Grimmelshausen, H. J. C. Von (Johann [Hans] Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen; 1622?–1676)
GRIMMELSHAUSEN, H. J. C. VON (Johann [Hans] Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen; 1622?–1676)
GRIMMELSHAUSEN, H. J. C. VON (Johann [Hans] Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen; 1622?–1676), German writer. Grimmelshausen was born in Gelnhausen in Hesse to a family that descended from the lower nobility but had long practiced bourgeois trades. This sometime soldier, secretary, steward, innkeeper, and village mayor belongs to the handful of seventeenth-century German writers of enduring fame whose work continues to influence German cultural production. His masterpiece, Der abenteuerliche Simplicissimus (1669; The adventurous Simplicissimus), has been translated into many languages, and it, along with his lesser-known works, has influenced such German writers as the Grimm Brothers, Bertolt Brecht, and Günter Grass. As Grimmelshausen typically published under pseudonymous anagrams of his name, his identity as author of a vast prose corpus remained hidden until German philologists uncovered it in 1837/1838.
Scholars generally divide Grimmelshausen's works into four groups. Three satirical novels set in the Thirty Years' War, and the two parts of Der wunderbarliche Vogel-Nest (1672, 1675; The marvelous bird's nest) comprise the "Simplician works," a label Grimmelshausen himself provided. These satirical narrative works, loosely connected by the recurrence of characters and such motifs as a bird's nest that renders its bearer invisible, castigate the folly of the world. Two love stories, Dietwalts und Amelinden anmuthige Lieb- und Leids-Beschreibung (1670; Pleasant description of the love and sorrow of Dietwalt and Amelinde) and Des Durchleuchtigen Printzen Proximi, und seiner ohnvergleichlichen Lympidae Liebs-Geschicht-Erzählung (1672; The love story of the illustrious Prince Proximus and his incomparable Lympida), based on Christian legends, along with a rendering of the biblical Joseph story and a sequel, Musai (1666/1667, 1670), constitute a second group consisting of edifying works that present ideal types. Des Abenteuerlichen Simplicissimi Ewig-währender Calender (1670/71; The adventurous Simplicissimus' perpetual calendar) in the genre of the almanac and a symposium on husbanding wealth, Rathsstübel Plutonis (1672; Plutus' council chamber), number among the ten lesser works that form the third group. The fourth group consists of four tractates, including the anti-Machiavellian Simplicianischer Zweyköpffiger Ratio Status (1670; Simplician twoheaded reason of state) and Deß Weltberuffenen Simplicissimi Pralerey und Gepräng mit seinem Teutschen Michel (1673; The boasting and showing off of the world-famous Simplicissimus with his German Michael), a polemic on language that, while itself displaying nationalistic tendencies, mocks overzealous purists who would purge German of foreign words.
Grimmelshausen's graphic detailing of violence and the vicissitudes of war in Simplicissimus, Trutz Simplex: Oder ausführliche und wunderseltzame Lebensbeschreibung der Ertzbetrügerin und Landstörtzerin Courasche (1670; translated as The runagate courage), and Der seltzame Springinsfeld (1670; The strange Hop-in-the-Field) offers a compelling look at a period when the economic and social fabric of the German territories was rent by armed conflict in the name of religion. The Peace of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years' War in 1648, leaving the German empire divided into sixty-one imperial cities and around three hundred sovereign states, offered an autocratic solution to religious strife by ordaining that the religion of the ruler dictate the religion of the territory. Grimmelshausen, who had converted to Catholicism sometime before 1649, would devote his voluminous oeuvre to railing against the venality and horrors of this world, asserting ideals of good rulers and proper husbandry of personal and public wealth, and writing both exemplary and cautionary tales of redemptive import, and to literary experimentation with mending the broken world by incorporating and piecing together its diverse texts in his writing.
Grimmelshausen's linguistic virtuosity and searing critique of contemporary mores made him a popular author in his own time, as evidenced by the proliferation of imitations, most notably by Johann Beer (1655–1700), and by accounts of reading his books by members of both the nobility and the urban middle classes. Although the scant biographical information about Grimmelshausen provides no indication of extended education, his work evidences broad reading of (pseudo)scientific, philosophical, religious, and literary texts and displays encyclopedic knowledge. His oeuvre indicates, furthermore, engagement with the literary and cultural production and debates of his day as they had been recorded and transmitted across Europe.
As is typical of seventeenth-century prose, hybridity characterizes Grimmelshausen's writings. Indeed, he dabbled in and mixed genres. The three aforementioned wartime novels reveal in their pseudoautobiographical stance affinities to the Spanish picaresque novel; the rapscallion protagonists struggle to survive in a harsh world while sharing in its corruption. These same novels, however, draw on a variety of traditions, both fiction and nonfiction.
Grimmelshausen's oeuvre shares in the nascent cultural nationalism of the period when, for example, it ridicules those who ape French manners or facetiously notes that the entry of a foreign word into the German language always means trouble, as, for example, the militant word marschieren, 'to march'. Grimmelshausen thus remarks on the linguistic dominance of the French in the art of war, and war, he will remind his readers repeatedly, gives humankind license to do its worst.
Grimmelshausen's Nuremberg publisher, Wolf Eberhard Felsecker, advertised these works as delightful and entertaining but also affirmed their didacticism. In fact, the energy, unruliness, and transgressiveness of Grimmelshausen's narratives, derived from the literary arsenal of the Renaissance at its bawdiest—bodily excess, cross-dressing, pranks, and farce—exert a fascination over readers that can obscure the yearning in these texts for stable social arrangements, divine justice, and Christian redemption.
See also German Literature and Language ; Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) .
Grimmelshausen, Hans Jakob Christoph von. Gesammelte Werke in Einzelausgaben. Edited by Rolf Tarot. 13 vols. Tübingen, 1967–1976.
——. The Life of Courage, the Notorious Thief, Whore, and Vagabond. Translated by Michael Mitchell. Sawtry, U.K., 2001. Translation of Trutz Simplex; Oder ausführliche Beschreibung der Ertzbetrügerin und Landstörtzerin Courasche (1670).
——. Simplicissimus. Translated by Michael Mitchell. Sawtry, U.K., 1999. Translation of Der abenteuerliche Simplicissimus (1669).
——. Tearaway. Translated by Michael Mitchell. Sawtry, U.K., 2003. Translation of Der seltsame Springinsfeld (1670).
——. Werke. Edited by Dieter Breuer. 3 vols. Frankfurt am Main, 1989–1997.
Breuer, Dieter. Grimmelshausen Handbuch. Munich, 1999.
Menhennet, Alan. Grimmelshausen the Storyteller: A Study of the "Simplician" Novels. Columbia, S.C., 1997.
Negus, Kenneth. Grimmelshausen. Twayne World Author Series, no. 291. New York, 1974.
Otto, Karl F., Jr., ed. A Companion to the Works of Grimmelshausen. Rochester, N.Y., 2003.
Tatlock, Lynne, ed. Seventeenth Century German Prose. The German Library, no. 7. New York, 1993.
Wagener, Hans. "Johann Jacob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen." In German Baroque Writers, 1661–1730, edited by James Hardin. Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 168. Detroit, 1996.