Gerhart Hauptmann

Gerhart Hauptmann

THE LAUREATE: Gerhart Hauptmann was born in a small town in Silesia that is now a part of Poland. He was initially raised on his uncle’s farm, but found that country living did not suit him. After traveling and living abroad, he eventually settled in Berlin to make his artistic career. He was a famous and prolific playwright, frequently dealing with local Silesian affairs made large. During World War I, he was a pacifist, and he had no comment about Hitler and his regime. This has been bad for his reputation as a writer.

WHAT I’M READING: I’ve got a collection of three plays. I will definitely read The Weavers, since this is what he is most known for outside of Germany. Might check the other two.

LITERARY DUST-UP: The Swedish people were so outraged when Hauptmann was announced that they clamored for August Strindberg to receive the Anti-Nobel Prize.REVIEW: I’ve read two of Hauptmann’s plays, and I have to say, the people who tend to write about him don’t understand how literature works. The Weavers is an excellent portrait of the misery that accompanied the mechanization of the textile industry, and particularly the Silesian Weaver’s Revolt. The weavers, led by a few young men who are fed up with their lot in life, become conscious of how they are being exploited and rise up against The Man. The first act takes place in Dreissinger’s store, where the clerk routinely underpays the weavers for their handiwork. We are treated to a speech about how lazy the lower classes are and how hard it is to be a wholesaler. It ends when a boy faints out of hunger, and Dreissinger is insulted when he hears someone say “Oh, he’d get well if you fed him.” Act two is in a weaver’s house, where we see a family at work at the loom, lamenting their lot. Pretty much life sucks for everyone and then they die. Then, a few of the old weavers get caught up in this fever for revolt that a young man, Baecher, is starting by putting their complaints into song. The third act takes place in a tavern in town, where the comfortably middle-class patrons complain about how the weavers have no one but themselves to blame for staying poor. Then, the revolution really gets started. Act four is in Dreissinger’s sitting room, one of several (oh, how hard-up he is!). We see the tensions he’s putting up with (competition with the factories, social obligations by fellow buyers and the church), but he’s still a sanctimonious dick. Feels pretty good when the weavers start systematically breaking his house apart. Act five takes place in another weaver’s hut in a different village, where they’ve just heard the news that the weavers are revolting. Then, the revolting mob of weavers shows up to wreck up the local buyer.

The other play I read by Hauptmann, Hannele, deals with the same kind of focused poverty, but in a less naturalist style. To be honest, I could see it done as a movie and winning big at Toronto or SXSW. It is unbelievably twee. Basically, a girl is beaten down by village life, and we see her dying imagination and last night brought to life on stage. It’s not bad.

RECOMMENDED: Yes, Hauptmann knows what’s up.

WHAT’S NEXT: The winner of the even more prestigious Anti-Nobel Prize, August Strindberg.

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