Authors: Alfred Döblin

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

German novelist and essayist

Identity: Jewish

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Die Ermordung einer Butterblume, 1913 (novella)

Die drei Sprünge des Wang-lun, 1915

Die Lobensteiner reisen nach Böhmen, 1917 (novella)

Wadzeks Kampf mit der Dampfturbine, 1918

Der schwarze Vorhang, 1919

Wallenstein, 1920

Berge, Meere, und Giganten, 1924 (revised as Giganten: Ein Abenteuerbuch, 1932)

Berlin Alexanderplatz: Die Geschichte vom Franz Biberkopf, 1929 (Alexanderplatz, Berlin, 1931; better known as Berlin Alexanderplatz)

Babylonische Wandrung: Oder, Hochmut kommt vor dem Fall, 1934

Pardon wird nicht gegeben, 1935 (Men Without Mercy, 1937)

Amazonas, 1937-1948, 1963 (also known as Das Land ohne Tod: Südamerika-Roman in drei Teilen; includes Die Fahrt ins Land ohne Tod, 1937;Der blaue Tiger, 1938; and Der neue Urwald, 1948)

Der Oberst und der Dichter: Oder, Das menschliche Herz, 1946 (novella)

Verratenes Volk, 1948 (A People Betrayed, 1983)

Heimkehr der Fronttruppen, 1949 (The Troops Return, 1983)

Karl und Rosa, 1950 (Karl and Rosa, 1983)

Hamlet: Oder, Die lange Nacht nimmt ein Ende, 1956 (Tales of a Long Night, 1984)

November 1918: Eine deutsche Revolution, 1978 (collective title for Verratenes Volk, Heimkehr der Fronttruppen, and Karl und Rosa; November 1918: A German Revolution, 1983)

“Jagende Rosse,” “Der schwarze Vorhang,” und andere frühe Erzählwerke, 1981

Short Fiction:

Märchen vom Materialismus: Erzählung, 1959

Gesammelte Erzählungen, 1971

Erzählungen aus fünf Jahrzehnten, 1977

Die Pilgerin Aetheria, 1978

Drama:

Lydia und Mäxchen: Tiefe Verbeugung in einem Akt, pb. 1906

Lusitania, pb. 1919

Die Nonnen von Kemnade, pb. 1923

Die Ehe, pb. 1930

Poetry:

Manas: Epische Dichtung, 1927

Nonfiction:

Der deutsche Maskenball von Linke Poot: Wissen und Verändern!, 1921 (essays)

Das Ich über der Natur, 1927 (philosophy)

Alfred Döblin im Buch, zu Haus, auf der Strasse, 1928 (with Oskar Loerke)

Wissen und Verändern! Offene Briefe an einen jungen Menschen, 1931 (essay)

Jüdische Erneuerung, 1933 (religion; Jews Renew Yourselves!, 1935)

Unser Dasein, 1933 (philosophy)

Die deutsche Literatur im Ausland seit 1933, 1938 (criticism)

Der unsterbliche Mensch: Ein Religionsgespräch, Der Kampf mit dem Engel, Ein Gang durch die Bibel, 1946 (religion)

Die literarische Situation, 1947 (criticism)

Unsere Sorge der Mensch, 1948 (religion)

Schicksalsreise: Bericht und Bekenntnis, 1949 (autobiography; Germany Is No More, 1946)

Die Dichtung, ihre Natur und ihre Rolle, 1950 (criticism)

Aufsätze zur Literatur, 1963 (criticism)

Reise in Polen, 1968

Briefe, 1970

Schriften zur Politik und Gesellschaft, 1972 (essays)

Autobiographische Schriften und letzte Aufzeichnungen, 1977

Gespräche mit Kalypso: Über die Musik, 1980

Biography

Alfred Döblin (DEW-bleen), one of the most important novelists and essayists of the German expressionist movement, was born in the region of Pomerania, in the newly created German empire, in 1878. Although his parents, Max and Sophie Freudenheim Döblin, were both Jewish, they came from different backgrounds and had incompatible dispositions. After years of an unhappy marriage, Max Döblin abandoned his wife and five children. In 1888 Sophie Döblin moved her family to Alexanderplatz, a working-class district of Berlin that Alfred Döblin later made famous. He considered this family crisis to be the turning point in his life.{$I[AN]9810001255}{$I[A]Döblin, Alfred}{$S[A]Poot, Linke;Döblin, Alfred}{$I[geo]GERMANY;Döblin, Alfred}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Döblin, Alfred}{$I[geo]JEWISH;Döblin, Alfred}{$I[tim]1878;Döblin, Alfred}

In 1891, Döblin enrolled in the Köllnisches Gymnasium and began writing seriously, but he concealed his work–including his first short novel, Jagende Rosse (galloping horses), completed in 1900 but not published during his lifetime–under pseudonyms. He studied medicine and philosophy at the universities of Berlin and Freiburg, then opened a medical practice in 1911 in Berlin. In 1912 he married a medical student, Erna Reiss, with whom he had four sons. While establishing his medical career, Döblin cofounded the expressionist literary journal Der Sturm (the storm) and published his first epic novel, Die drei Sprünge des Wang-lun (the three leaps of Wang-lun), in 1915.

