The discovery of slowness

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The Discovery of Slowness is a 1983 published novel and award-winning bestseller by the German writer Sten Nadolny . Its protagonist is the English captain and polar explorer John Franklin , who, due to his slowness, repeatedly has difficulties keeping up with the fast pace of his time, but who ultimately becomes a great explorer due to his persistence. The novel is deliberately not kept authentic, because the character described in the novel, in contrast to the real role model, is a person committed to slowness with modern ideals.

The novel is dedicated to Burkhard Nadolny , the author's father.


Important figures

For the sake of simplicity, the description of the figures refer to the protagonist John Franklin, unless otherwise stated, that is, "mother" or "daughter" means "mother of John Franklin" or "daughter of John Franklin".

Character of John Franklin: Even as a child, John Franklin was slower than any other child around him. While his friends can easily and easily catch a ball and play with it, John Franklin is often just an outsider. For example, he only has a supporting role in ball games. So John holds the string of the ball game for hours while the others go about their hobby happily and with great joy. But Franklin has no problems with this occupation, as he knows very well that he is unable to play due to his slowness and that he seems to be predestined for this task because of his physical movement problems. Even with this example, the reader recognizes the peculiarity of this slow person. He compensates for his physical disadvantages with an apparently irrepressible will and it becomes clear that there is a considerable discrepancy between his physical and mental abilities, which plays an important role in the course of the book.

  • Hannah Franklin (mother)
  • Tom Barker (quick classmate and initially an opponent, later friend in school)
  • Sherard Philip Lound (classmate and friend)
  • Dr. Orme (teacher, paternal friend and sponsor)
  • Ann Chapell (aunt)
  • Matthew Flinders (navigator, husband of Ann Chapell, familiarizes Franklin with navigation and takes him on his first trip to Australia)
  • Mary Rose (prostitute in Portsmouth, where Franklin had his first sexual experience)
  • Denis Lacy (midshipman on the Investigator, quick opponent during the Australia trip)
  • Flora Reed (preacher's widow, temporarily mistress)
  • Eleanor Porden (first wife)
  • Eleanor Anne Franklin (daughter)
  • Jane Griffin (second wife, friend of Eleanor Porden)
  • Sophia Cracroft (niece and last love)


The story of John Franklin is told from the age of 10. The original of the fictional character is the British Rear Admiral John Franklin . Although Sten Nadolny relies on biographical material, he attaches importance to the fact that it is a fantasy figure who has similarities with the historical Franklin, but also deviates from his biography. In particular, the characterization of Franklin as a slow man, which is the core of the novel, has no historical basis. The novel tells the story of Franklin in three parts, which consist of two five and one nine, so a total of 19 chapters.

Part One (John Franklin's Youth)

John Franklin grew up in Spilsby in Lincolnshire in eastern England . He is so slow in his movements and comprehension that others think he is moronic. He finds his role model in Matthew Flinders: He is the fiancé of his aunt Ann Chapell and leads various British exploratory trips to Australia . Franklin is also funded by Dr. Orme, who discovered Franklin's ability to get to the bottom of all experiences with particular thoroughness. Franklin wants to go to sea, which only brings ridicule to him due to the known slowness. When he can't take it anymore, John runs away from home and wants to get on a ship. He will be brought back. Matthew Flinders promises to take him on a journey of discovery one day. Dr. Orme recommends that the parents put John on a ship for an apprenticeship. The first trip takes him to Lisbon . Upon his return, it's Dr. Orme, who enables John to be hired by the Navy. In 1801, John experienced his first sea battle near Copenhagen . John is very slow in everything, but he is also very thorough and determined. When an armed Danish soldier comes on board during the battle, John strangles him with his bare hands. The memory of this event becomes traumatic.

