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German Fiction & Purification

- Abstract

SINCE the end of the war, the German literary world has been waiting for the great German novel, one that would sum up, and at the same time transcend, the experiences of the last generation. This concept of the great German novel is something new, for the Germans, with their history as a cohesive community, have never before felt that necessity for national self-definition which, for example, has prompted the enduring quest for the great American novel. The “typical” German novels have been the Bildungsroman and the Familienroman, which described the development of individuals and families inside a society whose stability was taken for granted.

In reality, however, this very social structure had been fatally affected, for over seventy-five years, by a series of revolutions, industrial and otherwise-and the horrors of the Nazi regime did not finally so much destroy the society as expose its inner decomposition. By 1945, the break in Germany’s intellectual and moral traditions was fully laid open, so that German self-acceptance henceforth became a problem rather than a fact of the nation’s intellectual life. More than that, the unprecedented horrors of the last stages of social decay-concentration camps, genocide, and all the rest- left such a heavy burden of guilt attached to any possible new beginning, that the search for national identity became indissolubly linked with the quest for purification.

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