Secret Germany: Stefan George and His Circle

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Overview

Stefan George (1868–1933) was one of the most important and influential poets to have written in German. His work, in its originality and impact, easily ranks with that of Goethe, Holderlin, or Rilke. Yet George's reach extended far beyond the sphere of literature. Particularly during his last three decades, George gathered around himself a group of men who subscribed to his homoerotic and idiosyncratic vision of life and sought to transform that vision into reality. George considered his circle to be the embodiment and defender of the "real" but "secret" Germany, opposed to the false values of contemporary bourgeois society. Some of his disciples, friends, and admirers were themselves historians, philosophers, and poets. Their works profoundly affected the intellectual and cultural attitudes of Germany's elite during the critical postwar years of the Weimar Republic. Essentially conservative in temperament and outlook, George and his circle occupy a central, but problematic, place in the rise of proto-fascism in Germany. Their own surrogate state offered a miniature model of a future German state: enthusiastic followers submitting themselves without question to the figure and will of a charismatic leader believed to be in possession of mysterious, even quasi-divine, powers.When he died several months after the Nazi takeover, George was one of the most famous and revered figures in Germany. Today the importance of George and his circle has largely been forgotten. In this, the first full biography of George to appear in any language, Robert E. Norton traces the poet's life and rise to fame.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Robert E. Norton . . . has done what no European scholar outside Stefan George's Circle has undertaken: he has produced a comprehensive biography of the man, poet, teacher and leader. . . . The title of this important biography deliberately signals what Stefan George systematically pursued: a small band of devoted followers sworn to his views of humanity, culture, influence, and power. . . . There will always be admirers of Stefan George who will emphasize what they see as the attractive elements in his ideas. But Norton has concluded that the pernicious predominated in Stefan George's ideas and conduct."—Peter Hoffman, H-German, H-Net Reviews

"The publication of this book is a literary event. It is the first full-scale biography of Stefan George in any language that was not written by a disciple or friend or follower. As comprehensive, fact-filled treatment of the poet's life and times, it provides a large fund of information about George and his circle. The author has done an enormous amount of research and has organized it chronologically into an impressive account. . . . There is every reason to be grateful to Robert Norton for enlightening us about the strangely mesmerizing figure of Stefan George."—Henry Lea, Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies

"George's distinctive voice became closely entangled with images of destruction wrought by heroic leaders, and it is hard to read this work today without sensing the looming shadow of events he himself helped to promote. It is strange that a man whose writings and personality did so much to frame the cultural matrix within which Hitler could seduce the educated classes has been so conspicuously ignored in recent decades. Not only does Robert Norton's comprehensive book have no German predecessor; it is the first biography written from outside the George circle itself, and it even seems that no one before Norton had systematically worked through the Stefan George archive in Stuttgart."—David Fernbach, New Left Review

"In the first third of the twentieth century, many men (but few women) saw Stefan George not only as a major poet but as a divinely inspired prophet, the spiritual centre of a counterculture often called 'the new Empire' or 'secret Germany' . . . . Until 1933, the George Circle was a creative milieu in which academic scholarship was rejuvenated by contact with living literature and a usable past. By describing not only its intrigues but also its achievements so accessibly, Robert Norton has brought back into focus an essential element of early twentieth-century German culture."—Richie Robertson, Times Literary Supplement

"Norton exhibits a nice sense of humor and welcome unpretentiousness. . . . Secret Germany is an imposing achievement of research, readability, and exemplary fairness: dedication without partisanship, judicious balance of pros and cons, and leaving no pebble—let alone stone—unturned."—John Simon, New Criterion

"Robert Norton's ambitious new study of Stefan George is doubly groundbreaking for George scholarship: not only is it the first English-language biography of George, but it is also the first comprehensive biography not written by a friend or self-proclaimed disciple of the poet, in any language. . . . In his carefully researched and engagingly written biography, Norton attempts to show that George and his circle were instrumental in the creation of a cultural environment that 'made the events in Germany leading up to and following 1933 not just imaginable, but also feasible.' . . . Secret Germany has earned much well-deserved praise, including the Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History, and for the serious student of German poetics or cultural politics there is a wealth of material here, much of which was not previously available in English. That Norton spent over three years researching the writings of the George Circle in various European archives is evident, especially in the later chapters of the work, where he has managed to unearth several new letters and accounts never before published, even in German. Norton's inclusion of a single surviving letter to George by Ernst Glockner, with its startlingly frank admission of the physical—even sexual—intimacy between George and the younger Glockner, must count as the most stunning George discovery in recent years, and should lay to rest the repeated protestations of George disciples regarding the esteemed poet's supposed 'platonic' homoeroticism. . . . To both the casual reader and the serious George scholar, Norton's biography offers a wealth of information and a truly competent analysis of George's role in the cultural sphere of Wilhelminian and Weimar Germany, couched in a lively and often witty narrative form."—Nancy Thuleen, Monatshefte

"Secret Germany is an eminently readable work of scholarship, rising at times to the level of literature. Norton's vivid depictions of people and events, his subtle variations of tone and syntax, and the sense throughout of steady, slowly building catastrophe give this book the fluidity and narrative arc of a fine novel. Equally illuminating are the author's many asides on such matters as human desire and its subterfuges, professional greed and jealousy, and the relationship between poetry and power. With his clear authorial voice, Norton guides the reader through the different levels of Stefan George's self-created inferno, while rendering his judgment of George as a tyrant and megalomaniac whose conception of the poet as Fuhrer contributed directly to the rise of the National Socialist dictatorship."—George S. Williamson, Journal of Modern History

"Robert Norton's Secret Germany unveils the lives of the writers and thinkers around the charismatic turn-of-the-century figure of Stefan George. Part guru, part cultural icon, part cult leader, George has never been the subject of as detailed a biography as Norton's. A brilliant introduction to poetry, homosociability, and cult practices in early twentieth-century Germany."—Sander L. Gilman, University of Illinois Chicago

"Secret Germany is a truly exceptional book in every respect: it is wonderfully researched, beautifully written, authoritative, engaging, and important. It is written with grace and measure, clarity and wit, so much so that it is hard to put down."—Suzanne Marchand, Louisiana State University

"Robert E. Norton's monumental book on the poet Stefan George and his famous 'circle' of disciples opens a new and truly stunning view on the first third of the twentieth century as one of the most intense, productive, and, at the same time, devastating periods of German history. Largely forgotten today, Stefan George was the poetic authority in whom many protagonists of the Nazi movement saw their most legitimate forerunner, but he was also the 'master' of Graf von Stauffenberg, the spiritus rector of the resistance group that planned the attempt on Hitler's life in July 1944. One of the great merits of this book manifests itself through a unique ambiguity in the reading experience that it offers: with almost infinite detail Norton brings back the flavor of a long-faded intellectual and cultural style; and yet, the figure of Stefan George and the importance that his group achieved in its contemporary environment remain an ambiguous (not to say mysterious) episode in European history."—Sepp Gumbrecht, Stanford University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801433542
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 864
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.80 (d)

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