Catholicism, ‘Conservative Revolution’ and the Fairy Tale: the Case of Wilhelm Matthiessen

Florian Krobb (National University of Ireland, Maynooth)

Wilhelm Matthiessen (1889-1965) was one of the most successful writers of the 1950s and 1960s; his collections of fairy tales and his adventure stories (most prominently Das rote U, a detective story for children that reads like an answer to Erich Kaestner’s Emil und die Detektive) achieved print-runs of up to a million copies. Most of these works, however, originated in the 1920s.

Matthiessen started his literary career in 1919 with esoteric works and fantastic ‘Kunstmärchen’, went mainstream with successful fairy tale collections for children, adventure stories in the Karl May tradition, radio essays, and many other publications (more than 20 books between 1919 and 1933. In the mid-1930s he then wrote four highly polemical anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic pamphlets for the publishing house of the infamous Ludendorff circle. All of these works betray his Catholic roots and his conservative leanings while outwardly espousing a revolutionary, liberating outlook (salvation through fantasy). While starting out in an elitist, avantgardist way (evidenced by very modernist, even expressionist illustrations to several of his early publications), his works had an increasingly broad reach and thus thus allow an investigation of popular reading matter and childrens’ literature. Hence, Matthiessen’s case can shed a unique light on a milieu that has not been studied much, an educated, conservative, Catholic middle class that was infected by völkisch ideas and (as Matthiessen did in some of his reviews and essays) maintained a critical distance to Weimar democracy and mainstream culture. In spite of his enormous output (close to 80 books in total, stretching over six decades) no scholarly literature exists on Matthiessen.

I am in the process of preparing a book-length study to be ready for the 50th anniversary of his death in 2015. Apart from one chapter on the reception of Joseph Goerres in Weimar culture (Matthiessen also published a novel entiteld Goerres in 1926) for a German collection of essays, my paper will mark the first contribution on Matthiessen in English.


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