How to Read: Lessons from Christoph Martin Wieland’s Shandean Turn in Der neue Amadis

Andrea Speltz


This article situates Wieland’s Der Neue Amadis within the history of reading pedagogy in Germany. It begins by arguing that Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy furnishes Wieland with the narrative techniques for advancing critical reading practices. It proceeds with a brief outline of the major developments in eighteenth-century reading pedagogy, which culminate in the use of imaginative literature as a means to develop various mental faculties. Lastly, it formulates the pedagogical goals of Der Neue Amadis and compares them to other reading methodologies of the time. The main argument is that reading Der Neue Amadis with an eye for its pedagogical goals gives us a clearer picture of how imaginative literature could be seen to promote the goal of enlightenment. (AS)

Christoph Martin Wieland wrote Der Neue Amadis (1771) at the height of his enthusiasm for Laurence Sterne. Wieland’s correspondence from the late 1760s and early 1770s demonstrates an intense engagement with Sterne’s fiction, especially the comic novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759–1767). He expresses his admiration for the novel and its author in a letter to Johann Georg Ritter von Zimmermann dated 9 November 1767: Ich gestehe Ihnen, mein Freund, daß Sterne beynah der einzige Autor in der Welt ist, den ich mit einer Art von ehrfurchtsvoller Bewunderung ansehe. Ich werde sein Buch studiren so lang ich lebe, und es doch noch nicht genug studirt haben. Ich kenne keines, worinn soviel ächte socratische Weisheit, eine so tiefe Kenntniß des Menschen, ein so feines Gefühl des Schönen und Guten, eine so grosse Menge neuer und feiner moralischer Bemerkungen, soviel gesunde Beurteilung, mit so vielen Witz und Genie verbunden wäre. (Briefwechsel 3: 479)

For over a decade, Wieland refers to Tristram Shandy as his favourite book.1

He plans a translation of the nine-volume tome and describes his head as taking a Shandean turn, “eine ganz Tristram Shandeische Wendung” (Briefwechsel 3: 559 and 3: 485). Later in life, he will claim to have read the novel over thirty times (Starnes 2: 468).

Sterne’s influence on Wieland’s works, and Der Neue Amadis in specific, has not escaped critical attention. Nineteenth-century scholarship on source material, the so-called Quellenforschung, quickly identified the presence of a self-reflexive narrator and fictive readers as important features of Wieland’s Sterne reception:2 “Wie der englische Humorist, liebt er [Wieland] es, mit seinen Lesern über seine Schreibweise zu plaudern” (Behmer 41). Twentieth-century scholars concurred: Wieland’s narrative self-reflectivity and addresses to the reader are products of his Shandean turn, which began as early as 1763.3

In the 1970s and 80s scholarly trends in narratology and reception theory gave rise to a number of studies dedicated to the relationship between Wielandian narrators and readers (Dittrich, Sommer, Wilson Narrative Strategy, and Marchand). A claim common to several of these studies is that Wieland employs a self-reflexive narrator and fictive readers in an effort to “train his readers to read properly” (Wilson, Narrative Strategy 111). Wieland’s commitment to educating his readership is a driving force behind much of his writing, which emerges more clearly during the 1760s, that is, during his intense engagement with Sterne (McCarthy, Poet as Journalist 127).4

This article builds on narratological-and reception studies by formulating pedagogical goals for Wieland’s text and situating them within the history of reading pedagogy in German-speaking lands.5 Sterne is key to this argument insofar as he furnishes Wieland with the narrative techniques to pursue his pedagogical goals. How does Wieland adapt Sternian techniques for stimulating critical reading practices? What skills should Wieland’s readers be able to demonstrate, and why does Wieland consider such skills important? Developing the ability to reason independently was the main goal of enlightenment, as theorized by Moses Mendelssohn, Immanuel Kant, and Johann Gottfried Herder. Wieland’s contemporaries employed terms such as “Richtigdenken,” “Selbstdenken,” or “Helldenken” as synonyms for enlightenment (McCarthy, Art of Reading 80–81).6 Reading Der Neue Amadis with an eye for its pedagogical goals gives us a clearer picture of what these terms meant and how imaginative literature was seen to promote them.

