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Unit information: Precursors of Modernism: Heine, Buchner, Kleist in 2016/17

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Unit name Precursors of Modernism: Heine, Buchner, Kleist
Unit code GERM30057
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Vilain
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of German
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The unit studies key works of three canonical authors of early to mid-nineteenth-century German literature: Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811), Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), and Georg Büchner (1813-1837), whose writings have had a major impact on modern literary aesthetics. The scope of texts discussed will cover prose, poetry and drama; socio-historical contexts (e.g. industrialisation, city growth) will be considered, as well as political circumstances (Kleinstaaterei, censorship) that significantly influenced the authors’ writings. In analyses of the primary sources, features will be identified that allow the classification of Heine, Büchner, and Kleist as precursors of German literary modernism (e.g. language, genre, themes, motives), supported by the use of relevant secondary sources.

This unit aims:

  • to build on students' knowledge of early to mid-nineteenth century German literature and thought
  • to explore literature in its relation to historical developments (social and political history; literary history, e.g. the emergence of literary modernism)
  • to enhance students’ German language skills, as well as close reading techniques, by the detailed reading of literary texts
  • to enable students to research secondary sources, to develop critical interpretations of their own, and to present their findings to an audience
  • to inspire students to work further, and independently, in this and other fields

The unit is taught in the medium of German, by Dr Margit Dirscherl.

Intended learning outcomes

At the end of this unit successful students will have:

1. knowledge of selected examples of nineteenth-century German literature and its contexts (A3, B8, B4) 2. critical appreciation of literary-historical developments (A3, A5) – and relevant interdisciplinary relationships (A7) 3. employed close reading techniques, cultural concepts of linguistic, literary, historical and intellectual analysis, and independent research (B5, B1 B2) – orally and in writing (C2 and C3)

Teaching details

Weekly 2-hour-seminars, comprising informal lectures, seminar presentations and discussion in weeks 1-5 and 7-11. Week 12, concluding discussion and revision.

Assessment Details

• 25% group presentation (group mark), incl. one-page-handout to be submitted on the day of the presentation (1-3) • 75% 4000 word-essay (1-3)

Reading and References

Primary Sources:

• Georg Büchner, Werke und Briefe. Münchner Ausgabe (Munich: dtv, 1997).

• Heinrich Heine, Sämtliche Schriften, ed. Klaus Briegleb, 6 vols. (Munich: dtv, 2005).

• Heinrich von Kleist, Sämtliche Werke und Briefe, ed. Helmut Sembdner (Munich: dtv, 2nd edition 2008)

Secondary Reading:

• Roland Borgards, Büchner-Handbuch. Leben – Werk – Wirkung (Stuttgart: Metzler, 2009).

• Ingo Breuer, Kleist-Handbuch. Leben – Werk – Wirkung (Stuttgart: Metzler, 2009).

• Gerhard Höhn, Heine Handbuch. Zeit – Person – Werk (Stuttgart: Metzler, 3rd edition 2004).