Hildesheimer, Wolfgang

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Nationality: German. Born: Hamburg, 9 December 1916. Education: Studied carpentry in Palestine; London Central School of Arts and Crafts, 1937-39. Career: Moved to England, 1933, then to Palestine, 1935. English teacher, British Council, Palestine, 1939; British intelligence officer, Jerusalem, 1943-46; German-English translator, Nuremberg war trials, 1946. Returned to Germany, 1949; moved to Switzerland, 1957. Also worked as an artist. Awards: Bremen literature prize and Georg Büchner prize, both in 1966. Died: 21 August 1991.



Theaterstücke; Über das absurde Theater (includes Pastorale ; Neufassung ; Die Verspätung ; Nachtstück ; Die Rede Über das absurde Theater ). 1976.

Hörspiele (includes Das Opfer Helena ; Herrn Walsers Raben ; Unter der Erde ; Monolog ). 1976.

The Collected Stories of Wolfgang Hildesheimer. 1987.

Die Theaterstücke (includes Der Drachenthron ; Die Herren der Welt ; Pastorale oder Die Zeit für Kakao ; Landschaft mit Figuren ; Die Uhren ; Der schiefe Turm von Pisa ; Das Opfer Helena ; Die Verspätung; Nachtstück ; Mary Stuart ), edited by Volker Jehle. 1989.

Gesammelte Werke in sieben Bänden, edited by Christiaan Lucas Hart Nibbrig und Volker Jehle. 1991.

Bd. 1. Erzählende Prosa. 1991.

Bd. 2. Monologische Prosa. 1991.

Bd. 3. Essayistische Prosa. 1991.

Bd. 4. Biographische Prosa. 1991.

Bd. 5. Hörspiele. 1991.

Bd. 6. Theaterstücke. 1991.

Bd. 7. Vermischte Schriften. 1991.


Paradiesvögel [Birds of Paradise]. 1954.

Nachtstück [Nocturne]. 1963.

Monolog [Monologue]. 1964.

Tynset (monologue). 1965.

Masante (monologue). 1973.

Marbot: Eine Biographie. 1981; translated as Marbot: A Biography, 1983.


Das Ende einer Welt: Funk-Oper (opera libretto), music by Hans Werner Henze. 1953.

Die Eroberung der Prinzessin Turandot. 1954.

Der Drachenthron: Komödie in drei Akten. 1955.

Begegnung im Balkanexpress. 1956.

Spiele in denen es dunkel wird. 1958.

Pastorale. In Deutsches Theater der Gegenwart, edited by Karlheinz Braun, 1960.

Herrn Walsers Raben. 1960.

Die Verspätung: Ein Stück in zwei Teilen. 1961.

Das Opfer Helena: Eine Komödie in zwei Teilen. 1961.

Vergebliche Aufzeichnungen: Nachstück. 1962; as Nightpiece, 1968.

Herrn Walsers Raben. Unter der Erde. Zwei Hörspiele (two radio plays). 1964.

An den Ufern der Plotinitza, with Begegnung im Balkanexpress. (two radio plays). 1968.

Mary Stuart eine historische Szene. 1970; translated as Mary Stuart, in Scripts 3, 1972.

Hauskauf: Hörspiel (radio play). 1974.

Biosphärenklänge: E. Hörspiel (radio play). 1977.

Short Stories

Lieblose Legenden [Loveless Legends]. 1952; translated as Lieblose Legenden, 1983.

Ich trage eine Eule nach Athen, with Paul Flora. 1956.


Betrachtungen über Mozart. 1963.

Wer war Mozart?: Becketts Spiel: Über das absurde Theater. 1966.

Frankfurter Vorlesungen. 1967.

Interpretationen. James Joyce. Georg Büchner. Zwei Frankfurter Vorlesungen. 1969.

Zeiten in Cornwall. Mit 6 Zeichnungen des Autors. 1971.

Mozart (biography). 1977; translated as Mozart, 1982.

Was Waschbären alles machen, with Rebecca Berlinger (for children). 1979.

Exerzitien mit Papst Johannes: Vergebliche Aufzeichnungen. 1979.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Idomeneo, 1781-1981: Essays, Forschungsberichte, Katalog. 1981.