The poem’s title is ironic. As Wieland explains in the preface, the sixteenth-century Spanish bestseller Amadis de Gaula is one of the chivalric romances found in Don Quixote’s library, the incessant reading of which causes Cervantes’ hero to confuse fact and fiction. Eighteenth-century polemics against the novel started with Amadis de Gaula, because it was seen as fostering a Don Quixotesque or unreflected mode of reading (Wittmann 304). Wieland writes Der Neue Amadis in order to test whether the same notoriously frivolous subject matter can be elevated to achieve the opposite effect. In other words, whereas the sixteenth-century Amadis promotes its readers’ unreflected identification with the hero, the eighteenth-century Amadis teaches readers to reflect on, and be critical of, what they are reading and how they are reading it.

Many of Wieland’s works develop their own poetics, meaning they contain not just a narrative but also suggestions on how that narrative is to be read (Bickenbach, Innere Geschichte 174–247). So what makes Der Neue Amadis the best candidate for a study seeking to formulate Wieland’s pedagogical goals and contextualize them within the history of reading pedagogy? Der Neue Amadis differs from Wieland’s others texts in two important ways, both of which reflect Wieland’s engagement with Sterne, and both of which make the pedagogical approach fruitful. First, Der Neue Amadis represents an extreme of narrative subjectivity in Wieland’s oeuvre, meaning that the narrator repeatedly acknowledges the extent to which his aesthetic choices are influenced by his own personal point of view (Sengle 18–20). Second, the poem’s plot and characters take a back seat to narrative reflections on form (Preisendanz, Verserzählung 25).7 These two features, the narrative subjectivity and the primacy of form, advance the text’s pedagogical goals by laying bare the process of narration and fostering critical engagement. Friedrich Sengle compares the effect to that of a marionette theatre, in which the focus is on the marionettist rather than the marionettes (21).

Throughout the poem, the narrator consistently draws attention to the existence of literary forms and conventions and their impact on his narrative decisions. He outlines the space in which he operates, so that the reader knows what is and is not important. The undertaking is comparable to Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s Hamburgische Dramaturgie (1767–69) in so far as its aim is to accompany the reader through the process of responding to a piece of art: “jeden Schritt begleiten, den die Kunst […] tun wird” (Lessing 233). Lessing, like Wieland, emphasizes that an understanding of the rules is necessary for the formation of sound judgments: “Der wahre Kunstrichter folgert keine Regeln aus seinem Geschmacke, sondern hat seinen Geschmack nach den Regeln gebildet, welche die Natur der Sache erfordert” (317). While Lessing develops the rules for the theatre, Wieland develops those for narrative fiction. The following concepts are central to his poetics: an unreliable narrator, irony, perspectivism, an implied reader, historical versus poetic truth, deus ex machina, authorial versus character opinion, the limitations of language, and the conventions of print culture. By training readers to recognize and analyze literary forms and conventions, Wieland promotes the distanced and reflective reading practices constitutive of enlightenment.

Studies in the history of reading, first among them Rolf Engelsing’s Der Bürger als Leser (1974), have located a cultural shift in reading practices in the second half of the eighteenth century (Engelsing 182). As readers transitioned from an “intensive” (i.e., repetitious) engagement with select religious texts to an “extensive” (i.e., wide and non-recurrent) consumption of secular reading materials, the way they read also changed, becoming increasingly reflective and critical (Wittmann 290–293). The development of critical reading practices formed part of the so-called “reading revolution,” which helped shape the social identity of the bourgeoisie. Literature became a training ground for self-understanding and reasoning (Wittmann 287).

