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Title page for ETD etd-03252016-112935

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Lazar, Adrienn
URN etd-03252016-112935
Title Theodor Fontane und das Publikum
Degree PhD
Department German
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
John A. McCarthy Committee Chair
Christoph M. Zeller Committee Member
Helmuth W. Smith Committee Member
Meike G. Werner Committee Member
  • 19. Jahrhundert
  • Realismus
  • Sozialgeschichte
  • Leserforschung
  • Rezeptionstheorie
  • Literaturverbreitung
  • Öffentlichkeit
Date of Defense 2016-03-02
Availability unrestricted
The focus of this dissertation is on Theodor Fontane's relationship to his audience. In particular, I investigate the question of how Fontane saw his own role and responsibility as a writer with regard to his actual and desired reading public. Theodor Fontane lived and worked in the late phase of the epoch that Jürgen Habermas describes in his study Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit (1962) as an era when the bourgeois public sphere declined. Habermas explains this process as the change from a critical-rational discourse of early bourgeois culture to late capitalist mass culture, characterized by its lack of critical discourses. Today there is an ongoing debate on the decline of public life, the role of writers and intellectuals, and on the social function of literature in general. The analysis of Fontane's relationship to his public is an important contribution to this discussion, because he is one of the first authors who experienced the so called "structural transformation" of the public sphere in the second half of the 19th century and had to deal with its consequences: the emergence of a mass culture, the difficulties of publishing, and an uncritical public.

Compared to earlier studies that identify Fontane's audience mainly in the "Bildungsbürgertum" (teachers, professors, pastors), Jews, a small group of nobility, and a group of young intellectuals, this essay proposes that the new mass public including women and the lower social classes should also be considered. It also provides a wider and more precise picture of Fontane's targeted and actual reader by determining different audiences during the three phases of his career.

Fontane became increasingly aware of the uncritical reading public and showed great concern at the low social status of the professional writer. Nevertheless, he tried to establish as critic and novelist a close relationship with readers of all stripes and to educate and expand his audience via his writings to mature and critical readers. I demonstrate these trends in two of his late novels Effi Briest and Die Poggenpuhls.

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