published: 1998
updated: 24-Mar-2010

Cousins at One Remove



As its sub-title indicates, this set of essays is a sequel to Anglo-German Studies published in 1992 by the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society. Publication of the present volume by Northern Universities Press has been enabled by a grant from the same Society – to whose Council we express our gratitude.

These two Anglo-German Studies volumes are closely connected with the work of the Leeds University MA programme in Anglo-German Cultural Relations. Most of the contributors are, or have been, on the teaching staff of the Leeds University Department of German. The three editors of letters from the Brotherton Library’s Bithell Collection are recent graduates of the MA programme – indeed, their preparation of these editions was an integral part of their work for the MA. Our one distinguished ‘external’ contributor, Joyce Crick, has also served as External Examiner for the Department. Two of the essays (Bridgham’s and Crick’s) were originally delivered to the Anglo-German Literary Relations Seminar at the annual Conference of University Teachers of German in Great Britain and Ireland. Crick’s paper was given as one of a pair describing British productions of Schiller’s Wallenstein.(fn1)

Where the nine essays in the 1992 volume explored aspects of the German reception of English literary ideas, the emphasis in the present volume is the other way round. Five of the literary essays here treat the English reception of aspects of German literature. The other two examine aspects of Shakespeare-reception in Germany/Switzerland. The Women’s Studies essay reflects the wider cultural aspect of the MA programme, as it treats Josephine Butler’s pioneering work to ameliorate the condition of prostitutes in England and the repercussions of her campaign in Germany. Concluding the volume, the edition of three letters from the Bithell Collection brings to public notice again the existence and research potential of that Collection.

The title of this volume, Cousins at One Remove, deliberately echoes John Mander’s Our German Cousins (1974).(fn2) On the other hand, whilst we admire the scale and purposefulness of that study we have not set out to emulate them – although the context of our work, i.e. a programme on Anglo-German Cultural Relations, does presuppose Mander’s wide perspectives. Amongst the purposes which Mander pursued was to discover what ‘the "traditional" English view of the Germans’ might be, implicitly challenging the verdict of a recently published opinion poll [c.1973] which declared: ‘The traditional view of the Germans still remains, with many people thinking them violent, lacking in tolerance, and unfriendly’ [p.3]. Mander’s conclusion on this count was to disparage the idea that Germans are ‘unfriendly’, but to concede that English public opinion towards them is unlikely to grow friendlier ‘simply by virtue of the healing processes of time’. It has not been the object of any of our contributors, of course, to examine what has become of the ‘traditional’ English view of the Germans, but, a quarter of a century on, we can only confirm the rightness of Mander’s observation – the cartoon image of Germans (fn3) as published in the British press remains far from amiable.(fn4)

Another of Mander’s tasks was to present a view of recent German history which, differing from that of the immediately preceding generation of historians, was likely to be perceived as ‘revisionist’ in tone and thus an implicit reproach. His work makes
‘one assumption which [...] is lacking in many even of the best books produced by the generation of our seniors [i.e.] that, no matter how disastrous the course it ran, it was as natural and inevitable that the Germans should develop a national consciousness (though not Nazism!) as it was that the peoples of Spain, France, and England should have done so’ [p.6].
For our part, although we sympathise with and accept the reasonableness of Mander’s assumption, our essays focus on literary and cultural relations, not political history. We simply note here the further progress of Germany’s nation-building 25 years on: the Germanys
East and West have been reunited and, by the turn of the new millenium, Berlin will once again be the country’s capital. We note also that in these political developments Germany has had the support of all her Western allies (albeit her Eastern neighbours remain uneasy).

But the overriding purpose of Mander’s book is to generate understanding – to combat the black imagery of Vansittartism – and this is a purpose which we do share (in common with all conscientious British teachers of German, be they like us, severally, Irish, Scottish, Welsh or English):
‘I shall try [...] to examine the emergence of [the Germans’] character through English eyes, and to examine what lessons there may be for the future in this strange, ambivalent tale of mutual misunderstanding. The Germans are not required to love us; nor we to love them. But we are required to understand, if we are to survive’ [p.15].
Sharing this presupposition, we trust that the spirit of our essays corresponds wholly to his. But as teachers we would actually go further, for we recognise that ‘understanding’ is also an essential prerequisite for reconciliation.

For all that Mander’s wider purpose was political, however, the main thread of his narrative from 1750 to 1870 is (like ours) the story of literary relations between Britain and Germany. From the panorama of eighteenth and nineteenth century literary contacts which he unfolds, the parts played by Schiller, Goethe, Kleist and Coleridge also feature in this volume. (Remarkably enough, Wagner is missing from Mander’s work).

Coleridge features here in two essays. Ingo Cornils explores the debt owed by Coleridge to the kindly pastor of St Georgsberg in Ratzeburg – a widower with ten children – in whose home he spent three months around Christmas 1798/9, learning German before moving on to Göttingen. Where biographers generally dwell on the Göttingen months as being of greatest importance for Coleridge’s development as a writer, Cornils makes a strong case for the impact of the initial Ratzeburg stay. A century on in time, Joyce Crick describes the impact of two productions of Coleridge’s Wallenstein translation prepared by William Poel for performance at Oxford (in 1900) and London (1911), also placing them in the wider context of the political developments of that war-clouded pre-First World War period. Here the emphasis is on the play: on how Poel cut it and adapted it for the theatre – ‘the place of hope which was his contribution to the larger social and educational reforms of the time’.

The period when Poel was active transects the years of Alfred Orage’s weekly New Age (1907-22). Adopting a quotation from Orage for her title, ‘Our wretched German cousins’, Diane Milburn provides a generous-spirited and ironically witty survey of British reactions towards Germany and German thinkers in the lead-up to the First World War as reflected in the activities of the Leeds Arts Club and Orage’s periodical.

