Gottfried Keller

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Other Literary FormsIn addition to his novels and novellas, Gottfried Keller wrote some masterful lyric poems, published in the Gedichte (1846; poems) and Neuere Gedichte (1851; recent poems). He also wrote political, literary, and cultural essays, collected in volumes 21 and 22 of Sämtliche Werke (1926-1948; complete works). Sieben Legenden (1872; Seven Legends, 1911) is a delightful collection of stories based on Christian traditions but reflecting Keller’s more worldly outlook. Keller also has produced autobiographical writings.

AchievementsKeller, a leading figure of poetic realism and considered by many the greatest Swiss writer of the nineteenth century, began his literary career in the 1840’s with only modest outward success. Even at the publication of the second volume of The People of Seldwyla in 1874, only five hundred copies of the first volume had been sold. Not until after Friedrich Theodor Vischer, in that same year, published a favorable essay about Keller did the latter’s work find a wider audience.

After that his popularity grew rapidly, and today his novellas are regarded as one of the peaks in that art form. Green Henry, his Bildungsroman (novel of education), is generally thought to be the most important prose work of mid-century and is often compared to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Lehrjahre (1795-1796; Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, 1824), by which Keller was influenced. Writing at a time when the effects of the Industrial Revolution were becoming evident, when the world was felt to be becoming more prosaic, positivistic, and ordinary, Keller nevertheless was able to suffuse his works with a sunny, worldly blessedness. Standing at that great moment in Western thought at which the Judeo-Christian tradition began to crumble, Keller represents the secular outlook of the coming age combined with a feeling of security and assurance that life is whole and chaos no...