Naturalism (literature)

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The naturalism ( lat. Natura , " nature ") is a flow in literature and theater based from 1880 until the 20th century, the current to exact social and natural observation and representation of time problems.


As early as the 18th century, the motto “ back to nature ”, often incorrectly attributed to Jean-Jacques Rousseau , was called naturalism. The naturalism of the 18th century calls for the uneducated artist ("As a singer he is a naturalist" means: he has never had academic singing lessons.), While the naturalism of the later 19th century presupposes the expert as an observer of nature. Common to both older and newer naturalism is the endeavor to give the unpolished, underprivileged, “ugly” a place in art.

At the end of the 19th century, major social changes shaped Europe: the industrial revolution , imperialism , urbanization , the latter of which had to be observed in a concentrated form. On this ground, naturalism emerged as a counter-movement . Naturalistic artists claim to represent reality as precisely as possible and work with exact, as it were scientific methods. This scientific approach entitles and obliges them to also depict the ugly and the repressed. Émile Zola oriented literary naturalism in his work Le roman expérimental (1880) on experimental medicine. In his novels he developed “documentary” narrative forms such as the seconds style or the meticulous description of spaces in order to characterize a social milieu . A major work of literary naturalism is Zola's cycle of novels Les Rougon-Macquart . When he was attacked for the thematic and linguistic drastic in his novel Thérèse Raquin (1867; adultery, spousal murder, excessive distrust of the accomplice - increased to hatred and murder planning, finally joint suicide), he defended himself in his foreword to the second edition in April 1868 defiantly proud with the words “  Le groupe d'écrivains naturalistes auquel j'ai l'honneur d'appartenir a assez de courage et d'activité pour produir des œuvres fortes, portant en elles leur défense.  »(German:" The group of naturalistic writers to which I have the honor to belong is brave and active enough to create strong works that carry their own defense. ")

The German authors of naturalism did not initially use the term naturalism to denote their own work. The term was appended to them for a long time with disparaging intent. The authors saw themselves as "the youngest Germany", the main target of their criticism were the established idealistic epigones of the founding period and an emerging salon culture of the bourgeois elite, which followed the taste of the aristocracy. In 1882 the programmatic and provocative "Critical Weapons" by the brothers Heinrich and Julius Hart appeared , in 1884 the poetry anthology "Moderne Dichtercharaktere" by Wilhelm Arent with programmatic prefaces by Hermann Conradi and Karl Henckell , in 1885 the naturalistic literary magazine Die Gesellschaft .

The leading German playwrights of naturalism were Gerhart Hauptmann with the dramas Before Sunrise (1889) and Die Weber (original title “De Waber”, 1892), in which, for example, manufactory workers appear as tragic figures, and the author couple Arno Holz and Johannes Schlaf with the groundbreaking drama Die Familie Selicke (1890). Johannes Schlaf wrote the strictly naturalistic drama Meister Oelze (1892) in the Thuringian dialect.

For naturalism in the theater are next to the original text and the play of the actors and the establishment and lighting stage. In Russia, under the influence of French and German naturalism as well as the " Meininger " theater troupe, which endeavored to provide historically accurate theater productions, a naturalistic style of acting emerged. Konstantin Stanislawski , who created model productions of Chekhov's dramas, is considered to be its founder.

Naturalism and modernity

Naturalism coined the term modern in Germany . "Modern" was derived from the adjective "modern", which is already in the early Romanticism in Schlegel appears. The substantiated form "modernity" was used as a contrast to "antiquity" by the Germanist Eugen Wolff in 1886 as part of a lecture in the German naturalist club " Durch! " introduced.

Whether naturalism signifies the beginning of literary modernity is not so easy to answer. On the one hand, it is groundbreaking for the thematic treatment of social problems in the modern city and also breaks with all the poetics according to which humans are thought of as autonomous beings. On the other hand, naturalism is based on the idea that the world can be known through the materialistic- positivistic sciences of its time, and is therefore related to science.

But this alleged objectivity of the sciences came under increasing attack from 1890 onwards: Sigmund Freud discovered the unconscious in the supposedly rational and emotionally determined individual , Albert Einstein referred to the subjectivity of time and space , Hofmannsthal formulated a virulent mistrust in human expressiveness ( language crisis ). In this respect, it seems advisable to let the beginning of modernity begin with this crisis statement, with the insight that there is no objectively realizable reality, but only subjectivity in the worldview. As a result, the many isms of the early 20th century can be seen as attempts at expression to give expression to individual - no longer general - perception.

Naturalism lost its influence as early as 1890. With the repeal of the socialist laws, the naturalistic literary front fell into a crisis and split up. The social question suddenly appeared as something stale, obsolete. Large circles were convinced that the social question was on the way to its final solution. The Social Democratic author Paul Ernst confessed that he had found the danger in his lectures in front of workers as a special attraction that had now disappeared. The avant-garde turned to new subjects; she discovered the bohemian and Impressionist aesthetics, while the social issues that naturalism had just made socially acceptable were quickly repressed.

But the precision of the representation and the use of colloquial language to characterize social classes retained their meaning in new forms. In his Berlin program of 1913 ( To Novelists and Their Critics ), Alfred Döblin calls for a different naturalism, which is supposed to describe the “de-soulled reality” in the “cinema style” with “the utmost compactness and precision”. He opposes linguistically fully formulated series of thoughts by which the actions of the actors are to be motivated. In this respect he is closer to the New Objectivity than to the psychologizing naturalism. By the First World War at the latest, the hard-working worker - now necessary for the war - was rediscovered.


