Büchners Lenz: Eine kindliche Pastorale im Muttergeiste Rousseaus

Sylvain Guarda


The essay revisits Georg Büchner’s novella Lenz (1835) through the prism of eighteenth-century childhood ideologies. The novella purportedly depicts a period of aimless wanderings in the life of the mentally ill Sturm und Drang writer, J.M.R. Lenz (1751–92). An analysis of the recurrent child motif and of the philosophical problem of “stillness” versus “striving,” however, reveals a surprising indebtedness to Rousseau’s yearning for inward peace rather than J.M.R. Lenz’s altruistic ideal of constant striving and moral perfectibility. The study of the main character’s repeated regressions into childhood leads to a reevaluation. The novella can no longer be considered as a precise literary depiction of a schizophrenic case or a symbolic rebellion against the almighty father as generally argued. Büchner’s Lenz, in its poetic blending of Lenz and Rousseau, presents a feverishly vivid portrait of the author’s double life, a constant balancing act between political activism (progression) and poetic reflection on Mother Earth (regression). (SG; in German)

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