Long before Engelsing theorized the reading revolution, Johann Wolfgang Goethe paid tribute to Wieland’s impact on the German reading public.8 In his eulogy “Rede zu Wielands Andenken” (1813), Goethe stresses Wieland’s pedagogical achievements: “Die Wirkungen Wielands auf das Publicum waren ununterbrochen und dauernd. Er hat sein Zeitalter sich zugebildet, dem Geschmack seiner Jahresgenossen so wie ihrem Urtheil eine entschiedene Richtung gegeben” (430). Goethe’s comments support Engelsing’s theory of a reading revolution insofar as they point to an historical shift in eighteenth-century reading practices. What is more, they place Wieland at the center of that shift.9

But Wieland was not the only voice in eighteenth-century Germany calling for the advancement of critical reading practices (Boueke 374 and Frels 255). Johann Matthias Gesner, Johann Georg Sulzer, and Johann Gottfried Herder (among others) built the foundation of a pedagogical reform, which placed imaginative literature in the service of enlightenment. In the nineteenth century, this reform would come to be known as Neuhumanismus.10 Gesner was the first to question the reading of classical texts for the sole purpose of learning rhetoric, stressing their importance for the development of taste and judgment (Ballauff and Schaller 490–92). For Gesner, readers of the classics acquire more than just eloquence. They learn to distinguish between what is beautiful and what is grotesque, what is true and what is false, thus developing their taste and judgment (Paulsen 21). In Vorübungen zur Erweckung der Aufmerksamkeit und des Nachdenkens (1768), Sulzer complains about the one-sidedness of the German reading pedagogy, which in his opinion (as in Wieland’s) focuses too heavily on strengthening the memory.11 Sulzer argues that reading should be used to sharpen the other faculties of the mind, including: perception, reflection, reason, and wit (17–23). The literature of Sentimentalism (Empfindsamkeit) added the importance of sympathy (Brewer 22). Herder then synthesized the eighteenth-century ideal of inner development under the term Bildung or self-formation (Weil 10–83; Müller-Michaels 243).

Bergk’s Die Kunst Bücher zu lesen (1799) represents a milestone in the history of German reading pedagogy insofar as it supplements the call for critical reading practices with detailed advice on reading strategies (Bledsoe 477–80 and Frels 256). Bergk develops a reading methodology for imaginative literature, which requires the reader to respond with heart and head: er [the reader, AS] darf nicht bloß Bücher lesen, weil ihn die in ihnen enthaltene Geschichte interessiert, sondern er muß auch darauf sehen, ob sein Verstand belehrt, sein Geschmack gebildet, seine Selbstthätigkeit und Freiheit erhöht wird, kurz, er muß auf Ideenreichthum und auf eine schöne Darstellung Rücksicht nehmen, er muß sich angelegen seyn lassen, zu prüfen, ob der Inhalt eines Buches seine Einbildungskraft begeistert und seinen Verstand lehrreich beschäftigt und seinem Herzen wohlthut, und ob der Gang der Begebenheiten und der Darstellung natürlich und ungekünstelt ist. (203)

By emphasizing the importance of the heart and the head, Die Kunst Bücher zu lesen synthesizes much of what had been said about the art of reading in the moral weeklies of the mid-century (McCarthy, Art of Reading 81) and the aesthetic theories of the late century (Woodmansee 87–102).

Der Neue Amadis advances a somewhat different approach. Similar to Bergk’s text, Der Neue Amadis develops a detailed reading methodology aimed at the development of mental faculties, but it targets different mental faculties. The convergence of the rational and sentimental strains of Enlightenment had resulted in a balanced approach to reading, which targeted the intellect and the emotions (McCarthy, Art of Reading 84). Der Neue Amadis is, by contrast, one-sidedly intellectual. As the preface indicates, its heroes are fools (“Narren”) and its heroines are vulgar (“die abgeschmacktesten Geschöpfe von der Welt”) (415). They are not intended as objects of emotional identification. Wieland emphasizes this point by describing his text as an antisentimental work (Briefwechsel 4: 44).

