Trivial literature

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Trivial literature ( Latin trivialis 'generally accessible, ordinary' ) is (beautiful) literature that, in contrast to high literature , is rated as simple, generally understandable and easy to grasp. The term has a pejorative character. Alternative terms are schema literature , mass literature, or paraliterature . In addition to this dichotomy, there is a three-tier model that distinguishes high-level, entertainment and trivial literature .

Concept and definition

The term trivial literature was coined by Joseph Görres in 1807 in his publication Die teutschen Volksbücher , in which he retold forty of them. While the term had nothing derogatory in this meaning, the discomfort with the phenomenon later covered by the term was already there. Heinrich von Kleist reported in a letter to Wilhelmine von Zenge on September 14, 1800 about a visit to a Würzburg lending library, where he looked in vain for the classics. When asked what kind of books were on the shelves, the owner replied: "Knight stories, all knight stories, on the right the knight stories with ghosts, on the left without ghosts, at will."

The term trivial literature acquired its current meaning through Marianne Thalmann's dissertation published in 1923, The Trivial Novel of the 18th Century and the Romantic Novel . Trivial literature is therefore a form of literary entertainment . Since the 1920s, the term has been used to describe the area of ​​popular, often viewed as inferior, mass literature. In a rough breakdown of literature into the three fields of poetry or high literature , entertainment literature and trivial literature, the latter is rated as the one with the least literary claim - up to kitsch and trash literature . However, the transitions between these evaluations are fluid and assignments can be made depending on the consideration of one or the other level.

Criteria and characteristics

Trivial literature is mostly devoted to big topics like love , death , adventure , crime , family or war , but treats these in a simplistic, clichéd and often glorifying way of the idea of ​​an "ideal world". Trivial texts are structured in language, comprehensibility and emotionality in such a way that they meet the expectations of the largest possible readership (by conveying an often beautiful, consistently fair world with clear distinctions between good and bad). An essential feature of trivial literature is - unlike the high literature, which is based more on critical reflection on common ideas and established ways of thinking - not to break the horizon of expectations of the reader, which amounts to a confirmation ( affirmation ) of his existing opinions, images of society, etc. This gave rise to the designation of affirmative literature (as opposed to critical literature ) as another synonym for trivial literature. In this regard, literary texts that serve common to primitive expectations can also be described as trivial . This includes, for example, the repetitive spreading of emotional and sensational content through to various forms of voyeurism .

Trivial literature fulfills the expectations of the readership. However, because these arise inhomogeneously from the experiences and expectations of individual readers and are shaped by their individual and social contexts, the analysis and description of the socio-literary conditions is essential both for the possibility of disseminating trivial literature in general and for literary-aesthetic literature Evaluation of the individual text continues to form the basis of trivial literature research.

Problem of terminology

The term trivial literature was and is the subject of literary research and discussion, as it classifies texts in advance as of a supposedly low aesthetic level and sometimes functions as an umbrella term for trash or kitsch .

A more structural analysis approach that emphasizes the highly schematic character trivial texts and text excerpts and also the pejorative connotation avoids the term, characterized Trivialliteratur as a scheme literature . It then has the following characteristics: a schematic build-up of tension, melodramatic and sentimental actions, black and white drawing of characters, conveying clear moral views and the pretense of a seemingly clear worldview. Their strong connection to fixed schemes goes hand in hand with its tendency for serial publication, such as in serialized novels , mainstream comic books or novels stapling and rows.

All of these works meet collective reader needs, according to which texts of this kind are able to implement and fulfill certain common basic patterns. In this way, schema literature sets itself apart from the historically established, yet epoch-making norms of "highly literary" systems that appear to be characterized by intertextuality , originality , singularity and innovation .


Even if the actual origin of trivial literature lies in the 18th century, the first forms can already be seen in the single-sheet prints that were widespread in the 15th century . They were mostly about religious content that could be conveyed clearly, graphically and clearly to everyone. In the course of time the content spectrum of the sheets widened, whereby the sensational gained increasing importance. Many depictions of saints were inflated with gruesome, brutal stories; Reports of natural disasters, of war events and battles or of the spread of epidemics became frequent topics. Information was mixed with sensation and entertainment, although news information was initially not in the foreground. These single-sheet prints are considered to be the forerunners of the Groschenheft literature of the 20th century. Single-sheet wall calendars were also created in the 15th century, which were further developed into calendars in the 16th century . From the 17th century onwards, they were increasingly provided with instructive and entertaining texts such as sentences and anecdotes , puzzles or horoscopes , so that the calendars became an entertainment medium that satisfied undemanding reading needs. In the course of the Enlightenment in the 18th century, however, calendars were increasingly used for educational purposes and were used to convey sensible and meaningful knowledge.

