Sternheim, Carl

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STERNHEIM, CARL (1878–1942), German playwright. The son of a banker, Sternheim was born in Leipzig and, after university studies, lived in several German cities. His early writing showed little originality, bearing the imprint of Hauptmann, Wedekind, Wagner, Nietzsche, and George. His creative breakthrough occurred in Die Hose (1911), the first in a series of witty and abusively anti-bourgeois comedies, later grouped together in the cycle Aus dem buergerlichen Heldenleben with plays such as Buerger Schippel (1913) and Der Snob (1914). Sternheim admired the feudal aristocracy but showed a distaste for the upper middle class. In attacking the bourgeoisie he was attacking the bourgeois in himself, just as his often vitriolic antisemitic outbursts were a form of self-abuse, as in his essays Berlin oder Juste Milieu (1920) and Tasso oder Die Kunst des Juste Milieu (1921). Sternheim thus unwittingly played into the hands of Hitler. His comedies are nevertheless remarkable for their immaculate construction and for the terseness of their diction. In his short stories, mostly collected in Chronik des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts (2 vols., 1918), Sternheim allowed linguistic experimentation to get out of hand; this has made his only novel, Europa (1920), unreadable. A document of strange interest is Sternheim's autobiography, Vorkriegseuropa im Gleichnis meines Lebens (1936). He suffered from a nervous disorder and died in Brussels.


H. Karasek, Carl Sternheim (Ger., 1965); W. Wendler, Carl Sternheim, Weltvorstellung und Kunstprinzipien (1966), 307–22 (bibl.); S. Kaznelson (ed.), Juden im deutschen Kulturbereich (19623), 52–53; W. Stauch and V. Quitzow, Carl Sternheim, Bewusstsein und Form (1969).

[Wolfgang Paulsen]