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The Individualization of Fortune in the Sixteenth-Century Novels of Jörg Wickram: The Beginnings of the Modern Narrative in German Literature
Politis, Cordula


This book is an examination of the concept of Fortune in the narratives of the sixteenth-century German writer, Jörg Wickram. Wickram, often regarded as the founding father of the German prose novel, posited an internalisation of Fortune quite at odds with the ideas of both his contemporaries and predecessors. Throughout the Middles Ages, Fortune functioned as a representation of the experience of contingency and the human attempt to cope with it within the confines of a God-given order. The Renaissance saw the advent of the notion that an individual possessed the ability to control his or her life to a certain extent, but the perception of Fortune as an external force acting on human agents remained intact. Wickram, however, saw Fortune not only as an external force acting in conjunction with or competing with divine agency, but also as a force within the human mind; it was this innovative understanding which set him apart from his contemporaries and lent originality to his literature. To illustrate this, this work examines Wickram’s thought and his narratives, focusing on three major issues: The relationship between Fortune and God; the internalisation of Fortune to the human mind; and the location of Wickram’s Fortune in a historical context.


“Standing at the centre of Dr. Cordula Politis’ study are narrative works by Jörg Wickram, generally speaking one of the less well-known authors of the sixteenth century ... in her study the leading role is played by the thesis that Wickram, inspired first and foremost by Petrarch, altered the conception of Fortuna as a power at work outside of man and internalised it ... In her close reading of the novels, Dr. Politis makes clear how intimately Fortuna (be it as a power acting without or from within) and individual are interwoven, and how differently this relation is shaped by Wickram . . . A particular achievement of this study, one which cannot be sufficiently highly estimated, is not least that Wickram and his novels have been brought before English readers for the first time on a considerable scale.” – (from the Preface) Prof. Dr. Ingrid Kasten, Institut für Deutsche und Niederländische Philologie, Freie Universität Berlin

“Dr. Politis is treating a complex phenomenon: the role of an essentially pre-Christian, pagan figure in texts written for a culture which is wholly Christian; no longer medieval, but not yet modern; and influenced by the competing intellectual and religious currents of his day, the Protestant Reformation, the Renaissance and Humanism ... In her lucid and subtly argued treatment of these questions of influence and transition, conservatism and development, liberation and constraint, Dr. Politis makes a very substantial contribution to our understanding of the intellectual life of early modern Germany.” – Professor Timothy Jackson, Department of Germanic Studies, Trinity College, Dublin

Table of Contents

Preface by Ingrid Kasten
Chapter 1 Wickram and His Times
Chapter 2 Fortune and God through the Ages
Chapter 3 The Relation between Fortune and God in Wickram’s Narratives (1): Fortune and God as Antagonistic Sources of Character Development
Chapter 4 The Relation between Fortune and God in Wickram’s Narratives (2): Superiority of Fortune vs. Superiority of God
Chapter 5 Fortune Internalised: Wickram’s Innovation
Chapter 6 German and Italian Comparisons
Chapter 7 Wickram and Petrarch: The Psychological Conception of Fortune

ISBN10:  0-7734-5448-9   ISBN13:  978-0-7734-5448-4    Pages:  292    Year:  2007   

Series: hors série Number: 0

Subject Area: German - Literature 

Imprint: Edwin Mellen Press

USA List Price: $139.95 UK List Price: £ 94.95  

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