These forerunners show many parallels to the works that were called trivial literature from the 18th century onwards, for whose content the exemplary juxtapositions of "good" and "bad", "beautiful" and "ugly" or "clever" and "stupid" come together Principle became. Its clear duality enabled the clarification of very specific values ​​and at the same time met the readership's desire for information and meaning.

The incipient development and rapid spread of trivial literature was promoted by the enormous increase in reading ability in the population and the associated enjoyment of reading, which corresponded to the (technical) advances in print and book production in the 18th century. Reading could thus become an entertaining leisure activity that promised relaxation from the often tough everyday work. The fact that women had more leisure time at home than men explains that they made up the majority of the reading audience. Her reading needs were met by sensitive and sentimental women and romance novels , which were largely inspired by English-speaking models. The counterpart to this today is the “cheeky women's novel” as presented by Eva Heller, for example .

Likewise, the still popular, trivial literary genre of the horror novel emerged , which - interpreted as a reaction to rationalism - was inspired by the English Gothic novel and its founder Horace Walpole . The most important German-speaking representative of this genre was Christian Heinrich Spieß .

In addition to these characteristics, in the 18th and 19th In the 19th century, the homeland literature emerged as well as the robber novels , which were able to gain considerable popularity not least because of their alleged ideals of freedom and their actionist protest against the existing social order. Heinrich Clauren , for example, with the success of his Mimili aroused the displeasure of the highly literary Wilhelm Hauff so much that he made him the target of satirical and polemical attacks. Indian and Wild West literature - inspired by the novels of the American James Fenimore Cooper - found a broad readership, as it was able to discover America as a special topic of adventure and travel literature in these novels. Probably the most important representative here - alongside Friedrich Gerstäcker or Charles Sealsfield - is Karl May , who u. a. through his Winnetou novels , which has continued to fame to this day, as well as the historical novel , which since the 19th century - shaped primarily by Walter Scott and Alexandre Dumas - has enjoyed continued popularity and a broad readership.

The commercial lending libraries , which had emerged from the second half of the 18th century, were just as important as a form of dissemination of trivial literature as colportage literature. In addition, the advances in the printing technology of the newspaper industry in particular contributed to the fact that printed prose literature could develop into an easily available mass medium, with Eugène Sue with Les mystères de Paris becoming the founder of the serial novel in newspapers.

In the 20th century, the historical and contemporary novel of the 19th century is updated, but also converted into a mediator of patriotic ideas. War events, the heroic killing and dying for the fatherland , and the propaganda denigrating the enemy's will to war glorifying the narrative acts thematic center.

Adventure and travel literature is evolving towards science fiction . Thanks to their enormous variety, the comics , too , achieved their continued success in all walks of life to this day. Emerging from the comic strips published in American newspapers at the end of the 19th century , they can only be classified as trivial literature to a limited extent today in their diverse variants and forms. So comic strips were initially very close to the satirical, the adult comics of the 1960s were heavily influenced by Pop Art and addressed an intellectual readership with a socially critical background, up to and including sensitive treatment of very complex topics such as the Shoah .

Mercantile's goal in the production of trivial literature remains consistently to reach the broadest possible readership and thus potentially high sales figures - including bestsellers .


The historical overview shows that successful Trivialliteratur away largely over the centuries as a fictional prose encountered the genre poetry - except about the 19th century, the poems of Kempner or student poetry and in the 20th century in particular, the pop literature - remains, however rather a noteworthy marginal phenomenon.

Love stories

Adventure stories

Fantasy, spiritism, occultism

  • Fantasy ( myth )
  • Occultist novel (Hans Possendorf: Die Kröte , Bobach, Berlin 1923; The Crystal Seer by Gill Street , Friedr. Petersen, Hamburg 1954)
  • Esoteric-spiritual novel ( Carl du Prel , Das Kreuz an Ferner: Ein Hypnotisch-Spiritistischer Roman , Cotta, Stuttgart 1891; Anand Dilvar: The Slave , Shelter Harbor Press, 2018)


