Doeblin, Alfred

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DOEBLIN, ALFRED (1878–1957), German poet, novelist, and physician. Born in Stettin, Doeblin was raised in poverty in Berlin in an assimilated family. After studying medicine in Berlin and Freiburg from 1900 he started working as a physician in 1905; later on he specialized in psychiatry, opening his own neurological practice in 1911. At the same time, Doeblin began publishing in the expressionistic journal Der Sturm and wrote his first stories, collected in Die Ermordung der Butterblume (1913). He gained fame with Die drei Spruenge des Wang-lun (1915; Three Leaps of Wang-Lun, 1991), a novel about a Chinese rebel who becomes the apostle of a new religion. With this and the following important novels Wallenstein (1920), Berge, Meere und Giganten (1924), and Berlin-Alexanderplatz (1929), Doeblin essentially initiated the modern novel in German literature, dealing with the central questions of his time such as war, technology, and the metropolis. Even though Doeblin left the Jewish community and converted to Catholicism, though not until living in exile in the U.S. in 1941, he never completely abandoned Judaism; on the contrary, particularly in the 1920s, traveling through Poland, he participated in the discourse on East European Judaism and Zionism. Already in Zion und Europa (1921) he opposed Western assimilated Judaism with East European Judaism, and even more so in his account of his travels through Poland, Reise in Polen (1926; Journey to Poland, 1991). After the attack of the Jews of the Berlin Scheunenviertel in 1923 he wrote even more strongly about Zionism, leaning, however, toward the Jewish Territorial Movement founded by Nathan *Birnbaum, with whom he was in personal contact (cf. Zionismus und westliche Kultur, 1924). Fleeing from Germany to Zurich and Paris in 1933 Doeblin again raised the question of the Jewish people in several essays (Unser Dasein, 1933; Juedische Erneuerung, 1933). Publishing also in Birnbaum's journals, Der Ruf and Der juedische Volksgeist, at that time, Doeblin still took the territorial position, arguing that the Jews should settle not only in Palestine but throughout the entire world, a position which he changed in favor of Zionism shortly afterwards, as reflected in his essay Flucht und Sammlung des Judenvolks (1935). After Birnbaum's death in 1937 and criticism by Ludwig *Marcuse, Doeblin abandoned the territorial position (cf. Von Fuehrern und Schimmelpilzen, 1938), though he still emphasized the right to a territorial home for the Jews. In 1940 he barely escaped from Paris to the United States, as he recounts in his autobiographical work Schicksalsreise (1949; Destiny's Journey, 1992). In exile from 1933, he published several important novels such as Babylonische Wanderung (1934) and Pardon wird nicht gegeben (1935) and began the trilogy November 1918 (1938). In 1940, under the guidance of the Jesuits, he converted to Catholicism. He described his conversion in Der unsterbliche Mensch; Ein religioeses Gespraech (1946). After World War ii, Doeblin returned to Europe, living in Paris and Germany, where he edited a literary periodical in Mainz and completed the trilogy November 1918 with the novels Verratenes Volk (1948), Heimkehr der Fronttruppen (1949), and Karlund Rosa (1950). His last novel Hamlet: oder Die lange Nachtnimmt ein Ende (1956; Tales of a Long Night, 1984) underscores his religious journey.


Alfred Doeblin zum siebzigsten Geburtstag (1948); R. Links, Alfred Doeblin, Leben und Werk (1965); H.-P. Bayerdoerfer, in: G. Grimm (ed.), Im Zeichen Hiobs (1986); K. Mueller-Salget, Alfred Doeblin (1988); T. Isermann, Der Text und das Unsagbare (1989); M. Prangel, in: S. Onderdelinden (ed.), Interbellum und Exil (1991), 162–80.

[Andreas Kilcher (2nd ed.)]

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Doeblin, Alfred