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Pessimism in Progress: Hermann Sudermann and the Liberal German Bourgeoisie

Once ranked among the most internationally read authors at the turn of the nineteenth century, the name Hermann Sudermann (1857–1928) today has been all but forgotten. This dissertation frames the life and work of this once famous author in the context of the liberal German bourgeois milieu. Not only was Sudermann a liberal bourgeois, his works reflected the preferred styles, attitudes, and worldview of this social class. I argue that the rise and fall of Hermann Sudermann’s career, as it was inextricably connected to the fortunes of the liberal German bourgeoisie, mirrors the trajectory thereof. As the appeal of bourgeois liberalism waned from the late nineteenth century into the twentieth, so too did the reception of its author par excellence. With the end of his life in 1928, and then the end of the Weimar Republic in 1933, Hermann Sudermann and the legacy of the liberal German bourgeoisie came to an abrupt end. Most peculiar was that Hermann Sudermann had written about the decline of bourgeois liberalism for decades in advance of its collapse. This is part of a self-fulfilling prophecy, an affliction that affected many of his contemporaries. Instead of emanating a persistently progressive force and survivalist spirit, the tendency was aestheticist withdrawal, and resignation to fate. Using his roman à clef, titled Der tolle Professor, as an entry point into the life work and worldview of Hermann Sudermann, this dissertation focuses attention on the representation of liberalism, the bourgeoisie, and pessimism.