Viebig, Clara (1860–1952)

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Viebig, Clara (1860–1952)

German novelist and short-story writer. Name variations: Clara Viebig Cohn. Born in 1860 in Trier, Germany; died in 1952 in Berlin, Germany; educated in Düsseldorf and at the Berlin High School of Music; married Fritz Theodor Cohn (a publisher).

Selected writings:

Kinder der Eifel (Children of the Eifel, 1897); Das Weiberdorf (Village of Women, 1900); Das tägliche Brot (1900, published in English as Our Daily Bread, 1909); Die Wacht am Rhein (The Watch on the Rhine, 1902); Das schlafende Heer (1904, published in English as The Sleeping Army, 1929); Einer Mutter Sohn (1907, published in English as The Son of His Mother, 1913); Das Kreuz im Venn (The Cross in Venn, 1908); Die vor den Toren (ThoseOutside the Gates, 1910); Töchter der Hekuba (1917, published in English as Daughters of Hecuba, 1922); Insel der Hoffnung (1933); Der Vielgeliebte und die Vielgehasste (1936).

Born in 1860 in the Eifel region of Germany, Clara Viebig used the area of her birth for the settings of her early novels, an area that had been featured very rarely in earlier German literature. It was Viebig who familiarized German readers with the region's bleak highlands of volcanic origin, forbidding swamplands, and vast pinelands. The novelist showed an uncanny talent for blending her characters and the landscape of Eifel, a technique that perhaps can best be seen in the story "Am Totenmaar" from her 1897 collection of short stories Kinder der Eifel. In that tale the austere physical setting of the Eifel countryside perfectly reflects the moral rigor of an aging shepherd, and the loneliness of his abandoned child.

Viebig's early work also clearly reflects the influence of Gabriele Reuter 's landmark 1895 novel Aus guter Familie (From a Good Family), the story of a sensitive young woman of the upper middle class whose conservative, prudish education and social training doom her to a life of sadness. Viebig, however, went much further than Reuter in her examination of life's erotic side, a subject treated with a humorous touch in Das Weiberdorf (Village of Women), published in 1900.

In 1904's Das schlafende Heer (The Sleeping Army), Viebig considers how the seemingly servile demeanor of Polish peasants conceals feelings of patriotism and a seething hatred for the Germans who occupy their homeland. In Das Kreuz im Venn (The Cross in Venn), published in 1908, she similarly paints a somewhat contemptuous portrait of the masses, who in the book often act in concert with little thought about the nature or the consequences of their actions. In this particular work the novelist explores the actions and reactions of religious pilgrims to the shrine at Echternach in the Eifel region.

Of all Viebig's novels, Die Wacht am Rhein (The Watch on the Rhine, 1902) received the greatest international acceptance and acclaim. Set in Düsseldorf, where she had lived for a time during her childhood, the novel (not to be confused with Lillian Hellman 's later play) details some of the diversity of the German peoples in a three-generation study of a Rhineland family into which a Prussian has married.

After marrying successful publisher Fritz Theodor Cohn, Viebig spent much of her adult life in Berlin. The city also became the setting for several of her later novels, most of which focused on social interaction among the classes of German society. In 1900's Das tägliche Brot (Our Daily Bread), she offers an extremely sympathetic portrait of the day-to-day life of a woman toiling as a servant in the homes of the lower middle class. Viebig showed a particular facility for portraying characters motivated by the most basic of human needs and emotions. This is particularly evident in two of her later novels, Einer Mutter Sohn (The Son of His Mother, 1907) and Töchter der Hekuba (Daughters of Hecuba, 1917). Another of her later works, Die vor den Toren (Those Outside the Gates, 1910), explores the difficulties faced by people affected by Berlin's urban expansion. At the turn of the century, Viebig was one of Germany's most read novelists, and many of her works were translated into English. She died in Berlin in 1952.


Buck, Claire, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.

Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature. 2nd ed. NY: Columbia University Press, 1980.

Don Amerman , freelance writer, Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania