Authors: Adalbert Stifter

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Austrian novelist

October 23, 1805

Oberplan, Bohemia, Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Horní Planá, Czech Republic)

January 28, 1868

Linz, Austria


The literary fortunes of Adalbert Stifter have risen and fallen several times in the German-speaking world, but in the United States he has remained nearly unknown outside the circle of scholars of German literature. Born October 23, 1805, in the village of Oberplan, in the Czech Republic (then a part of the Austrian Empire), he was the son of a linen trader and small-scale farmer. His mother was the daughter of a butcher. After his father died in an accident in 1817, Stifter’s maternal grandfather took him to the well-respected school of the Benedictine monastery of Kremsmünster, where he succeeded admirably. He left Kremsmünster in 1826 and entered the University of Vienna as a student of law. In Vienna, partly because he was often in financial difficulties, he experienced the sadness of being rejected as the suitor of Fanny Greipl, whose parents thought that he was beneath her. Supporting himself as a private tutor, often tutoring the children of prominent families, and occasionally selling a painting he had done, he married Amalia Mohaupt on November 15, 1837, even though he was still in love with Fanny. {$I[AN]9810000769} {$I[A]Stifter, Adalbert} {$I[geo]AUSTRIA;Stifter, Adalbert} {$I[tim]1805;Stifter, Adalbert}

Adalbert Stifter.

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the 1840’s he began to succeed as a writer, but his gifts as a painter served him well in the moving descriptions of his native Austrian landscape found in his prose. The first novella he published, Der Condor (the condor), was well received, and it was soon followed by a number of others during a period of unusual creative activity. Abdias and Brigitta in particular secured for him great fame. By 1850, six volumes of his works, each volume appearing under the title Studien, had been published. In 1849 Stifter moved from Vienna to Linz, and in 1850 he was appointed as an inspector of schools for that part of Austria, a task that took away precious time from his writing. The revolution of 1848 caused him to become disenchanted with political action, and he sought in education a means of ennobling humankind.

His most cogent statement of aesthetic, moral, and philosophical principles is found in the preface to his 1853 collection of novellas, Bunte Steine (colorful stones). In his view it is not the dramatic, cataclysmic events and emotions of life that are actually powerful, but rather the quiet, steady working of rational conduct. This philosophy, which he called the “gentle law,” is reflected in the best-known novella from Bunte Steine, Rock Crystal, and in his most widely appreciated novel, Indian Summer. The latter work especially has been faulted for dwelling too much on the details of the scenes and characters portrayed, but for Stifter, the general is seen through the particular and the discrete is an embodiment of overarching principles. By means of the serene word, he hoped to embody the ideals of classical German humanism, although in his personal life he was not able, in an age of revolution and social change, to achieve the ideal to which his prose tends. After an unfortunate series of deaths of individuals who were close to him and after suffering from illnesses himself, he committed suicide in January of 1868.

His admirers have included such famous writers as Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke, Hugo von Hofmannsthall, Thomas Mann, and W. H. Auden. Since at least the 1850’s, however, opinion has been divided in regard to Stifter’s stature, with the earliest and most notorious attacks on him led by the German playwright Friedrich Hebbel. Stifter’s supporters admit that his prose is one of loving devotion to the seemingly unspectacular, but they find in this devotion an atmosphere of rarest beauty and profundity.

Author Works Long Fiction: Der Condor, serial 1840, book 1844, 1896 Die Mappe meines Urgrossvaters, serial 1841, book 1847, 1939 (My Great-Grandfather’s Note-book, 1851) Der Hochwald, serial 1842, book 1844, 1852 (Hochwald: A Story of the Thirty Years War, 1851) Die Narrenburg, serial 1843, book 1844, 1855 Wirkungen eines weissen Mantels, serial 1843, book 1922 (also known as Bergmilch in Bunte Steine) Brigitta, serial 1844, book 1847, 1899 (English translation, 1957) Der Hagestolz, serial 1844, book 1850, 1852 (The Recluse, 1968; The Bachelors, 2009) Studien, 1844-1850 (6 volumes; includes Der Condor, Die Mappe meines Urgrossvaters, Der Hochwald, Die Narrenburg, Brigitta, and Der Hagestolz) Abdias, serial 1845, book 1847, 1852 (Abdias the Jew, 1851) Der heilige Abend, serial 1845, book 1940 (also known as Bergkristall in Bunte Steine; Rock Crystal, 1945) Der arme Wohltäter, serial 1848 (also known as Kalkstein in Bunte Steine; Limestone, 1968) Die Pechbrenner, serial 1849 (also known as Granit in Bunte Steine) Der Pförtner im Herrenhause, serial 1852 (also known as Turmalin in Bunte Steine; Tourmaline, 1968) Bunte Steine, 1853 (2 volumes; includes Bergmilch, Bergkristall, Kalkstein, Granit, Turmalin) Der Nachsommer, 1857 (Indian Summer, 1985) Witiko, 1865-1867 (3 volumes; English translation, 1999) Erzählungen, 1869 (2 volumes; novellas and short stories) Julius, 1950 Limestone, and Other Stories, 1968 (includes The Recluse, Limestone, Tourmaline) Tales of Old Vienna and Other Prose, 2016 Nonfiction: Wien und die Wiener in Bildern aus dem Leuen, 1844 (with C. E. Langer and C. F. Langer) Über den geschnitzten Hochaltar in der Kirche zu Kefermarkt, 1853 Briefe ... Herausgegeben von Johannes Aprent, 1869 (3 volumes) Vermischte Schriften, 1870 (2 volumes) Miscellaneous: Sämtliche Werke, 1908-1940 (25 volumes) Selections, 1952 Bibliography Buckley, Thomas L. Nature, Science, Realism: A Re-examination of Programmatic Realism and the Works of Adalbert Stifter and Gottfried Keller. P. Lang, 1995. A study examining the relations between literature and science in German-language literature in the nineteenth century. Danford, Karen Pawluk. The Family in Adalbert Stifter’s Moral and Aesthetic Universe: A Rarified Vision. P. Lang, 1991. Looks at the role of family in Stifter's work. Gump, Margaret. Adalbert Stifter. Twayne, 1974. A volume of criticism of Stifter's work. Haines, Brigid. Dialogue and Narrative Design in the Works of Adalbert Stifter. Modern Humanities Research Association for the Institute of Germanic Studies, University of London, 1991. A study focusing on the interplay of narration and dialogue in Stifter's works. Jeter, Joseph Carroll. Adalbert Stifter’s “Bunte Steine”: An Analysis of Theme, Style, and Structure in Three Novellas. P. Lang, 1996. Compares and contrasts three of the six novellas that make up Bunte Steine. Mason, Eve. Stifter: “Bunte Steine.” Grant and Cutler, 1986. A critical guide to Bunte Steine. Ragg-Kirkby, Helena. Adalbert Stifter’s Late Prose: The Mania for Moderation. Camden House, 2000. A study of Stifter's later novels and their influence on German-language literary modernism. Sjögren, Christine O., editor. The Marble Statue as Idea: Collected Essays on Adalbert Stifter’s “Der Nachsommer.” U of North Carolina P, 1972. Scholarly essays covering various topics related to Der Nachsommer. Stone, Barbara S. Grossmann. Adalbert Stifter and the Idyll: A Study of “Witiko.” P. Lang, 1990. Examines the way that Witiko combines the form of the historical novel with what is known in German literary criticism as the Biedermeier idyll. Swale, Martin, and Erika Swale. Adalbert Stifter: A Critical Study. Cambridge UP, 1984. An assessment of Stifter's works in the context of the tradition of nineteenth-century European literature.

Categories: Authors