Before and after Der Neue Amadis, Wieland promotes the holistic reading habits characteristic of the second half of the century. He acknowledges the comic epyllion as a departure from his usual mode: Ich selbst werde mit dem neuen Amadis dem Satyr, der halb Faun, halb Liebesgott ist, nun der Hogarthischen Dichtart, wie ich sie nennen möchte, entsagen, und mich, wenn ich jemahls wieder dichte, mehr meiner Neigung zum schönen Idealischen und meinem Herzen überlassen. (Briefwechsel 4: 40)

Wieland’s muse, Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, represents an innovative combination of wit, humour, and sentiment. Wieland’s Hogarthian poetry retains only the wit and humour, purposefully denying reader identification. Michael Hofmann compares his approach to Brechtian alienation effects (Reine Seelen 229).12

Wieland’s departure from Sterne and his affinities with Brecht prompt a question about the relationship between aesthetics and politics inherent in the poem. Where does the aesthetic of Der Neue Amadis fit in the landscape of Enlightenment aesthetics, particularly vis-à-vis Sentimentalism, Sturm und Drang, and Friedrich Schiller’s Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen (1795)?13 Sentimentalism strove to improve society through an appeal to feeling, which it saw as the foundation of human morality. That is not to say that Sentimentalism was anti-intellectual. David Hume, one of its most prominent theorists, argued that “it is requisite to employ much reasoning, in order to feel the proper sentiment” (5). Nevertheless, lessons in critical reading practices would not have been an end in and of themselves for the sentimentalists, their ultimate goal being to exercise the emotions. The Stürmer und Dränger sought to free the individual from the fetters of aesthetic and political authority, more specifically, the universalist aesthetics of the early Enlightenment and the despotic rulers of the Holy Roman Empire. In Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen, Schiller advanced a theory of aesthetic immanence (Autonomieästhetik), which rejected the use of literary texts as a source of social or political improvement. Art, Schiller theorized, should not be prescriptive (Hofmann, Schiller 97). If one were to apply Schiller’s aesthetic theory to literary texts (which scholarship is increasingly hesitant to do), it would mean that perceptions of form were all that mattered, not content (Niekerk 39–43). Der Neue Amadis shares characteristics with all three of these theories. It is explicitly didactic, like Sentimentalism. It is committed to individual subjectivity, in the spirit of Sturm und Drang. And it values form over content, in anticipation of Schillerian aesthetics. It asks, in effect, whether a text can be explicitly didactic without prescribing a specific social or political outcome, and if so, how. The answer it offers—an aberration for Wieland and for the period as a whole—lies in the denial of reader identification and the fostering of critical engagement. Wieland’s text teaches the reader to read and to think, but it does not teach the reader what to read or what to think. It opens up possible responses to the text without dictating answers. It is an interesting transitional text, which recognizes the potential for social and political reform in the reader’s capacity for emotionally detached, independent thought.14

Wieland deploys both a highly reflective narrator and a fictive editor in the framing of Der Neue Amadis, and then (in Sternian fashion) has them comment on each other. In the preface the narrator claims to have adorned his text with explanatory footnotes in an effort to make it more comprehensible (416). However, the author of the footnotes themselves claims to be merely an editor, who can only speculate about the narrator’s intentions (437). What is more, this self-proclaimed editor freely criticizes the narrator’s decisions and invites the reader to do the same. To the narrator’s claim that his description of Princess Dindonette’s beauty would rob Cato of his Stoic calm, the editor responds with scepticism: “Wir nehmen die Freiheit, unserem Dichter zu sagen, daß er sich hier zu mehr anheischig mache, als er im Stande seyn würde zu leisten” (437). The narrator creates a fictional editorship in order to draw the reader’s attention to his own liability to criticism or, to borrow a term from narratology, his unreliability.