Shakespeare-reception in Germany and Switzerland is represented in two essays. Deploying ample detail and cross-reference, Raymond Hargreaves and Sydney Donald analyze respectively Paul Celan’s translations of three of Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Dürrenmatt’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s King John. Hargreaves sets out to answer the question: ‘Is a text which negates the linguistic premise of the text it purports to translate still a translation, and if so in what sense ?’ Donald examines how Dürrenmatt succeeded in transforming a relatively little-known Elizabethan drama into a huge box-office success.

In an essay filled with contemporary and historical allusions, spanning virtually the whole period covered by Mander’s book and bringing it up to the present day, Fred Bridgham (translator of Hans Werner Henze’s libretto, The Prince of Homburg, for performance in 1996) explores the manner in which Schiller, Kleist and Wagner – ‘arguably Germany’s greatest dramatists’ – have been received and continue to be received in Britain.

Prompted by Goethe’s confession that it is wickedness, not goodness, which sets his creativity on fire – in which respect Auden declared that Goethe was speaking for all artists – and with Goethe’s Mephisto as the point of reference, Richard Byrn reviews the way five modern English writers (D.J. Enright, Robert Nye, Terry Pratchett, Emma Tennant and Fay Weldon) variously evoke the personality of Mephisto in their respective Faust-books – might they also have been moved to write by the twitchings of wickedness?

Ingrid Sharp surveys the attempts by nineteenth century social reformers, pre-eminently Josephine Butler in England and Anna Pappritz in Germany, to improve the condition of prostitutes. After 20 years of campaigning Butler and her Abolitionist allies eventually succeeded in persuading Parliament to repeal the deplorably repressive Contagious Diseases Acts. The progress of Abolitionist ideas in Germany, on the other hand, was depressingly negative: ‘measured in terms of legislation, the women’s campaign had no effect at all.’

The volume’s final contribution is a tribute to one of this century’s most influential British Teachers of German, Jethro Bithell, whose career was lived out under the shadow of both of those World Wars fought against our German cousins. The letters edited here by Susan Bollinger, John Hogg and Claire Harder – from Alfred Mombert (1909), Franz Werfel (1940), and Hans Carossa (1949) respectively – reflect the work Bithell did on three different publications. The latter two letters in particular also reflect the interest which Bithell took in individual ‘good’ Germans at a time when they were going through great personal difficulties.

If the contributors to this volume were to declare a commonly held position on Anglo-German relations it might well be expressed in the words of Alfred Orage quoted in Milburn’s essay. Without being blind to pre-First World War German bellicosity Orage nevertheless referred to them as ‘reasonable, fallible creatures – much as we are’. This volume’s underlying purpose is, thus, to reflect on aspects of the cultural inheritance which the Germans and the English share, despite all mutual animosities from the past – ‘cousins’, certainly, but perhaps ‘at one remove’.

Several people have assisted in the preparation of this volume. Our thanks go to the Keeper of the Brotherton Library Special Collections and his colleagues for their unstinting advice and assistance. Emeritus Professor K. G. Knight’s name does not appear as co-editor of this volume, but his encouragement and careful reading of the contents in typescript represent a significant contribution which it is our pleasure to acknowledge. This volume’s most careful reader prepared its index – for having checked much more than just references to people and topics we thank Janet Pickering unreservedly. Two other colleagues in particular have assisted with seminal ideas: Frank Lamport (Oxford) and Helen Chambers (Leeds [St Andrews]) – sometimes without knowing it. For the stimulus of such creative ideas scattered generously in conversation we express grateful appreciation.

It is our pleasure here also to acknowledge eight decades-worth of moral and financial support to Leeds-based academic German studies from the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society. Their sponsorship has included Charles Gough’s pioneering Helmbrecht edition of 1928, Lionel Thomas’ several essays during the 1950s and ’60s on aspects of nineteenth century German literature, as well as the present two volumes of Anglo-German Studies in the 1990s. For scholars in a minority subject-area such assistance is invaluable and it is correspondingly appreciated.

1 The other, by F.J. Lamport, was published as: ‘Wallenstein on the English Stage’, in German Life and Letters, XLVIII No.2, 1995, pp.124-147. (back to text)

2 John Mander, Our German Cousins. Anglo-German Relations in the 19th and 20th Centuries (London: Murray, 1974). A great admirer of John Maynard Keynes, Mander states that Keynes’ view: ‘Without Germany, no Europe; without Europe, no Civilisation’ could be the motto of his book too. ‘A century ago no one would have doubted the truth of this axiom. There are many today who doubt it all too readily’ [p.13]. (back to text)

3 Harald Husemann, who has assembled a major collection of recent political cartoons reflecting the British image of Germans and vice versa, quotes a poor-quality but subversive Daily Mail limerick of 1978 as being symptomatic of British attitudes to Europe and the Germans: ‘[the Common Market is a plot of the Hun]: Eine Volk, Eine Reich, Eine Führer’ – see his essay ‘If Hitler came to Britain’, in S.P. Stark (ed.), Proceedings of the 1997 Leeds Conference on the Novel in Anglo-German Context (Reihe: Internationale Forschungen zur allgemeinen und vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaft; Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999). (back to text)

4 Mander’s review of German national characteristics concludes that English unease towards them arises above all from a sense of their unpredictability. ‘Your Frenchman and your Dutchman you may rate as you will; but both are assumed to be predictable in their general behaviour, whereas Germans are not – les incertitudes allemandes’ [p.4]. (back to text)