Ludwig Tieck

The German author Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853) was perhaps the most versatile and productive writer of the German romantic movement.

Ludwig Tieck was born in Berlin on May 5, 1773. His intellectual and imaginative gifts were evident from early youth, when he considered himself a rationalist and follower of the Enlightenment. In 1792 he began his university studies, first at Halle and then at Göttingen, where he began his first novel, William Lovell, completed in 1796. This is the story of a young Englishman who begins as an idealist but falls into a life of sensuality and various misdeeds. After he has seduced and abandoned the sister of a friend, the friend seeks him out and eventually kills him in a duel.

In 1793 Tieck, together with the young writer Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, began a wandering tour of southern Germany, where they discovered the riches of medieval German culture. On the basis of these experiences, Tieck and Wackenroder undertook joint authorship of a novel, Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen (Franz Sternbald's Wanderings). Wackenroder died in 1798, and Tieck completed the novel alone. The book is one of the first Künstlerromane, or novels about artists. Franz Sternbald is a pupil of the 16th-century painter Albrecht Dürer. He wanders about Europe learning and practicing his art, experiencing life, and seeking his mysterious Marie, whom he finally rejoins in Rome. The novel conveys much of Wackenroder's and Tieck's enthusiasm for older art.

By 1794 Tieck had returned to Berlin, where he wrote treatises in the spirit of rationalistic philosophy but also showed his developing romantic tastes in his edition and adaptation of old German folktales. In addition he wrote fairy tales of his own, such as Der blonde Eckbert (1797; The Blonde Eckbert), a tale of guilt, incest, and supernatural happenings.

About this time Tieck also wrote the experimental dramas Prinz Zerbino and Der gestiefelte Kater (Puss in Boots). In the latter play he uses the basic plot of the children's story as an occasion, or framework, for various satirical actions and comments. The play intentionally destroys theatrical illusion, and the poet and even the audience are given parts to speak; thus it may be regarded as a precursor of the 20th century's experimental theater. More conventional plays of the same period were the historical dramas Leben und Tod der heiligen Genoveva (1799; Life and Death of Holy Genoveve) and Kaiser Octavianus (1804).

In 1799 Tieck established contact with the group of romantic writers living in Jena, principally Novalis and August Wilhelm and Friedrich von Schlegel. He collaborated with them in editing medieval poetry. He also translated Cervantes's Don Quixote and helped edit the literary remains of Wackenroder, Novalis, and the dramatists Heinrich von Kleist and Jakob Lenz. His most important work as a translator was his contribution to the complete German version of Shakespeare which had been begun by August Wilhelm von Schlegel. Completed in 1833, the Tieck-Schlegel Shakespeare became a standard work of German literature.

During his later years Tieck's own creative work underwent a gradual change. His later novels and short stories show a more realistic attitude and depiction of life than his earlier, more romantic works. For example, the story Des Lebens Überfluss (1839; Life's Abundance) describes in accurate detail the life of an impoverished young married couple. In addition to such stories Tieck also wrote a historical novel, Vittoria Accorombona (1840), which shows the influence of Sir Walter Scott.

After leaving Jena, Tieck spent several years at a country estate and then in 1819 moved to Dresden, where he became dramaturgical consultant for the city theater. In 1841 King Frederick William IV of Prussia summoned him to Berlin, where he remained as court author-in-residence. Tieck died in Berlin on April 28, 1853, a romantic writer who had outlived virtually his entire generation.

Further Reading on Ludwig Tieck

Perhaps the best general book on Tieck in English is Edwin H. Zeydel, Ludwig Tieck, the German Romanticist (1935), which serves as a good introduction to his life and writings. More specialized book-length works are Zeydel's Ludwig Tieck and England (1931); R. M. Immerwahr, The Esthetic Intent of Tieck's Fantastic Comedy (1953); and Percy Matenko, Ludwig Tieck and America (1954). R. M. Wernaer, Romanticism and the Romantic School in Germany (1910), contains a chapter on Tieck's notion of "romantic irony, " and Ralph Tymms, German Romantic Literature (1955), provides an excellent brief introduction to Tieck's life and work.

Additional Biography Sources

Paulin, Roger. Ludwig Tieck, Stuttgart: Metzler, 1987.

Paulin, Roger. Ludwig Tieck: a literary biography, Oxford Oxfordshire: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1986, 1985.