Second part (John Franklin learns his trade)

At the age of 15, John embarks on his first expedition: Matthew Flinders, captain of the Investigator , keeps his promise and takes him to the Cape of Good Hope . In Portsmouth , John has his first (unsatisfactory) sexual experience with the prostitute Mary Rose. On the ship he is mocked for his slowness. John's counter-strategy is to memorize everything on the ship as precisely as possible in order to compensate for his slowness with accuracy. He learns phrases like vocabulary by heart in order to be able to answer questions quickly. From the Cape we continue to Terra Australis (Australia). John is reputed for his precise calculations in navigation and his ability, through thought, to anticipate the actions of others. John made his way back to England on the Earl Camden .

In Porthsmouth he visits Mary Rose again - this time his visit is more satisfactory. John falls in love with the prostitute, but he won't see her again. John's goal is to become an explorer, but the next ten years do not allow such a path: There is war and despite traumatic experiences off Copenhagen, John is forced to take part in naval battles again. Before Trafalgar he witnessed the sea battle in which Lord Nelson was killed. In the English attack on New Orleans , John is also seriously wounded: With a shot in the head, he drags himself back to his own ship. It is thought to be a miracle that he survived the injury. The scar on his forehead will earn him respect in the future. His slowness is now explained with the injury.

A conversation at the end of the second part alludes to the voyage of the fictional captain Horatio Hornblower , a character in a novel created by CS Forester , on the Lydia around Cape Horn .

Third part (Franklin's area)

Back in England, John tries to reorient his life. He travels back to Spilsby to see his old father. Dr. Orme has since passed away. He left two texts for John: a study about John and a piece of writing for the development of an apparatus for creating moving images. John tries to implement the second text. The construction of that pictorial apparatus will occupy him until the end of his life. John tries his hand at becoming a political newspaper editor - inspired by Flora Reed, a preacher's widow with whom he has a passionless affair. His passion for discovery is back.

He succeeds in being used as captain of the Trent on an expedition to the North Pole. In 1818 John set sail with the Trent and the Dorothea . As on his previous travels, John meets his slowness with thorough study. His ability to navigate and his calm even in threatening situations save the team's life twice: Once the search party gets lost in the ice. John leads them back to the ship. Then the ships threaten to capsize in the ice storm. John manages to save both ships. The attempt to find the Northwest Passage fails, however. The expedition nevertheless returned happily to England. In 1819 he was given the command of a land expedition in Canada. This expedition fails miserably. Eleven men die in the snow and ice.

Franklin is welcomed coolly to mockingly in London; to rehabilitate himself, he wrote the book Report on a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea . The book was a great success and Franklin's reputation was restored. Franklin marries Eleanor Porden, but it will not be a happy marriage. Franklin longs for a new research assignment, which he also receives - on the day their daughter Eleanor Anne is born. Shortly after Franklin left for his second country trip to Canada, Eleanor Porden dies. The trip lasts two years (1825–1827). The Northwest Passage is not found on this trip either, but large parts of the Canadian coast are mapped. Upon his return, John Franklin marries his wife's girlfriend, Jane Griffin. A second book by Franklin appears; his fame grows. He was raised to the nobility, but he did not get any closer to his great goal. There are no new orders, self-financed expeditions do not want to come about.

Since John Franklin made the offer, as Governor Van Diemen's Land , later Tasmania to govern. Despite his commitment and the support of his wife, he encounters major obstacles - mainly through intrigues against his politics. He falls in love with his niece Sophia Cracroft, but remains loyal to his wife, whom he values ​​and honors and who was an important advisor to him during the governorship. In 1843 Franklin was dismissed from his post. He then plans a new research trip from England. He rejects other political offices. In 1845 he set off on his last research trip, the so-called Franklin Expedition . The journey leads to a catastrophe: The ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror are trapped in the ice. There is no more forward or backward. Franklin is knocked down by a stroke. He also realizes that a foot troop actually finds the Northwest Passage. However, it is completely useless because it is icy and therefore impassable. On June 11, 1847, John Franklin died of complications from another stroke. Search parties are sent from England, but they return unsuccessfully. Jane Franklin and Sophia Cracroft put all their money into further bailouts. It was not until 1859 that a note was found in the ice that gave information about the fate of the expedition: The ships were stuck in the ice. Over a hundred men had tried to save themselves on foot. None survived.


