Friedrich von Schlegel- Extract from Descriptions of Paintings
Die deutscher Sturm: The Sturm und Drang movement, a precursor to German Romanticism
By the 18th century, the novel became a popular form of entertainment in Germany. Written for the middle-class audience, the novel was designed to be a psychological narrative of an individual, or a Bildungsroman, and intended for social and moral enrichment. The autobiography was also a popular form of literature, and was written mostly by middle-class males. This allowed for the spread of individualistic ideas, and eventually, the spread of Romanticism across the continent.
Romanticism in Germany started with the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress, 1770-1784) movement, christened so by the tile of Maximilian Klinger's drama of 1776 (Longyear 29). It began with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's drama written in Shakespearean prose, Götz von Berlichingen (1773) based on the 15th century German knight. Then, with the publication of The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), Goethe defended suicide and expressed a new sense of freedom in emotions:
To think that I might have enjoyed the happiness of dying for you! of sacrificing myself for you, Lotte! I should die courageously and gladly if I knew I could restore to you the joy and tranquility of your life. But
ah! it has been given to only a few noble beings to shed thier blood for those they love, and by their death to create a new life a hundred times better for their friends. (Goethe, Werther 133)
Although the Sturm und Drang movement was purely German, its ideas and themes stemmed from French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, who remarked: "The thirst after happiness is never extinguished in the heart of man." The same longing and melancholy is later seen in full force in The Sorrows of Young Werther, a monumental product of the movement.
Other figures of the Sturm und Drang movement included Johann Gottfried von Herder, the movement's leader, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the movement's voice. German Enlightenment figure Gotthold Ephriam Lessing, also contributed his skills as a dramatist; he introduced Germany to Shakespeare. Among other precursors, Christian Fürchtegott Gellert's expressive novels and poems fueled inspiration among writers Lessing, Klopstock, Goethe, and composers C.P.E. Bach, Beethoven, and Haydn.
Sturm und Drang was also spurred by works of Nationalism that extolled the German Romantic spirit, particularly Stimmen der Völker (1778-1779), a collection of folk songs compiled by Herder, and Von deutscher Art und Kunst (Of German Style and Art, 1773) by Herder and Justus Möser. Rebellion against reason, inclinations towards nature, the discomfort of society, the potency and spontaneity of emotions-these characterized the spirit of the movement and the young German writers, including J.M.R. Lentz and Friedrich Müller, who sought to produce the same violently emotional and individualistic work as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther,1774):
What a thing is Man, this lauded demi-god! Does he not lack the very powers he has most need of? And if he should soar in joy, or sink in sorrow, is he not halted and returned to his cold, dull consciousness at the very moment he was longing to be lost in the vastness of infinity? (Goethe, Werther 105)
was also an important medium. Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock's
poems influenced Goethe, the Göttingen poets,
and the movement itself. Klopstock was the premier
figure of German poetry during the Sturm und Drang
movement. Drama was also a leading form of entertainment.
The last major figure of the Sturm und Drang movement
was Friedrich von Schiller. His plays, especially
Die Räuber (The Robbers, 1781) also introduced
Romanticism to the world.
Watanabe-O'Kelly, Helen, ed. The Cambridge History of German Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
"Sturm und Drang,"
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Copyright
© 2001 Columbia University Press.