Lenz, Siegfried

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LENZ, Siegfried

Nationality: German. Born: Lyck, East Prussia (now Elk, Poland), 17 March 1926. Education: The University of Hamburg, 1945-48. Military Service: Served in the navy during World War II. Family: Married Lieselotte Lenz in 1949. Career: Reporter, 1948-50, and editor, 1950-51, Die Welt newspaper, Hamburg; freelance writer, from 1951; campaign speaker for Social Democratic party, from 1965; visting lecturer, University of Houston, Texas, 1969. Lives in Hamburg. Awards: Schickele prize, 1952; Lessing prize, 1953; Hauptmann prize, 1961; Mackensen prize, 1962; Schickele prize, 1962; City of Bremen prize, 1962; State of North Rhine-Westphalia arts prize, 1966; Gryphius prize, 1979; German Free Masons prize, 1979; Thomas Mann prize, 1984; Raabe prize, 1987; Federal Booksellers peace prize, 1988; Galinsky Foundation prize, 1989. Honorary doctorate: University of Hamburg, 1976. Member: Gruppe 47.


Short Stories

So zärtlich war Suleyken. 1955.

Das Feuerschiff. 1960; title story as The Lightship, 1962.

Der Hafen ist voller Geheimnisse: Ein Feature in Erzählungen und zwei masurische Geschichten. 1963.

Lehmanns Erzählungen; oder, So schön war mein Markt: Aus den Bekenntnissen eines Schwarzhändlers. 1964.

Das Wrack, and Other Stories, edited by C.A.H. Russ. 1967.

Die Festung und andere Novellen. 1968.

Lukas, sanftmütiger Knecht. 1970.

Gesammelte Erzählungen. 1970.

Erzählungen. 1972.

Meistererzählungen. 1972.

Der Geist der Mirabelle: Geschichten aus Bollerup. 1975.

Die Erzählungen: 1949-1984. 3 vols., 1986.

Selected Stories. 1989.


Es waren Habichte in der Luft. 1951.

Duell mit dem Schatten. 1953.

Der Mann im Strom. 1957.

Dasselbe. 1957.

Jäger des Spotts. 1958; as Jäger des Spotts, und andere Erzählungen, edited by Robert H. Spaethling, 1965.

Brot und Spiele. 1959.

Das Wunder von Striegeldorf: Geschichten. 1961.

Stimmungen der See. 1962.

Stadtgespräch, adapted from his play Zeit der Schuldlosen. 1963; as The Survivor, 1965.

Der Spielverderber. 1965.

Begegnung mit Tieren, with Hans Bender and WernerBergengruen. 1966.

Deutschstunde. 1968; as The German Lesson, 1971.

Hamilkar Schass aus Suleyken. 1970.

So war es mit dem Zirkus: Fünf Geschichten aus Suleyken. 1971.

Ein Haus aus lauter Liebe. 1973.

Das Vorbild. 1973; as An Exemplary Life, 1976.

Einstein überquert die Elbe bei Hamburg. 1975.

Die Kunstradfahrer und andere Geschichten. 1976.

Heimatmuseum. 1978; as The Heritage, 1981.

Der Verlust. 1981.

Der Anfang von etwas. 1981.

Ein Kriegsende. 1984.

Exerzierplatz. 1985; as Training Ground, 1991.

Der Verzicht. 1985.

Das serbische Mädchen. 1987.

Geschichten ut Bollerup. 1987.

Motivsuche. 1988.

Die Klangprobe. 1990.


Das schönste Fest der Welt (radio play). 1956.

Zeit der Schuldlosen; Zeit der Schuldigen (radio play). 1961; stage adaptation (in German), 1966.

Das Gesicht: Komödie (produced 1964). 1964.

Haussuchung (radio play). 1967.

Die Augenbinde; Schauspiel; Nicht alle Förster sind froh: Ein Dialog. 1970.

Drei Stücke. 1980.

Zeit der Schuldlosen und andere Stücke. 1988.

Radio Plays:

Zeit der Schuldlosen/Zeit der Schuldigen, 1961; Das schönste Fest der Welt.


So leicht fängt man keine Katze. 1954. Der einsame Jäger. 1955.

Das Kabinett der Konterbande. 1956.

