Novalis (Friedrich Leopold von Hardenberg; 1772–1802)

views updated May 14 2018

NOVALIS (Friedrich Leopold von Hardenberg; 17721802)

NOVALIS (Friedrich Leopold von Hardenberg; 17721802), German poet, aphorist, theoretician, and student of the natural sciences. "Novalis" was the pseudonym of Friedrich Leopold von Hardenberg, who helped formulate the program of Early German Romanticism and penned its most enduring literary works. He remains known in the English-speaking world for few works: Hymnen an die Nacht (1800; Hymns to the night), the unfinished novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen (1802), and the mystical-political essay Die Christenheit oder Europa (1799; Christianity or Europe). International interest extends to his fragment collections Blütenstaub (1798; Pollen) and Glauben und Liebe oder Der König und die Königin (1798; Faith and love or the king and the queen), the prose Die Lehrlinge zu Sais (1798; The novices of Sais), the Geistliche Lieder (1799; Spiritual songs), and his wide-ranging notebooks.

A descendant of twelfth-century aristocracy, the baron (Freiherr) von Hardenberg was born into a Pietistic family of stable means. Groomed to follow his father in the administration of Saxony's saltworks, he studied at the universities of Jena (where Friedrich Schiller was his history professor) and Leipzig (where he met Friedrich Schlegel). After 1795 Hardenberg worked for the civil service near his home in Weissenfels and immediately fell in love with the young Sophie von Kühn. Her 1797 death left its mark on his writings, but their affair's importance has been exaggerated by biographers. In 17981799 Hardenberg studied natural science at the Freiberg Mining Academy, where he became engaged to Julie von Charpentier. Hardenberg returned to work vigorously in 1799 but soon weakened from tuberculosis (probably contracted from Sophie), which ended his life at twenty-nine.

The brief span of Hardenberg's life helps specify his literary and cultural significance. A member of the generation of the 1770s, he was among the first to experience the vigorous, distinctly German culture of classicismone upon which to build and against which to rebel. The writings of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (17291781), Johann Gottfried von Herder (17441803), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (17491832), and Friedrich Schiller (17591805), and the philosophy of Immanuel Kant (17241804) and Johann Gottlieb Fichte (17621814) provoked both emulation and rejection in Hardenberg's generation, which included his fellow Romantics Ludwig Tieck (17731853) and the Schlegel brothers, August Wilhelm (17671845) and Friedrich (17721829), the philosophers Friedrich Wilhelm von Schelling (17751854) and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (17701831), and the composer Ludwig van Beethoven (17701827). In youth they all greeted the French Revolution as opening a radically new era. However, Hardenberg's early death set him apart in that he never experienced the nationalistic and reactionary climate wrought in the German states by the Napoleonic Wars after 1800. Hardenberg's writings remain post-Revolutionary, driven by the present's urgency and the future's infinite malleabilitytwo hallmarks of what German scholarship recognizes as Early (rather than Late) Romanticism.

Hardenberg's major writings begin with the Fichtestudien (Fichte studies) of 17951796, which seek to understand, expand, and criticize the post-Kantian philosopher. While agreeing that the "I" makes the known world, Hardenberg insists that this world is also a "You" interacting with the self in mediations such as language. Notes entitled "Poeticisms" and "Logological Fragments" explore this power of language and formulate central tenets of Romanticism. "Poesy is the basis of society," claims Hardenberg, "The world must be romanticized." This historically first use of the word "Romantic" in its modern sense proclaims a moral imperative to refashion society as an aesthetic construct.

Hardenberg appended the pseudonym "Novalis" to all four of his published writings but never used it otherwise. Taken from the ancestral estate von der Rode or de novali ('from the cleared land'), it announced Hardenberg's post-Revolutionary program and disguised his true identity. It was aptly chosen. In 1798 the aphoristic Pollen 's approach to culture, religion, and politics as domains for Romantic transformation passed relatively unnoticed, but the strictly political Faith and Love annoyed the Prussian king, whose censor stopped its second installment in press. Even Hardenberg's friends were confused by this work, which remains controversial today. The following year they declined to publish Christianity or Europe, which invokes an idealized medieval age to call for a radical "reunification" of Europe's separate nations and disparate branches of knowledge.

Facing outside resistance and his own mortality, Hardenberg turned to religious writing. Some of his unorthodox Spiritual Songs were used in congregational songbooks, and his Hymns to the Night were an immediate sensation. Romantically mixing prose and verse, their mystical vision of death's overcoming (which drew on notes about Sophie) hid a subversive interpretation of Christianity as a mere stage toward Romantic religion, in which one chooses one's own mediator for an unrepresentable Absolute.

