Places: Green Henry

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Der grüne Heinrich, 1854-1855; revised, 1879-1880 (English translation, 1960)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Autobiographical

Time of work: Mid-nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Zurich

*Zurich. Green HenryLarge city in northeastern Switzerland in which the Swiss painter (Heinrich) Lee lives. The Preaching Church, visible from Henry’s room, is a symbol of his Protestant upbringing with its doctrinaire religious instruction. Freethinkers who gather at the secondhand shop across from Henry’s home, stories of heterodox historical residents, and Swiss returning from long sojourns abroad provide critical perspectives.

A childhood experience playing a bit part on stage fascinates Henry by revealing the dichotomy between art and life, onstage glitter and backstage chaos. The one-room schoolhouse for the poor and the cadet training in middle school with prosperous middle class youths promote Henry’s self-reliance and social integration. Henry’s apprenticeship in an artist’s workshop, as stuffy as the old monastery it is housed in, contrasts with his training in the elegant house of an artist just returned from Rome.

Lee home

Lee home. House in which Lee lives in Zurich, the model for which is the tall, narrow house in the old quarter of Zurich where Keller himself grew up. While connecting Henry to the past, the house also lets him observe present activities of neighbors. The secret places in its dark corridors create a space for fantasy. Henry’s room, overlooking the rooftops of Zurich, contained collections of homemade toys, minerals, and small animals when he was a boy. Decorating the attic room with etchings and picturesque objects, Henry as a teenager made it his art studio. Henry associates the house with mixed feelings toward his mother, including love, guilt, and shame of family poverty and debt.

*Canton Zurich

*Canton Zurich. Northeastern province of Switzerland, whose mountains, fertile plateaus, rivers, forests, and meadows provide the backdrop for much of the action in the novel. The history and folk traditions of the Swiss are reflected in their consciousness as developed in artistic expression and by interaction with their unique landscape. The carnival celebration that ranges through towns and countryside, reenacting Friedrich Schiller’s 1841 play about William Tell, illustrates this well. The play and wider folk festival show how art and life are connected, for Henry personally, as well as for the people generally.


Village. Henry’s summer retreat and source of his direct experience with nature is modeled on Glattfelden (canton Zurich, on the Rhine), the ancestral home of Keller’s parents. While the rural Swiss traditions of the parsonage, the farm, and the hunt are symbolically integrated in the uncle’s house, the flowers, fruits, and animals of the village convey freedom, color and movement that gratify Henry’s heart and inspire him as an artist. His cousin Judith’s house, with its orchard garden hanging with ripe fruit to be picked and eaten, contrasts with the schoolmaster’s house, with its profusion of flowers and contemplative view of the lake. Whereas the schoolmaster’s house is associated with spiritualized love, Judith’s house represents erotic awakening and temptation.


*Munich. Bavarian city in which Henry studies art. Described as the “abode of the Muses,” Munich is filled with folk music and dance, but especially represents the art world, with its museums, exhibits, and art studios. In addition to exposing Henry to Germany’s Roman Catholic heritage to supplement his Protestant training, Munich lets him experience German monarchy to contrast with Swiss republicanism. Interacting with all classes, Henry meets artists from the outer reaches of the old German empire. During Carnival time, the Bavarian royal palace becomes a workshop for artists and artisans, reflecting the royal patronage of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. The carnival’s parades and festivities gratify the playful and artistic impulses as well as serving an important social function: creation of a German identity anchored in the past (Renaissance Nuremberg), but also open toward the future.

Count Dietrich’s estate

Count Dietrich’s estate. Home of the nobleman who becomes Henry’s patron. The estate’s buildings and rooms point to aristocratic activities: hunting, gardening, agriculture, and patronage of the arts. With its library, work tables, and decorations, the count’s room demonstrates his own liberal sentiments. His active promotion of art is shown when he pays Henry a handsome fee for his paintings and decorates his room with them. The Hall of the Knights, with its historic manuscripts, ancestor portraits, and old armor, stimulates the imagination as well as establishing continuity with a proud past.

BibliographyHart, Gail K. Readers and Their Fictions in the Novels and Novellas of Gottfried Keller. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989. Insightful discussion of the changing image of literary fictions within the tradition of literary heroes who are led astray by books. Also discusses Paul Johann Anselm Feuerbach’s influence on Keller’s only novel, Green Henry.Hauch, Edward Franklin. Gottfried Keller as a Democratic Idealist. New York: Columbia University Press, 1916.Lindsay, James Martin. Gottfried Keller: Life and Works. London: Wolff, 1968. A thorough biographic study that incorporates discussions of Keller’s works. Includes illustrations and a bibliography.Richert, Herbert William. Basic Concepts in the Philosophy of Gottfried Keller. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1949. Remains a useful source on the belief system underlying Keller’s works.Ruppel, Richard R. Gottfried Keller: Poet, Pedagogue and Humanist. Munich: Peter Lang, 1988.
Categories: Places