The narrator’s unreliability also manifests itself as a desire to conceal information from the reader. The narrator emphasizes how his personal preferences influence what is and is not included in the text. He admits to withholding information from the reader when relating an encounter between Princess Schattulliöse and a triton. The princess wakes up from a swoon in the arms of a triton, but the narrator refuses to explain how she regained consciousness. He acknowledges that it was not a cordial (as was commonly used to rouse swooning women) and gives voice to the reader’s scepticism: – “Und brachte sie doch zu sich selbst? Das kann mit rechten DingenNicht zugegangen seyn!” – So denkt, zum Exempel, die Welt!Kömmts hoch, so zückt man mit sceptischer NaseDie Achseln, hofft nach der Liebe, und läßts dahin gestellt.Im übrigen weiß ich nicht, was mich zurücke hält.Die Red’ ist weder von meiner Tochter noch Base;Und bin ich etwan zum Hüter von Bambo’s Töchtern bestellt? (464)

In this passage, the narrator uses a characterized reader as a negative foil for the real reader.15 By assuming foul play, “die Welt” or le beau monde passes moral judgment on the characters in a way the text discourages. The narrator openly and intentionally leaves the question about what revived Schattulliöse unanswered and asks his reader to do the same. He then replaces the question regarding Schattulliöse’s virtue with a question concerning narrative perspective. In the end, it is not important why Schattulliöse woke up. What matters is that the reader contemplates why the narrator would choose to include or exclude such information.

In addition to drawing attention to the particularities of his point of view, the narrator also reflects on his use of irony. In a characteristic example, he provides a footnote for a reference to the name Frau Beaumont, in which one might expect to find information about the women’s identity (e.g., Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont was a French authoress of children’s and youth literature.). Instead one finds a dizzyingly ironic commentary on the nature of irony. The narrator anticipates and challenges the reader’s assumption that his reference to Beaumont is ironic: Wiewohl der Nahme dieser verdienstvollen Frau [Beaumont, AS] hier in einem comischen Gedicht genennt wird, so geschiehet es doch nicht in einer comischen Absicht; welches bloß um derer willen erinnert wird, welche zuweisen Ironie suchen, wo keine ist, dafür aber auch meistens so schafsichtig sind, sie nicht zu sehen, wo sie würklich ist. (562)

Despite the narrator’s claim to the contrary, his reference to Beaumont is steeped in irony. If the reference were not open to an ironic reading, the narrator would have no need to defend himself against such accusations. As is, he can enjoy the best of both worlds. If someone criticizes him for satirizing a respectable woman, he can point to this passage as evidence that that was not his intention. On the other hand, his commentary has invited the reader to reflect on the difficulties of conveying and perceiving irony. As the passage beautifully demonstrates, irony is never stable, depending as much on the ironist’s intentions as on the reader’s interpretation. The passage accomplishes something similar to Sterne’s discourse on noses. Sterne’s reader has no workable defense against the narrator’s repeated insistence that when he writes the word “nose,” he means “the external organ of smelling, or that part of man which stands prominent in his face” (Sterne 176). The reader suspects that there is irony in play (that when Tristram writes nose, he means penis), but the text resists all attempts at concretization. Similarly, Wieland’s narrator uses Beaumont’s writing to exemplify an unassailable virtue, whose very existence Der Neue Amadis eschews. Naturally the reader assumes the reference to Beaumont is tongue in cheek, but the narrator’s insistence that it is not precludes an unequivocal conclusion. By anticipating and contradicting the reader’s perceptions of irony, Wieland and Sterne teach the reader to accept the existence of ambiguity.

