Stranger than Fiction: Literary Transformations of War Experience in the Weimar Republic

Nicholas Martin (University of Birmingham)

The paper describes and analyses ways in which semi-autobiographical, partly fictionalised texts about the First World War helped to shape public perceptions of the origins, present state and future of Weimar Germany. It discusses the reception of selected texts by war writers from across the political spectrum (Plivier, Remarque, Renn, Jünger, Flex, Schauwecker) and examines the extent to which these ostensibly private histories of war experience fed into and guided public discourse, and controversy, surrounding the war and its legacy.

The paper has two principal concerns: the first is to demonstrate how these texts became sites of political debate in the 1920s concerning the ‘authentic’ portrayal or ‘correct’ interpretation of (the) war experience; the second is to argue that the critical literature on Weimar war writings since the 1970s has tended to construct a misleading canon, in which a minority of ‘anti-war’ texts has assumed an importance largely unsupported by their contemporary reception and impact.

Weimar war writings provide an illuminating case study of the intersection between personal and public understandings of the war and its significance in the postwar context. The paper will explore this intersection and its implications for received views of the relationship between literary and political discourses in the Weimar Republic.


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