  • Ute Dettmar, Thomas Küpper (ed.): Kitsch. Texts and theories. RUB 18476, Stuttgart 2012, ISBN 978-3-15-018476-9 .
  • Peter Domagalski: Trivial literature. History, production, reception. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1986, ISBN 3-451-17401-4 .
  • Christian H. Freitag: On the methodology of a scientific analysis of mass literature. In: Sprachkunst. Contributions to literary studies. Vol. 3 1/2, 1972, ISSN  0038-8483 , pp. 98-111.
  • Hans Dieter Gelfert: What is good literature? Beck, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-51098-1 .
  • Martin Greiner : The emergence of modern entertainment literature. Studies on the trivial novel of the 18th century. Posthumously edited and edited by Therese Poser. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1964.
  • Ulrich Hain, Jörg Schilling: Catalog of the collection "Trivial Literature of the 19th Century" in the University Library of Giessen. Gießen University Library, Gießen 1970 ( reports and works from the Gießen University Library. 20/1970), digital version (PDF; 11.3 MB) .
  • Helmut Kreuzer : Trivial literature as a research problem. On the criticism of the German trivial novel since the Enlightenment. In: Changes in the concept of literature. Kleine Vandenhoeck-Reihe 1398, Göttingen 1975, ISBN 3-525-33362-5 . (With an afterword by the author from 1974, which deals with critics of his article published in 1967.)
  • Ekkehart Mittelberg , Klaus Peter, Dieter Seiffert: Texts on trivial literature. About the value and effect of mass-produced goods. Klett, Stuttgart 1976, ISBN 3-12-348400-9 .
  • Peter Nusser : Novels for the lower class. Penny books and their readers. Metzler, Stuttgart 1973, ISBN 3-476-00265-9 ( texts Metzler 27).
  • Peter Nusser: Trivial literature. Metzler, Stuttgart 1991, ISBN 3-476-10262-9 ( texts Metzler 262).
  • Peter Nusser: The detective novel. 4th updated and expanded edition. Metzler, Stuttgart a. a. 2009, ISBN 978-3-476-14191-0 , ( Metzler Collection. Gattungen 191).
  • Walter Nutz: The trivial novel, its forms and its manufacturers. Cologne / Opladen, 1962.
  • Walter Nutz: Trivial literature and popular culture. From reader of booklets to television viewer. An analysis of the sociology of literature including the trivial literature of the GDR. With the collaboration of Katharinagenau and Volker Schlögell. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Opladen u. a. 1999, ISBN 3-531-12468-4 .
  • Hainer Plaul: Illustrated history of trivial literature. Olms, Hildesheim u. a. 1983, ISBN 3-487-08251-9 .
  • Rudolf Schenda : People without a book. Studies on the social history of popular reading materials 1770-1910. Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main 1970, ISBN 3-465-01836-2 (Studies on Philosophy and Literature of the 19th Century. Volume, 5).
  • Rudolf Schenda: The reading material of the little people. Studies of popular literature in the 19th and 20th centuries. Beck, Munich 1976, ISBN 3-406-04946-X ( Beck's black series 146).
  • Annamaria Rucktäschel, Hans Dieter Zimmermann (Hrsg.): Trivialliteratur. Fink, Munich 1976, ISBN 3-7705-1392-4 , ( UTB for science. Uni-Taschenbücher 637).
  • Hans Dieter Zimmermann: Trivial literature? Scheme literature! Origin, forms, evaluation. 2nd Edition. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1982, ISBN 3-17-007848-8 ( Urban pocket books 299).
  • Gerhard Teuscher: Perry Rhodan, Jerry Cotton and Johannes Mario Simmel. A presentation on theory, history and representatives of trivial literature. ibidem-Verlag, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-932602-76-5 .
  • Heinrich Pleticha, Siegfried Augustin: Lexicon of adventure and travel literature from Africa to Winnetou. Edition Erdmann in K. Thienemanns Verlag, Stuttgart, Vienna, Bern 1999, ISBN 3-522-60002-9 .

Web links

Wikisource: Popular Literature  - Sources and Full Texts
Wiktionary: Trivial literature  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Hans Dieter Zimmermann : Trivial literature? Scheme literature! Origin, forms, evaluation. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1979.
  2. The Castle of Otranto (1764) .
  3. cf. Complete representations of trivial literature from the Goethe era .
  4. about Kurd Laßwitz : On two planets . Felber Verlag, Weimar 1897.
  5. Art Spiegelman's 1992 Pulitzer Prize- winning Comic Maus - The Story of a Survivor .
  6. ^ Friederike Kempner: Poems . Berlin 1 1873, 8 1903
    »With a lot of gratitude / I send you again / You leaves without number / Into the human crowd! / Bring my greeting to the world / And have you ordered it, / Pursue your goal / And - as if in a game - / Announce all at once: / In the mountains and in the valley, / In the hut and the royal hall, / The ideal of beauty, '/ The Truth ore and steel, / The virtue of gods ray! « Instead of a foreword to the 6th edition 6 1891.
  7. ^ Burghard Rieger : Poetae Studiosi. Analysis of student poetry from the 19th and 20th centuries . Thesen Verlag Vowinckel, Frankfurt am Main 1970, ISBN 3-7677-0003-4 .
  8. In the literary pedagogical discourse of the 1950s, comics were generally classified as trivial literature. However, this generalizing classification is out of date, especially since comics as an independent art form cannot be recorded using the criteria of literary studies alone (see comic research ).