Wieland does not reserve the charges of unreliability and ironic ambiguousness for himself but extends them to his characters as well, thus providing an unstable foundation for truth claims as such. When the narrator recounts the aforementioned scene between Schattulliöse and the triton, he purposefully leaves the question about her virtue unanswered. Later, when Schattulliöse relates the same incident to her sister, she offers a different perspective but with little gain for the reader’s understanding. Schattulliöse claims to have escaped the triton with her virtue intact, but the narrator casts doubt on the veracity of her account by suggesting that she embellishes in a manner typical of her social class: “daß vieles Wunderbar / Und Edel und Schön in ihrer Erzählung geworden, / Was ganz natürlich und ihr nicht allzurühmlich war, / Erwartet man von Damen aus ihrem Orden” (562). Although the reader now has two perspectives on the same incident, he or she is no closer to finding out what actually happened, because objective “truths” are not the narrator’s main concern. He qualifies the characters’ stories in order to expose the disparity of their viewpoints. He focuses the reader’s attention on why he and the other characters tell their stories the way they do, not on the stories themselves.

The narrator summarizes the importance of individual perspectives with reference to the Sternian concept of a hobbyhorse: “Ein jeder reite, vor mir, sein kleines hölzernes Pferd / Nach seiner Weise; dieß ist der Wahlspruch meiner Camönen!” (572). Here the narrator draws a direct connection between his own perspectivism (i.e., his conception of the truth as something relative to individual viewpoints) and Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. Wieland’s perspectivism predates his engagement with Sterne. It is, as he argues, a fundamental part of his character (Merkur 1800 1.4: 256). Nevertheless, by referring to the hobbyhorse as the motto of his muse, Wieland acknowledges a personal debt to Sterne. Tristram Shandy shows Wieland how to place the characters’ differing versions of truth at the center of his narrative, how to make them the subject of explicit (and often comic) reflection. Only by bringing perspectivism to the fore can it become a tool for advancing critical reading practices. An implicit perspectivism, which one finds in Wieland’s early works, requires the reader to apply existing skills to textual interpretation, while an explicit perspectivism can coach the reader in the development of such skills.

In the spirit of Sterne’s “Gentle Reader” and “Sir Critick,” Wieland contrasts the aesthetic practices of various types of readers. Over the course of the poem the narrator addresses his multifarious reader with the following epithets: “ihr Freunde” (424, 503), “werthe Leser” (461), “ihr Mädchen” (465, 533), “geneigte(r) Leser” (477, 581, 613, 628), “ihr Weisen” (485), “ihr Herren (502), “Schönen” (524), “werthe parnassische Brüder” (520) and “die Weisen und Narren” (535). Like Sterne, Wieland uses reader epithets to underline various possibilities for responding to a text. His narrator furnishes the girls with Latin passages for translation practice and instructs them, tongue in cheek, to take notes on how to protect their virtue from giants and dwarves. He tells the men, with greater seriousness, to reflect on the differences between the characters’ perspectives. The distinction between Wieland’s ostensibly naive female readers and their wise male counterparts reflects the fundamental shifts in eighteenth-century conceptions of literature outlined above (i.e., shifts away from a conception of the classics as a vehicle for rhetoric and Sentimentalism’s belief in the morally ennobling power of literature and towards the notion of reading as a means to promote enlightenment).

Wieland continues to draw attention to these shifting paradigms by excluding certain individuals from his readership. The first on Wieland’s list of unwanted readers is Sterne’s Smelfungus, a morose British traveler insensible to humour, beauty, and cultural difference. The second is Molière’s Tartuffe, a religious hypocrite who feigns piety while gawking at women’s breasts. The third, Fatme, resembles Quartilla at night but Seneca by day, meaning she hides her rapacious sexuality under a veil of false stoicism. The fourth, who remains unnamed, stands for the judgmental damning of pleasures that he or she has never personally experienced. By rephrasing this list in the positive, we can create a portrait of Wieland’s implied reader as someone who is aesthetically, culturally, religiously and sexually open-minded and forthright. In the eighteenth century, especially in the wake of Samuel Richardson’s novels, it was commonplace to conceive of belletristic reading as an exercise in moral judgment, “eine Uebung in dem Gefühl des Guten und des Bösen” (Sulzer XXIV). By emphasizing open-mindedness as a prerequisite for reading Der Neue Amadis, Wieland’s narrator adjusts reader expectations. He describes his text as useful (i.e., committed to the Horatian understanding of art “prodesse et delectare”), but not in the sense that it provides readers with examples of virtue and vice, on which to school their moral judgment (Dittrich 46–50). The poem redefines literature’s usefulness by shifting the act of reading from an exercise in moral judgment to an exercise in critical thought, from a direct and prescriptive to an indirect and open-ended form of moral improvement (Hofmann, Reine Seelen 233).