Mitteilungen an Max über den Stand der Dinge und anderes. 1983.

Das Ende der Fiktionen: Reden aus fünfundzwanzig Jahren. 1984.

The Jewishness of Mr. Bloom/Das Jüdische an Mr. Bloom (English and German). 1984.

Der ferne Bach: Eine Rede (speech). 1985.

Nachlese. 1987.

Klage und Anklage. 1989.

Was ist eigentlich ein Escoutadou?: Briefe mit Zeichnungen an Julie (Hildesheimer's correspondence). 1996.

Schule des Sehens: Kunstbetrachtungen, edited by Salman Ansari. 1996.

Briefe, edited by Silvia Hildesheimer and Dietmar Pleyer (Hildesheimer's correspondence). 1999.

Editor, Mozart Briefe (correspondence). 1975.

Editor, with Vittorio Sereni, Enrico Della Torre. 1980.

Translator, Nachtgewächs, by Djuna Barnes. 1959.

Translator, Die Lästerchule: Lustspiel in zehn Bildern, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1962.

Translator, Eine Harfe ohne Saiten [Unstrung Harp], by Edward Gorey. 1963.

Translator, Das Geheimnis der Ottomane: Ein pornographisches Werk, by Edward Gorey. 1964.

Translator, Die heilige Johanna: Dramatische Chronik in sechs Szenen und einem Epilog, by Bernard Shaw, 1965.

Translator, Das unglückselige Kind [The Hapless Child], by Edward Gorey. 1967.

Translator, Helden [Arms and the Man], by Bernard Shaw. 1969.

Translator, Anna Livia Plurabelle, by James Joyce. 1970.

Translator, Aktion "Djungel": Bericht aus Malaya, by F. Spencer Chapman. 1971.

Translator, Die heilige Johanna: Dramatische Chronik in sechs Szenen und einem Epilog, by Bernard Shaw. 1971.

Translator, with Hans Manz, Fridolin Tschudi, and Dieter E. Zimmer, Der zweifelhafte Gast: Elf merkwürdige Geschichten, by Edward Gorey. 1973.

Translator, Der Lauf der Welt: Eine lieblose Komödie [Way of the World], by William Congreve. 1989.



Wolfgang Hildesheimer: Eine Bibliographie by Volker Jehle. 1984.

Critical Studies:

"Guilt in Absurdity: Wolfgang Hildesheimer's Tynset " by Giles R. Hoyt, in Seminar, 14, 1978, pp. 133-40; Wolfgang Hildesheimer's Tynset, 1978, "Wolfgang Hildesheimer's Mary Stuart: Language Run Riot," in Germanic Review, 54, 1979, pp. 110-14, "Wolfgang Hildesheimer's Das Opfer Helena: Another Triumph of the 'They,"' in Pen to Performance, edited by Karelisa V. Hartigan, 1983, The Realm of Possibilities: Wolfgang Hildesheimer's Non-Traditional Non-Fictional Prose, 1988, and Wolfgang Hildesheimer and His Critics, 1993, all by Patricia Haas Stanley; "Wolf-gang Hildesheimer and the German-Jewish Experience: Reflections on Tynset and Masante " by Henry A. Lea, in Monatshefte, 71, 1979, pp. 19-28; "Self Defeating Satire? On the Function of the Implied Reader in Wolfgang Hildesheimer's Lieblose Legenden " by Roderick H. Watt, in Forum for Modern Language Studies (England), 19(1), January 1983, pp. 58-74; "Mozart: A Case Study in Logocentric Repression" by Katherine Arens, in Comparative Literature Studies, 23(2), Summer 1986, pp. 141-69; "Typically Hildesheimer: A German Adaptation of Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The School for Scandal " by Elizabeth Petuchowski, in Exile and Enlightenment: Studies in German and Comparative Literature, edited by Uwe Faulhaber, Jerry Glenn, Edward P. Harris, and Hans-Georg Richert, 1987; "Authenticity as Mask: Wolfgang Hildesheimer's Marbot " by Käte Hamburger, in Neverending Stories: Toward a Critical Narratology, edited by Ann Clark Fehn, Ingeborg Hoesterey, and Maria M. Tatar, 1992; "History As Biography As Fiction: Wolfgang Hildesheimer's Marbot: Eine Biography, " in Continuities in Contemporary German-Language Literature, edited by Arthur Williams, Stuart Parkes, and Julian Preece, 1998, and "Time and Narrative: Wolfgang Hildesheimer's Tynset and Masante, " in German Life and Letters, 52(4), 1999, pp. 457-74, both by Jonathan Long.

