the whole period (1840-1940) of the rise and establishment of German bourgeois society and thereby surpasses the boundaries of studies confining themselves exclusively to realism, naturalism, working-class prose or early modernist narrative writing. The objectives are in particular:

1. To widen the range of authors and texts discussed beyond the literary canon in order to establish a fuller picture of the fundamental changes during the period covered.

2. To make visible how modes of bourgeois, working-class and white-collar workers’ narrative writing are dependent on each other.

3. To take social, sexual and regional differences into consideration over a period when German society started to become pluralistic.

4. To discuss prose fiction not just as an expression of social change, but as a force actively shaping it by constructing concepts by which change can be understood.

5. To ask what determines the socio-aesthetic position of a narrative text (apart from the author, narrator and story) and to use the findings to highlight a non-linear evolution within prose fiction.