In addition to his reader epithets and catalogue of unwanted readers, Wieland offers several other negative foils when profiling his implied reader. There is a reader who makes texts more complicated than they are (449), a reader who takes quotations out of context (448), a reader who takes pride in finding literary references (530), and a reader who fails to recognize linguistic ambiguities (613). All of these represent impediments to narrator-reader communication. Take the reader who fails to recognize linguistic ambiguities. The narrator is relating how Boreas stubbles across Princess Leoparde on a hunt, when the critic interjects: Der Jagd? – spricht hier ein Verserichter.Ein Unterhändler, ein Lügner und ein DichterSoll nicht vergeßlich seyn! Wo nahm sie denn den Speer,Der einer Diane gebührt, und Pfeil’ und Bogen her?Herr Criticus! man jagt verschiedne Dinge;Ihr – Schnitzer, Fliegen – Schah Baham und Kaiser Domitian,Und Leoparde Schmetterlinge. (613)

The narrator’s lesson is twofold. First, the reader should be careful because words (in this case “Jagd”) have multiple meanings. Second, the critic will misunderstand the text if he or she hunts for erudition rather than accepting the text on its own terms. By juxtaposing Leoparde’s hunt for butterflies and the critic’s hunt for notorious tyrants, the narrator contrasts the supposed frivolity of his text and the learnedness of the critic. However, the juxtaposition does not withstand closer scrutiny, as Wieland’s seemingly playful epyllion does indeed cater to the critic’s desire for erudition with myriad historical and literary references.

The contradictory images of the whimsical butterfly hunter and the serious scholar reflect one of the paradoxes at the heart of Der Neue Amadis: it is both a frivolous chivalric romance and an extremely challenging, highly transtexual epyllion. The poem’s high degree of transtextuality constitutes one of the main objects of scholarly inquiry (Preisendanz, Die Muse 542). Der Neue Amadis places seemingly contradictory expectations on its readers, assuming both that they have acquired an extensive knowledge of literary history and that they nevertheless need lessons on how to read. Yet the dismantling this paradox is precisely the point. One can be thoroughly versed in ancient and modern literary references and still not demonstrate the independent, critical thinking of Wieland’s implied reader. Similar to Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, the text exemplifies shifting conceptions of literature, containing both a catalogue of learning (in the Renaissance tradition) and lessons in distanced, reflective reading (an emerging ideal). That is not to say that the one contradicts the other. Wieland’s catalogue of learning, found primarily in the footnotes, forms part of the work’s innovative pedagogical project. The footnotes interrupt the flow of reading, opening up time and space for critical reflection (Bickenbach, ‘Noten-Prose’ 290). Furthermore, they encourage readers to follow up on transtextual references, thus promoting active rather than passive forms of reception (Bickenbach, Innere Geschichte 199–217).