Flug über Land und Meer: NordseeHolsteinNordsee, with Dieter Seelmann. 1967; as Wo die Möwen schreien: Flug über Norddeutschlands Küsten und Länder, 1976.

Leute von Hamburg: Satirische Porträts. 1968.

Versäum nicht den Termin der Freude. 1970.

Lotte soll nicht sterben (for children). 1970; as Lotte macht alles mit, 1978.

Beziehungen: Ansichten und Bekenntnisse zur Literatur. 1970.

Die Herrschaftssprache der CDU. 1971.

Verlorenes Langgewonnene Nachbarschaft: zur Ostpolitik der Bundesregierung. 1972.

Der Amüsierdoktor. 1972.

Der Leseteufel. 1972(?).

Elfenbeinturm und Barrikade: Schriftsteller zwischen Literatur und Politik. 1976.

Die Wracks von Hamburg: Hörfunk-Features. 1978.

Himmel, Wolken, weites Land: Flug über Meer, Marsch, Geest und Heide, with Dieter Seelmann. 1979.

Waldboden: Sechsunddreissig Farbstiftzeichnungen, illustrated by Liselotte Lenz. 1979.

Gespräche mit Manès Sperber und Leszek Kolakowski, edited by Alfred Mensak. 1980.

Über Phantasie: Lenz, Gespräche mit Heinrich Böll, Günter Grass, Walter Kempowski, Pavel Kohout, edited by Alfred Mensak. 1982.

Fast ein Triumph: Aus einem Album. 1982.

Elfenbeinturm und Barrikade: Erfahrungen am Schreibtisch. 1983.

Manès Sperber, sein letztes Jahr, with Manès and Jenka Sperber. 1985.

Etwas über Namen (address). 1985.

Kleines Strandgut, illustrated by Liselotte Lenz. 1986.

Am Rande des Friedens. 1989.

Editor, with Egon Schramm, Wippchens charmante Scharmützel, by Julius Stettenheim. 1960.


Critical Studies:

"From the Gulf Stream in the Main Stream: Lenz and Hemingway" by Sumner Kirshner, in Research Studies, June 1967; "Narrowing the Distance: Lenz's Deutschstunde" by Robert H. Paslick, in German Quarterly, March 1973; "The Macabre Festival: A Consideration of Six Stories by Lenz" by Colin Russ, in Deutung und Bedeutung: Studies in German and Comparative Literature, edited by Brigitte Schludermann and others, 1973; "How It Seems and How It Is: Marriage in Three Stories by Lenz" by Esther N. Elstun, in Orbis litterarum 29(2), 1974; "Ironic Reversal in the Short Stories of Lenz," in Neophilologus 58(4), 1974, and Lenz, 1978, both by Brian O. Murdoch; "Lenz's Deutschstunde: A North German Novel," in German Life and Letters, July 1975, and "The 'Lesson' in Lenz's Deutschstunde," in Seminar, February 1977, both by Peter Russell; "Zygmunt's Follies? On Lenz's Heimatmuseum" by Geoffrey P. Butler, in German Life and Letters, January 1980; "Captive Creator in Lenz's Deutschstunde: Writer, Reader, and Response" by Todd Kontje, in German Quarterly 53, 1980; "The Interlocutor and the Narrative Transmission of the Past: On Lenz's Heimatmuseum" by Marilyn Sibley Fries, in Monatshefte, Winter 1987; "The Eye of the Witness: Photography in Lenz's Short Stories" by Hanna Geldrich-Leffmann, in Modern Language Review, April 1989; "Luke, Gentle Servant" by Kathrine Talbot, in Contemporary German Fiction, edited by A. Leslie Wilson, 1996.

* * *

Siegfried Lenz is one of Germany's best known and most widely read authors of the postwar period. His vast oeuvre includes many literary genres. It is, however, his fiction that brought him world fame; his novel Deutschstunde (The German Lesson) has been translated into some 20 languages.

