Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen

The German author Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen (1621?-1676) is best known for his picaresque romance, "Simplicissimus, " the greatest 17th-century German prose work.

There is little accurate information about Jakob von Grimmelshausen. Some of his ancestors were Protestants and became wine growers, innkeepers, and bakers. Grimmelshausen was born in Gelnhausen, Hesse. The description of the early life of Simplicissimus in the Thirty Years War is to some degree autobiographical. Grimmelshausen spent some years as soldier's boy and wagoner in the imperial forces; he served as musketeer and later as secretary in the Schauenburg regiment. A year after the Peace of Westphalia (1648) he married Catharina Henninger, the 21-year-old daughter of a lieutenant in Schauenburg's army. Later, in the service of Lt. Col. Schauenburg, Grimmelshausen was a bailiff—an office which he held until ca. 1659. He then became an innkeeper. Finally, from 1667 he was a magistrate who collected taxes and administrated the law in Renchen.

It was not until Grimmelshausen was over 40 years old that he published Schwarz and Weiss oder der satirische Pilgram (1666), a book inspired by and modeled on H. M. Moscherosch's Wunderliche and wahrhaftige Geschichte Philanders von Sittewald (1642). About that time he also wrote fashionable love stories, but his world fame justly rests with Der abenteuerliche Simplicissimus Teutsch (ca. 1668). This extraordinary literary success led him to write more Simplicissimus stories, which he considered parts of his great novel: Trutz-Simplex; oder ausführliche und wunderseltzame Lebensbeschreibung der Ertzbetrügerin und Landstörtzerin Courasche (1670), Der seltzame Springinsfeld (1670), and Das wunderbarliche Vogel-Nest (1672). Bertolt Brecht's Mutter Courage bviously borrowed its title from the above, and Brecht may also, at least to some extent, have modeled Courage's character on Simplicissimus's cast-off mistress. Grimmelshausen, moreover, wrote gallant heroic romances such as Dietwald und Amelinde (1670). He published all his works anonymously; that is, he assigned them to fictitious writers whose names he liked to invent partly out of letters of his own name.

Simplicissimus is, after Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival and before Goethe's Faust, one of the greatest original and artistic documents in German literature, in which the struggle between good and evil, purity of heart and lustful greed, is presented with vivid immediacy. This novel transcends the horizon of a merely bawdy, picaresque story; it is much more than an entertaining tale full of coarse descriptions of bestial adventures and human follies. It clearly leads the reader through godless unrest and sinfulness into an existence of inwardness and a recognition of the individual's responsibility toward society:being a creature of this earth man must recognize and accept his limitations; only through God's grace can man ever transcend himself.

When, in 1674, Louis XIV plundered Alsace and the neighboring regions, Renchen was endangered. Grimmelshausen did military service for the imperial army, but at the same time he remained a magistrate in his little town, where on Aug. 17, 1676, he died.


Further Reading on Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen

There is no biography of Grimmelshausen in English. A valuable background study is Roy Pascal, German Literature in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, vol. 2: Renaissance, Reformation, Baroque (1968), in the Introductions to German Literature Series.