Narrating (Im)Maturity: The Progressive Popularization of Enlightenment Principles in Wieland’s Geschichte des Agathon and Engel’s Herr Lorenz Stark

Sarah Vandegrift Eldridge


This article argues for scholarly attention to so-called ‘trivial literature’ as a site of the development of Enlightenment ideals of self-reflection and critical thinking. After establishing the bifurcation of the ‘canonical’ and the ‘trivial’ in literary scholarship, it traces 18th-century philosophical concern with spreading enlightenment in essays by Kant and Herder. It then turns to analyses of a canonical work of literature—Christoph Martin Wieland’s History of Agathon—and an exemplar of trivial literature—Johann Jakob Engel’s Herr Lorenz Stark—to assert that these novels, their significant differences in difficulty or accessibility notwithstanding, both depict processes of enlightenment and induce these processes in their readers via distinctive thematic and formal means. Trivial literature becomes a first step toward processes of individual maturity—and more difficult reading. I thus argue that it makes sense to move beyond the trivial/canonical bifurcation and investigate the literary world of the late eighteenth century as a malleable continuum. (SVE)