Lenz's formative years, as well as those of other writers of his generation, notably Günter Grass, Martin Walser, Ilse Aichinger, and Hans Magnus Enzensberger, were overshadowed by the Nazi regime. At the age of 17 Lenz was drafted into the German Navy where he witnessed the collapse of the Third Reich. In his early works he tried to come to terms not only with the horrors of Nazism but especially with the moral guilt of those who gave tacit approval to the regime. His subsequent work deals with past and present sociopolitical conflicts. Lenz's literary technique is guided by his desire to establish close contact with the reader. He does not openly accuse and condemn, because he wishes to establish "an effective pact with the reader in order to reduce existing evils." To this end his protagonists are never heroes but rather ordinary people who have become victims of conflict. The basic reason for this conflict, Lenz maintains, is that individuals are never able to determine their own identity; it is shaped by others and by the outside world. This results in lack of understanding and communication, in wrong and often tragic decisions.

In the story "Luke, Gentle Servant" Lenz depicts this dilemma in a single episode that hints at a universal situation. The action takes place in Kenya, Africa, in 1952 at the time of the Mau Mau rebellion against the white settlers. The story is told in the first person, which is meant to draw the reader closely into the events, a device used in a number of Lenz's stories ("The Great Wildenberg," "A Friend of the Government," and "Sixth Birthday"); in all of them the narrator either witnesses the tragedy of a victim's fall or becomes a victim himself. The latter is the case in "Luke, Gentle Servant." The title of the story is ironic in that "gentle" Luke, as his white master (and the narrator of the story) characterized him, is the leader of the Kikuju tribe who exacts vengeance for years of colonial exploitation. The narrator's long and painful journey back to his farm, and the fact that Luke betrays him, symbolizes the white man's guilt for which he is now punished. "Luke, Gentle Servant" is one of the best examples of Lenz's gift as a short fiction writer: he defines his characters with great psychological insight, and the metaphorical and the realistic are tightly interwoven to create tension and suspense.

That Lenz is also a born storyteller becomes evident in his delightfully humorous collections So zärtlich war Suleyken, in which he depicts episodes from his Prussian homeland, and Der Geist der Mirabelle, in which the village Bollerup stands symbolically for a peaceful and uncorrupted country life. Lenz's humor, however, is seldom so unrestricted; in the rest of his work it is often supplanted by moralistic and humanitarian concerns.

"The Lightship," another major story, deals with the conflict between power and order, a common theme in Lenz's work. Three shipwrecked men who have been taken aboard the ship turn out to be dangerous criminals. The conflict that develops is twofold: the criminals' brutality is opposed by the captain, Freytag, representative of established order. That order is also threatened when members of the lightship's crew turn against Freytag out of fear of the criminals. Lenz conveys several messages in "The Lightship"—heroic actions are senseless against a murderous power once it has established itself. The order the captain seems to maintain on his ship (symbol of a trusted societal system) is an illusion, since power can so easily fall into wrong hands. The story warns against society's uncritical trust in political institutions and demands political awareness and vigilance from every citizen in order not to fall prey to abusive powers.

In "The Lightship" Lenz touches also on a theme that is at the center of a number of his stories—the father-son relationship. The father is perceived either as overpowering ("The Laughingstock") or as weak ("Das Wrack" [The Shipwreck], "The Lightship"), or he is overly doting ("Die Nacht im Hotel" [The Night in the Hotel], "The Dictator's Son"). In every case, though, the son goes through a transformation process that will turn him into a responsible adult. "The Laughingstock," for example, depicts Atoq's attempt to free himself from the mighty image of his father, once a great hunter, who has crippled him psychologically and turned him into the worst hunter of the village and the laughing stock of his fellow Eskimos. The development of the story is also typical of Lenz's narrative where an unexpected twist of fate creates suspense and heightens the tragedy of the victim. The meat of the musk-ox, which Atoq finally kills and which will prove his prowess to the villagers, is eaten by bears. The killing, however, has broken the father's power, and Atoq, transformed, will set out again on the hunt.

Lenz's work is characterized throughout by a sustained social criticism; he depicts "the moment of truth," as critic Colin Russ points out, in which his characters are exposed to a situation where everything that was taken for granted is suddenly doubtful, endangered, or is destroyed. Put to the test, many of these characters break. But Lenz's compassion and sympathy for his characters and their misfortune is also characteristic of his work because, as he notes, "in our world the artist also has become an accessory—to unlawfulness, hunger, persecution and perilous dreams." It is his solidarity with those fellow human beings who have fallen victims to a harsh reality that has contributed to Lenz's success as a humane observer of his time.

—Renate Benson