Albrecht Classen

title.none: de Boor, Die deutsche Literatur im späten Mittelalter (Classen)

identifier.other: baj9928.9705.001 97.05.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Albrecht Classen, University of Arizona,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1997

identifier.citation: de Boor, Helmut. Die deutsche Literatur im späten Mittelalter. Part One: 1250-1350. Fifth Edition. Revised by Johannes Janota. Geschichte der deutschen Literatur von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart, 3/1. Munich: C.H. Becksche Verlagsanstalt, 1997. Pp. xii, 568. DM 68.00. ISBN: ISBN 3-406-40378-6.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 97.05.01

de Boor, Helmut. Die deutsche Literatur im späten Mittelalter. Part One: 1250-1350. Fifth Edition. Revised by Johannes Janota. Geschichte der deutschen Literatur von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart, 3/1. Munich: C.H. Becksche Verlagsanstalt, 1997. Pp. xii, 568. DM 68.00. ISBN: ISBN 3-406-40378-6.

Reviewed by:

Albrecht Classen
University of Arizona

The monumental, multi-volume history of German literature established and partly written by Helmut de Boor and Richard Newald has gained its solid place in every serious research library. Originally conceived in 1949 as a brief textbook for students who were supposed to be introduced into their subject area clearly freed from the previously dominant Nazi ideology, this academic publication quickly expanded and soon turned into the seminal reference work for the entire discipline ("Lehr- und Handbuch"). Each of the many volumes covers a specific period of the history of German literature, taking the reader from the eighth to the late twentieth century.

Although scholarship has in many respects considerably expanded our knowledge of individual poets and texts, de Boor's and Newald's reference work remains the most respected research tool for all Germanists. Nevertheless, significant changes in our perception and interpretation, not to speak of the discovery of new texts and even poets, made it necessary for the publishing house to prepare new editions. Some areas in the history of German literature were covered only very recently. Volume 3/2, for instance, authored by the Yale scholar Ingeborg Glier, appeared as late as 1986.

The present volume, revised by the Augsburg scholar Johannes Janota, represents the fifth edition. Janota did not only update this literary history, but also changed some of the essential approaches to the entire period, rewrote many specific interpretations, and prepared a partly updated bibliography. The volume deals with the time frame of ca. 1250 to ca. 1350, which is more or less identifiable with the post-Hohenstaufen period in Germany in which the last impact of the so-called "classical" literature from ca. 1170 to ca. 1220 was still noticeable, albeit, at the same time, new trends, ideas, concepts, and ideologies emerged. For de Boor this epoch was characterized, as he formulates it with his subtitle, by "Zerfall und Neubeginn," decline and recovery. Janota simply strikes this subtitle and actually takes pains at cleansing the entire volume from all those comments and interpretations which reemphasize this negative perception. In his treatment of the heroic epic Wolfdietrich, for example, de Boor had stated: "Alles einzelne ist schon dagewesen, aber der naive Hunger nach dem Abenteuerlichen und Wunderbaren bleibt unersättlich, und der für alle Nuancierung abgestumpfte Geschmack findet nur noch in der Häufung des Ganzen und der Krassheit des Einzelnen sein Genüge" (180; Every detail has been used before, but the naive hunger for the adventurous and miraculous remains insatiable. The blunt taste, which has lost every sense for differentiation, is only satisfied by a vast expansion of the whole work and drastic descriptions of details). Janota, although he does not basically deviate from de Boor's otherwise factual observations about the literary-historical relevance of the text, radically rewrites this passage: "Alles einzelne ist schon dagewesen, aber der Hunger nach dem Abenteuerlichen und Wunderbaren führt zu immer neuen Konfigurationen und Ausformungen tradierter Elemente" (163; every detail has been used before, but the hunger for the adventurous and the miraculous leads to ever new configurations and variations of traditional elements). This is less than what de Boor had to say, but considerably more objective and sensitive in the interpretation. Even with respect to factual matters Janota had to rewrite de Boor, eliminating speculative assumptions and incorporating the modern understanding. In terms of the chronicler Jans Enikel, de Boor had commented that he was a burgher living in Vienna and probably, because of his obvious interest in furriery, practiced this craft as his profession (191). Janota revises this statement by eliminating the reference to the furrier's trade and outlining what we actually know and what likely conclusions can be drawn from this. Enikel owned a house in Vienna and uses specific forms of self-identification which suggests that his family might have belonged to the class of urban nobles. For de Boor this author knew no Latin (192), for Janota the opposite seems to be highly likely because of the typical education process for members of Enikel's class (168). Moreover, Janota openly praises his literary skills (170), whereas de Boor criticizes him for his stiffness, clumsy style, and verbosity (193). The comparison sheds significant light on the different approach to late-medieval German literature taken by Janota. Whereas de Boor was still deeply influenced by the deprecatory attitude towards that time period, Janota reflects the modern perception which takes a more objective stance and no longer compares the post-classical with the classical literature because the aesthetic and social- historical criteria had profoundly changed. Moreover, whereas de Boor broadly commented on Enikel's popularity (194), Janota specifically points out that his Weltchronik has come down to us in 39 manuscripts.

This volume covers the following subjects: After an introductory chapter the three major literary figures are introduced, Konrad von Würzburg, Albrecht (von Scharfenberg), and Heinrich von Neustadt. The third chapter deals with the courtly epic, the fourth with heroic epic; in the fifth chapter we learn about chronicle literature, in the sixth about short novellistic verse narratives. The seventh chapter focuses on courtly love poetry, the eighth on didactic poetry, the ninth on political-didactic, and ethical poetry, the tenth, finally, on religious literature.

Janota basically accepts de Boor's text as is and revises it in a fairly subtle fashion, as I have outlined above. Only occasionally, when the results of modern scholarship necessitates it, does he rewrite entire passages, such as in the case of the Prosa-Lancelot and of the poet Frauenlob. The latter seems to Janota to be considerably more important than Heinrich von Neustadt (de Boor's choice), but this substitution would have required substantial revisions of the entire volume which the publisher was not willing to carry out.

The reader will not be able to notice at first sight where and how Janota intervened, rewrote, reemphasized certain sections, and where he added or deleted specific aspects. Only a direct comparison, as demonstrated above, reveals the difference between the previous edition and this one. This is somewhat lamentable and might require the reader to refer to both volumes, particularly when Janota clearly takes a different route in his interpretations. Considering, however, that this Geschichte now reflects, more or less at least, the current state of research, the fifth edition represents indeed a very welcome improvement.

The bibliography for every chapter, here put together at the end of the volume, includes many new titles, especially modern editions. Unfortunately, Janota in most cases relies on two encyclopedic reference works, the Verfasserlexikon and the Literatur Lexikon, whereas de Boor had listed, wherever possible, the most important articles and monographs. To me Janota's decision impoverishes the informational value of de Boor's book in this respect. If it is enough to rely on these two lexica, then we might not need Die deutsche Literatur im späten Mittelalter, and instead could exclusively turn to the Verfasserlexikon directly.

Otherwise, of course, with the revised fifth edition, de Boor's reference work will continue to be the foundation for all further research and teaching of late-medieval German literature composed between ca. 1250 and ca. 1350.