During World War I Döblin served as a physician with the German army and completed his historical epic, Wallenstein. In 1918 he published Wadzeks Kampf mit der Dampfturbine (Wadzek’s battle with the steam turbine), a novel about a typical expressionist subject, humanity’s struggle against the machine. By the war’s end, he had begun to moderate his uncritical nationalism and supported the new German Republic enthusiastically. Nevertheless, Döblin exhibited a cynical attitude toward politics in satirical essays published under the pen name Linke Poot (left paw) and collected in a volume titled Der deutsche Maskenball (the German masquerade ball). In 1924 he completed his futuristic novel Berge, Meere, und Giganten(mountains, seas, and giants).

In 1929 Döblin published his masterpiece, Berlin Alexanderplatz. In it he applied techniques such as free association and stream-of-consciousness narration, along with interior monologue and Berlin slang, to develop a montage in which the usual linear development of a novel is encased in a whirl of simultaneous activity. These techniques effectively dramatized the overwhelming power of the collective forces of technological society. In 1931 Döblin wrote his most important political essay, Wissen und Verändern! (to know and change!), which challenged Germans to reject class struggle and cooperate in forming a better society.

With Adolf Hitler’s seizure of power in Germany in 1933, Döblin’s position as left-wing intellectual of Jewish descent became both dangerous and exposed. His works were among those burned in public by the National Socialists in the literary auto-da-fé of May 10, 1933. Therefore he emigrated, first to Switzerland and then to France, where he wrote two studies on the plight of the Jews and became a French citizen. His first work written in exile, the pessimistic Men Without Mercy, is his novel with the most traditional structure. In it he argued that political and social oppression is linked to oppression within the family and that revolution is a possible means of liberation in both realms.

Döblin’s harrowing escape from France after the German invasion of 1940 led to a complete nervous breakdown. After emigrating to the United States he converted to Roman Catholicism. When the war ended, he returned to Germany as a member of the French occupation forces. There he published an important multivolume novel depicting the German revolution, November 1918. Unable to adjust to postwar Germany, he returned to Paris in 1953. Döblin’s last major novel, Tales of a Long Night, was published in 1956. Declining health forced Döblin to enter a sanatorium in the Black Forest, where he died in 1957.

Most of Döblin’s essays deal with the problems of a technological society, particularly with the individual’s search for a means of political and spiritual salvation. His novels are more difficult to characterize. His proclivity to experiment with structure and style explains the fact that Berlin Alexanderplatz is considered a great expressionist novel, while Babylonische Wandrung (Babylonian journey) is often described as a masterpiece of German Surrealism.

In addition to the confrontation between the individual and society, several general themes permeate Döblin’s writings. These include the spiritual bankruptcy of twentieth century life and a genuine commitment to democracy, socialism, and the amelioration of working-class poverty. Döblin’s canon is also characterized by open-ended conclusions and by a penchant for espousing contradictory ideological points of view. For example, he wavered between advocating passive acceptance of oppression in Die drei Sprünge des Wang-lun and active resistance to it in November 1918 and Men Without Mercy. Similarly, although utopianism colors many of his novels, the utopian societies he creates in Berge, Meere, und Giganten and Amazonas (the Amazon) end in disaster. Most of Döblin’s works also reveal an obsessive but contradictory attitude toward women and sexuality.

Döblin was without doubt one of the most talented prose writers of the German expressionist movement, but his novels contain many references that are difficult to translate or make comprehensible to non-German readers. That may account for the fact that few of his works have been translated and that, with the exception of Berlin Alexanderplatz, his writing has often been neglected by scholars.

BibliographyBarta, Peter I. “Walking in the Shadow of Death: Berlin Alexanderplatz.” In Bely, Joyce, and Döblin: Peripatetics in the City Novel. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996. Includes notes and a bibliography.Dollenmayer, David B. The Berlin Novels of Alfred Döblin: “Wadzek’s Battle with the Steam Turbine,” “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” “Men Without Mercy,” and “November 1918.” Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. In addition to separate chapters on the novels, Dollenmayer includes an introduction surveying Döblin’s career and a first chapter titled “The City Theme in Döblin’s Early Works.” A notes section and bibliography make this a very useful work.Graber, Heinz, ed. Introduction to Reise in Polen, by Alfred Döblin. New York: Paragon House, 1991. The introduction contrasts Döblin’s attitudes toward Germany and Poland and compares his work to that of other Central European novelists.Kort, Wolfgang. Alfred Döblin. New York: Twayne, 1974. A reliable introductory work with chapters on Döblin’s life as a German intellectual; his literary beginnings; his theory of the epic and his philosophy of nature; his handling of imagination and reality, history and science fiction, and mythology and modern existence; his attitude toward writing and toward Europe. Includes chronology, notes, and an annotated bibliography.O’Neill, Patrick. Alfred Döblin’s “Babylonische Wandrung”: A Study. Bern, Switzerland: Herbert Lang, 1974. Part 1 is an introduction to Döblin and his literary career. Part 2 concentrates on the development of Babylonische Wandrung. Part 3 explores matters of form, structure, style, sources, materials, and humor. Notes and bibliography.
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