The Thirty Years' War as Unifying Heritage: Historical Fiction, Ecumenism, and German Nation-Building (1871-1920)
Barthold, Emily Elizabeth Sieg
Dupree, Mary Helen
To investigate how literary narratives of the Thirty Years’ War could reinterpret this conflict as unifying heritage for Protestants and Catholics in the Imperial German nation-state, this study presents the results of a survey of thirty-four German-language historical novels published between 1871 and 1920 that seek to narrate a national history of the Thirty Years’ War. This war, which took place roughly between 1618 and 1648, has generally been termed a religious war, and when Imperial German novelists wrote historical fictions about the war, they wrote under the assumption that their readership basically understood the Thirty Years’ War as a conflict fought between the Imperial Catholic forces of the Holy Roman Empire and the motley Protestant factions who resisted. Given the salience of confession in the popular imagination of the Thirty Years’ War, this study explores how literary portrayals of this conflict reflect Imperial German understandings of what it meant to be German and whether this “Germanness” was contingent upon confession. To address this guiding question, the study is divided into four chapters which consider confessional identities under the lens of gender, region, language, and modernity, respectively. In spite of the diversity of modes of historical scholarship and political thought from 1871 to 1920, this study argues that literary treatments of the Thirty Years’ War from this period: (1) mask contemporary concerns in historical imaginings in order to comment on topics such as national unity, ecumenical reconciliation, Macht- and Moralpolitik, women’s and Jewish (anti-)emancipation, and/or the legitimacy of violence; (2) consistently recast power politics and greed, as opposed to religion, as the driving force behind this catastrophic war in order to present the collective trauma of the Thirty Years’ War as both the crucible of an overarching German national identity and a warning against the peril of internal German division; and (3) in a vast majority of cases portray German national identity as compatible with the Protestant as well as Catholic confessions, and in a minority of cases with Jewish and other religious identities.
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