With Copenhagen 1801 , the fifth chapter of the still unfinished novel The Discovery of Slowness , Nadolny won the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize in 1980 . He received unanimous praise from the jury, which included Marcel Reich-Ranicki , Walter Jens , Hilde Spiel , Klara Obermüller , Joachim Kaiser , Günter Kunert , Adolf Muschg , Peter Härtling and Ulrich Greiner . Nadolny divided the prize money of 100,000 Austrian Schillings among all 18 participants - in protest of the competition's price system.

Ulrich Greiner found the novel published in 1983 “just as good as the chapter that was excellent at the time, almost.” Because sometimes a too school radio- like historical novel by the doctorate historian and former history teacher Nadolny shines through between a philosophical novel and an adventure novel . The result is "a rarity as this is a friendly, story-rich, entertaining novel", "at the same time exciting and thoughtful". Hanns-Josef Ortheil praises "Nadolny's trick [...] of this graceful heaviness". The prose is simple and elegant, the way in which Nadolny counters the slowness of an individual against the speed of the 19th century is "romantic, even if in a complicated, thoughtful way". According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , the author "succeeded in doing something really amazing: ridding slowness of its musty image". The novel savored the tranquility of its main character to such an extent "that one cannot understand how it can generate so much tension from it at the same time."

The novel became a bestseller and was sold 1.8 million times by 2017 and translated into over 20 languages. The title The discovery of slowness has become a catchphrase that is used, among other things, for the ideal of a lifestyle characterized by deceleration and “ less is more ”. For Nadolny, the novel became something of a “book of life” that you only write once in a lifetime and that is inextricably linked with his name. According to a criticism from his mother Isabella Nadolny , it is "a gentleman's book about gentlemen".



Primary text

Secondary text

  • Ralph Kohpeiß: Sten Nadolny, The Discovery of Slowness: Interpretation. 2nd Edition. Oldenbourg, Munich 1999. ISBN 3-486-88676-2
  • Stefan Munaretto: Sten Nadolny. The discovery of slowness. Hollfeld: Bange Verlag, 2006 (King's Explanations and Materials, Volume 427). ISBN 3-8044-1814-7

Individual evidence

  1. Sten Nadolny : The discovery of slowness ; Piper May 2004; Anniversary Edition
  2. 25 years Ingeborg Bachmann Prize , ORF online archive for the Bachmann Competition 1977–2000.
  3. a b Off-site sailing. The writer Sten Nadolny . Manuscript of a broadcast by Knut Cordsen on Deutschlandradio Kultur , July 24, 2012.
  4. Ulrich Greiner : As fast as the sun . In: The time of August 19, 1983.
  5. Hanns-Josef Ortheil : A mockery of the hasty people . In: Der Spiegel . No. 45 , 1983, pp. 250-253 ( online ).
  6. Sten Nadolny: The discovery of slowness . In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of March 17, 2002.
  7. Discoverer of slowness Sten Nadolny turns 75.Süddeutsche Zeitung , July 28, 2017, accessed on August 3, 2020 . .
  8. Dieter Schlesak : Everything is as it is: Richer than ever in all kinds of poverty . In: Martin Lüdke, Delf Schmidt: The inner limit. Literature magazine Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1993, ISBN 978-3-498-03877-9 , p. 83.
  9. Simone Birkel: Dare the future, act ecologically: Basics and models of church-ecological education in the context of sustainable development . LIT, Münster 2002, ISBN 3-8258-6265-8 , p. 42.
  10. Critique of the Bremen performance of the opera
  11. .html
  12. Theater on the Edge. Retrieved November 24, 2019 .