* * *

Wolfgang Hildesheimer was born in Hamburg in 1916. His paternal grandfather, a rabbi, came from a long line of Berlin rabbis; his mother's assimilationist family were art lovers and bookstore owners. He moved to England in 1933 to complete his education before emigrating to Palestine with his Zionist parents in 1935, where he studied to become a carpenter and took courses in drawing and interior design. From 1937 until 1939 he studied at the London Central School of Arts and Crafts. In 1939, with the outbreak of World War II, he returned to Palestine and taught English at the British Council. From 1943 to 1946 he served as a British intelligence officer in Jerusalem, and in 1946 he became a simultaneous German-English translator at the Nuremberg war trials. In addition, he edited the final report of the proceedings. In 1949 he moved to Ambach, West Germany, and worked chiefly as an artist, and in 1953 he settled in Munich, becoming active as a writer. In 1957 he moved to Switzerland, where he spent his remaining years.

During the three years of translating in Nuremberg, Hildesheimer turned to his graphic artwork to escape the harrowing images that accosted him during the trials. He called this artwork Gegentherapie, a "therapy to counter" the inhumanity described during the proceedings. In 1950 he became an author by chance, as one day, feeling that it was too cold to paint, he instead put pen to paper for prose.

Hildesheimer's subsequent career as an imaginative writer can be divided into three distinct periods: (1) humorously absurdist, (2) dark and Holocaust related, and (3) focused on the role of the imaginative artist and society. The first stage, from 1950 to 1954, contained his collection of short stories Lieblose Legenden (1952; "Loveless Legends") and the novel Paradiesvögel (1954; "Birds of Paradise"). In both works humorously alienated characters talk past one another and suddenly find themselves in absurd situations for which they find no solution. Concluding catastrophes anticipate the devastating themes of Hildesheimer's middle period.

Clearly influenced by his Nuremberg experiences, ensuing bouts of depression, and Djuna Barnes's free-associative, stream-of-consciousness poetic novel Nightwood (1937), which he translated in 1959, Hildesheimer turned to the setting of the sleepless night for his own imaginative works of the early 1960s. This second stage, from Nachtstück (1963; "Nocturne") to Monolog (1964; "Monologue") culminated in his novelistic masterpiece Tynset (1965).

In an interview given in 1978, Hildesheimer looked back at the delay between the Nuremberg trials and the interior nature of his imaginative writing specifically dealing with the Holocaust: "I was first confronted with all of those frightening terms relating to racism and Anti-Semitism … as a simultaneous translator: as this history, both systematic and schematic, which I had only heard about through reports and rumors … was being unfolded. The history of the Holocaust was horrific but it belonged to the past and coming to terms with it was not my task. The question of personal or collective guilt I left to my sub-conscious to deal with and waited for an inner decision."

As Peter Demetz has commented, Hildesheimer's humorous earlier works now gave way to "a more piercing vision of culture as a recurrent nightmare" that deprived sensitive individuals of their sleep. These works deal with a nighttime in which the protagonists cannot sleep because of the horrors that obsess them. In these years he was artistically adapting his repressed memories from the Nuremberg trials, and the works clearly show individuals unable to direct their own lives in a world offering neither outer nor inner security. A direct reference to the murder of two-thirds of European Jewry in the Holocaust is contained in his play Monolog when a character laments, "A Jewish form of comfort and consolation does not appear to exist … or, there are no Jews any more, that's really it, or at least not enough of them, to make their type of comfort and solace count." Although not a practicing Jew, Hildesheimer deeply felt his Jewish roots, stating in an interview, "I am not exclusively anchored in or governed by my Judaism; however, I feel Jewish."

In his last literary period Hildesheimer penned the novel Masante (1973) and the biography Mozart (1977). During the final decade of his life (he died in 1991), he returned almost exclusively to his graphic work, leaving the hundred or so poems of his very last years unpublished.

—Steven R. Cerf

See the essay on Tynset.

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