The Hymns' popularity was rivaled by that of the posthumous Heinrich von Ofterdingen (1802), which Hardenberg called "my political novel." Quintessentially Romantic, this bildungsroman ('novel of education') fuses medieval legends with fairy tales, dreams, and visions. It contains "Klingsohr's Fairy Tale," an allegory of universal renewal with alchemical, scientific, and political allusions.

Hardenberg published scarcely eighty pages but quickly reached fame through the two-volume edition of his writings (Novalis Schriften) printed five times between 1802 and 1837.

See also German Literature and Language ; Romanticism .


Primary Sources

Novalis. Henry von Ofterdingen. Translated by Palmer Hilty. New York, 1964. Reprinted, Prospect Heights, Ill., 1990.

. Hymns to the Night. Translated by Dick Higgins. Kingston, N.Y., 1988.

. Novalis Schriften. Edited by Paul Kluckhohn, Richard Samuel, Hans-Joachim Mähl, et al. Stuttgart, 1965.

. Philosophical Writings. Translated and edited by Margaret Mahony Stoljar. Albany, N.Y., 1977.

Secondary Sources

Neubauer, John. Novalis. Boston, 1980.

O'Brien, Wm. Arctander. Novalis: Signs of Revolution. Durham, N.C., and London, 1995.

Wm. Arctander O'Brien


views updated May 14 2018


The German poet and author Novalis (1772-1801) was the most important poet and imaginative writer of the early German romantic movement. Both his poetry and his prose writings express a mystical conviction in the symbolic meaning and unity of life.

Novalis, whose real name was Baron Friedrich Leopold von Hardenberg, was born of an aristocratic family in Wiederstedt, Saxony, on May 2, 1772. While studying philosophy and law at the universities of Jena and Leipzig, he met the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte and the poet Friedrich von Schiller. He also became friends with Friedrich von Schlegel, later the chief theoretician of the romantic school. Novalis also studied at the University of Wittenberg and from 1794 to 1796 worked as an official in Tennstädt.

At Tennstädt, Novalis became engaged to 13-year-old Sophie von Kühn, who died in 1797. Her death affected him deeply, and in the same year he began his Hymnen an die Nacht (Hymns to the Night), which were published in 1800. In these poems he recounted his experience of Sophie's death and his conversion to a kind of Christian mysticism in which he longed for his own death in order to be reunited with his beloved.

Despite his longings for death, however, Novalis continued his career. He turned to the study of mine engineering, married Julie von Charpentier in 1798 (while maintaining his mystical union with Sophie), and in 1799 became mine inspector in Weissenfels. He had advanced to supervisor by the time of his death.

During these years Novalis also developed his mystical view of the world. In the fragmentary novel Die Lehrlinge zu Sais (1798; The Novices at Sais) Novalis expressed his belief that the things of the natural world are symbols whose meanings can be discovered by poets. His most important novel, Heinrich von Ofterdingen, incomplete at his death, tells of the initiation of a young medieval poet into the mysteries of his calling. Heinrich undertakes a journey, receives poetic instruction, and falls in love. The dominant idea of the novel is the harmony and eternal significance of all life and nature. It also presents the image of the blaue Blume (blue flower), which later became the romantics' favorite symbol for any object of mystical aspiration.

Novalis's mystical attitudes also found expression in Geistliche Lieder (Religious Songs) and in the essay Die Christenheit oder Europa (1799; "Christendom or Europe"), which extols the unity of faith and society made possible by medieval Catholicism. Several of Novalis's writings were left unfinished at his death, of tuberculosis, at Weissenfels on March 25, 1801.

Further Reading

For English readers the best general work on Novalis is Frederick Hiebel, Novalis (1954; 2d rev. ed. 1959), which provides a detailed study of his life and spiritual development, as well as a careful analysis of each of his major works. For shorter general discussions see Ralph Tymms, German Romantic Literature (1955), and Michael Hamburger, Reason and Energy (1957). Oskar Walzel, German Romanticism, translated by Alma E. Lussky (1932), deals with Novalis's religious attitudes; and August Closs, Medusa's Mirror (1957), offers a detailed analysis of the Hymns to the Night.


views updated May 23 2018

Novalis (1772–1801) German Romantic poet and novelist, b. Friedrich Leopold, Baron von Hardenberg. He began his major work, the mythical romance Heinrich von Ofterdingen, in 1799, but had not completed it by the time of his death. His work influenced the development of German Romanticism.