Contextualizing a motif : late nineteenth century portrayals of the German poacher-hero

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2011-05

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Plummer, Jessica Ellen

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Abstract

This thesis focuses on the anachronistic poacher-hero figure in late nineteenth-century German literature. Historian Hobsbawm has suggested that the symbolic endurance of "noble robber" figures (of which we can view poacher-heroes as a subset) takes place in an ideal imaginary "stripped" of the "local and social framework" (2000, 143). My thesis shows, in multiple examples across multiple genres, that in fact the poacher-hero is uniquely available for re-contextualization and renewal of social relevance, even under changed social and economic circumstances. The poacher-hero is not only a device for making statements about the past, but also for expressing claims on the future. It is perhaps this dynamism that makes the poacher-hero excellent carrier for different kinds of social critique as well. In my first chapter, I give a brief historical overview of the period and the motif. In the second chapter, I show how the poacher and his rural context are brought into contact with urban, imperial themes. In the chapter I read two novels, Der verlorene Sohn (The prodigal son, 1884-1886) and Quitt (Even, 1890), and the play Waldleute (Forest people, 1896) thematically to show how upward social mobility is associated with and adapted to the poacher figure. In the third chapter of the thesis, I examine narrative strategies and their employment in the construction of a socially critical viewpoint in Der verlorene Sohn and Quitt. I show how both high and low literary works, intended and written for different audiences, achieve similar results in their positioning of the poacher-protagonist through different narrative structures. This convergence shows the malleability of the societal frame for the poacher-hero. Finally, in the fourth chapter, I show regional adaptations of the motif, by examining different versions of a folk ballad "Das Jennerweinlied" ("The Jennerwein song"). This thesis furthermore shows how study of a motif can be used to bring together a diverse group of roughly contemporary texts. Viewing these texts in relationship with one another brings into question the scholarly focus on certain texts at the expense of others.

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