Swiss literature

views updated

Swiss literature: The literature of Switzerland is written in German, French, Italian, and Romansh, with German predominating. The extensive literature in Romansh dialect (see Rhaeto-Romanic) is little known outside Switzerland. During the Middle Ages the larger monasteries, notably St. Gall, were known as cultural centers. Among the monks of considerable literary achievements were Notker Balbulus, Notker Labeo, Ulrich Boner, and several monks called Ekkehard. These men wrote mainly in Middle High German, but at the same time High German and Swiss regional dialects came into literary use. Religious writing was established by the great reformer, Zwingli, as well as by Calvin, who lived in Geneva for a time. Later writers in this tradition were, in the 19th cent., Jeremias Gotthelf, and, in the 20th cent., the priest and novelist Heinrich Federer (1866–1928) and Albert Steffen, leader of the anthroposophical movement. The celebrated French writers Jean Jacques Rousseau and Germaine de Staël were born in Switzerland, as was Benjamin Constant. Other writers in French include the literary critics Louis de Muralt (1665–1743), H. F. Amiel, and Édouard Rod, and the novelist C. F. Ramuz. The chief Swiss writers in Italian were Stefans Franscini (1726–1857) and Pietro Peri (1794–1869). Heinrich Pestalozzi was a major innovator in education as well as an outstanding literary figure. Swiss books for children, notably The Swiss Family Robinson by J. D. Wyss, and Heidi by Johanna Spyri, have become worldwide classics. In the 18th cent. major Swiss authors included the poet and scientist Albrecht von Haller, and the critics Johann Bodmer and Johann Breitinger. Leading figures of the 19th cent. were the novelist C. F. Meyer, the historian Jacob Burckhardt, Gottfried Keller, and the art historian Heinrich Wölfflin. The poet C. F. G. Spitteler won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1919. Jakob Schaffner (1875–1944), Friedrich Dürrenmatt, and Max Frisch have also gained international renown in the 20th cent., as have the eminent scholars Emil Staiger and Jean Starobinski. Recent literary talents include Erika Burkart, Otto F. Walter, and Adolf Muschg.

See A. Natan, ed., Swiss Men of Letters (1970); W. Sorell, The Swiss (1972); P. Demetz, After the Fires (1986).