  • Naturalism is a pan-European literary movement of the last decades of the 19th century. Impulses for the German authors come from the psychological novels of Ivan Turgenev , Lew Tolstois and Fyodor Dostoyevsky , from Zola's social “experimental novels ” and the socially critical dramas by Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg .
  • Naturalism sees itself as a literary revolution because it breaks with the traditional and overcomes (poetic) realism , because it renounces its transfiguring tendencies as well as the poet's interpretation of reality.
  • The scientifically exact design of empirical reality is considered an ideal. The world is examined and depicted in a true-to-life, scientifically exact manner. The art is the rationality , causality, the determinism and objectivity committed while it is important to dispense with subjectivity and individuality of the poet.
  • The character and fate of a person are seen as determined by the historical time in which they live, the psychological genetic makeup and the milieu (cf. Karl Marx , Auguste Comte , Hippolyte Taine and Charles Darwin ).
  • The social issue, the portrayal of social need, is expressed less as a socio-political struggle with party-political ties, but more as a kind of social compassion using the example of social outsiders in the network of big cities (anonymity, de-individualization, prostitution ) or modern technology. The artistic bohemian is often glorified.
  • The social drama puts characters in the foreground in their conditioning by milieu and heredity, with the few acting characters being guided by detailed scenic notes and stage directions.
  • The "revolution in lyric poetry" ( Arno Holz ) turns against all conventions of verse and stanza, against tradition and epigonism in terms of subject matter and form, and instead orientates itself on a prose-lyrical that is supposed to obey a natural rhythm.
  • Particularly consistent naturalism can be found in the so-called “ seconds style ”. It is important to record every detail, no matter how banal, to come as close as possible to natural speech (stuttering, stammering, dialect, exclamations, incomplete sentences, breathing pauses, background noises ...) in order to show and convey more of the milieu than via descriptions of the room.
  • The art movements that are replacing naturalism ( impressionism , symbolism , expressionism ) use more differentiated, alienating means of expression instead of the limited access to the mere depiction of reality.
  • Art = nature - x (defined by Arno Holz), where x is the artistic means of reproduction and their handling by the artist and should be kept as minimal as possible in order to keep the difference between art and nature small. However, since the x can never disappear, art “has a tendency to be nature again. It becomes them in accordance with their respective conditions of reproduction and their handling. "
  • Use of the "phonographic method", which uses the following means to reproduce natural speech:
  • As Papa Hamlet shows, naturalism can be understood as an “ ironic form of literature”.

Naturalism as an increase in realism

While in realism the negative is aesthetically canceled and excluded in favor of a higher, ideal idea, naturalism aims to include precisely this negative and reproduce it in detail. In that naturalism defines its raison d'être from the positivist belief in science, the social inheritance of man in the milieu and from this his “predictability” as a mass object, the idealistic element of bourgeois realism is banished from literature. Realism shows an anthropological ideal of objective autonomy , whereas naturalism is based on the milieu belonging to each person and the recognizability / predictability of human behavior by means of the sciences. Poetry: phonographic accuracy and seconds style.

Important authors

See also


  • David Baguley: Naturalist Fiction. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1990, ISBN 0-521-37380-8 .
  • Ronald Daus : Zola and French Naturalism (= Metzler Collection. Vol. 146). Metzler, Stuttgart 1976, ISBN 3-476-10146-0 .
  • Walter Fähnders: naturalists, socialists, anarchists. Dispositions of literary intelligence in the late 19th century. In: Ulrich von Alemann , Gertrude Cepl-Kaufmann , Hans Hecker , Bernd Witte (eds.): Intellectuals and social democracy. Opladen 2000, pp. 59-76.
  • Günter Helmes : Social novels of naturalism . In: York-Gothart Mix (ed.): Naturalism, Fin de siècle and Expressionism (1890-1918) (= Hanser's social history of German literature from the 16th century to the present. Vol. 7). Carl Hanser, Munich, Vienna 2000, pp. 104–115. ISBN 978-3-446-12782-1 .
  • Günter Helmes: Georg Brandes and French Naturalism. With particular reference to Émile Zola . In: Matthias Bauer, Ivy York Möller-Christensen (Ed.): Georg Brandes and the Modernity Discourse. Modern and anti modern in Europe I . Igel-Verlag, Hamburg 2013, pp. 42–74. ISBN 978-3-86815-571-6 .
  • Edward Mc Innes: The German Drama of the 19th Century. E. Schmidt, Berlin 1983.
  • Theo Meyer : Theory of Naturalism. Reclam, Stuttgart 1973.
  • York-Gothart Mix (ed.): Naturalism, Fin de siècle and Expressionism (1890-1918) (= Hanser's social history of German literature from the 16th century to the present. Vol. 7). Carl Hanser, Munich / Vienna, ISBN 978-3-446-12782-1 ; dtv, Munich 2000, ISBN 978-3-423-04349-6 .
  • Hanno Möbius: Naturalism. Quelle & Meyer, Heidelberg 1982, ISBN 3-494-02139-2 .
  • Ingo Stöckmann: Naturalism. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2011, ISBN 978-3-476-02257-8 .

Individual evidence

  1. Armin Jaemmrich: The American Noir. Amoral, cynical, pessimistic? . Dissertation, Frankfurt am Main 2011, ISBN 978-3-00-035252-2 , p. 69, footnote 183
  2. Richard Hamann , Jost Hermand : Naturalism. (= Epochs of German culture from 1870 to the present. Volume 2.) Munich 1972, p. 14 ff.
  3. Hamann, Hermand 1972, p. 172 f.
  4. ^ Alfred Döblin: Berlin program . [1]
  5. quoted after entry Naturalism. In: Gero von Wilpert : Subject Dictionary of Literature (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 231). 8th, improved and enlarged edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-520-23108-5 .
  6. Albert Meier : History of Novellistic Telling . In: Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (Ed.): Thematic lectures . January 10, 2012, X. Naturalistic storytelling .