In order to teach the concepts of poetic and historical truth, the narrator comments on his use of anachronism. Many authors use anachronisms (a famous example being the wall clock in the supposedly medieval setting of Novalis’s Heinrich von Ofterdingen (1802)), the difference is that Wieland is explicit about it. Some scenes indicate that Amadis is of Celtic origin (a Gaul), but the editor advises the reader to be cautious with this information, explaining: “die häufigen Anachronismen, deren sich unser Autor schuldig macht, und die geringe Achtung, die er für die historische Wahrheit und das Costume zeigt, [machen] es beynahe unmöglich, etwas gewisses über diesen Punct festzusetzen” (445). Historical and geographical details are not significant factors in Der Neue Amadis. Later on, the editor will claim that the characters are followers of Mohammed (572). Gaul or Muslim, it does not matter! According to the narrator, all that matters is that they derive from nature, “daß sie aus der Natur sind” (599). Wieland’s narrator is instructing the reader in Aristotelian poetics, differentiating between historical and poetic truth. By undermining the importance of historical detail, the narrator signals that he is not interested in historical truths (i.e., what did or did not happen) but rather in natural or poetic truths (i.e., what, under certain conditions, should happen).

It is of course difficult to argue that one’s story and characters derive from nature when the plot is full of fantastic coincidences. Wieland is aware of this problem and confronts it head on. At several points in the story, the narrator employs a deus ex machina in order to rescue one of his characters from a difficult situation. He does not however let his use of the device go unnoticed. Instead, he defines the term and justifies its use. In a footnote the editor offers the standard definition of deus ex machina as “eine Gottheit, welche wie gerufen daherkommt, bloß dem Poeten aus der Noth zu helfen” (520). The narrator qualifies this definition in the body of the text by explaining that any coincidence, not just a supernatural one, can function as a deus ex machina if it comes at just the right time to save the character in question (from death, loss of virginity, or other tragedies). He notes, furthermore, that the use of deus ex machina is against the laws of poetry unless (as Lycurgus argued) the narrative knot is worthy of a god, dignus vindice nodus. He then employs Lycurgus’s caveat to justify his own use of the much-disparaged device, but not without a good dose of Wielandian irony. His ostensibly justifiable use of deus ex machina plays out as follows: Dindonette is in danger of losing her virginity to Caramell when nature (i.e., a bowel movement) calls him away. One of the princess’s ladies in waiting uses the opportunity to untie his horse and send him chasing after it. Caramell’s digestive system thus saves Dindonette’s virtue. The stark contrast between the scatological humor used to describe Caramell’s reason for departure and Lycurgus’s Latin quotation emphasizes the gap between textual example and poetic theory. Caramell’s bowel movement does not constitute a narrative quagmire worthy of a god. Nor is virginity a highly prized commodity in the narrative world of Der Neue Amadis. Wieland’s narrators constantly employ storms, pirates, and other fantastic devices to save or endanger their characters, as their narrative needs dictate. His readers should be able to recognize them as such and critically assess their value.16

The narrator also warns his reader against conflating an author’s opinions with the words and actions of his characters. When Boreas makes an argument justifying rape, the narrator is anxious to dissociate himself from it. He claims that even the third-person narration of Boreas’s statements causes him discomfort: Wir bitten den Schönen ab, daß solche Lästerungen,(Wobey uns selbst die Haare zu Berge stehn)Auch nur in dritter Person aus unserm Munde gehn.Was muß nicht, von der Pflicht die Wahrheit zu sagen gezwungen,Ein armer Poet, der an nichts böses denkt,Oft seine Leute sagen lassen?Und wär’ es billig, den Mann, der uns Vergnügen schenkt,Und scherzend Weisheit uns lehrt, für fremde Sünden zu hassen? (524)

Wieland advocates a don’t-shoot-the-messenger approach to literary texts. The history of Wieland reception from the mid-eighteenth to the early-twentieth century underlines just how important this particular lesson was (Ferber 189–207). Wieland’s detractors accused him of amorality and bawdiness for texts that he insisted were didactic and satirical, most notably Comische Erzählungen (1765). In Der Neue Amadis, Wieland’s narrator attempts to obviate such misinterpretations by teaching the reader to distinguish between the author’s personal beliefs and the behaviour and statements of his characters. In reference to the eighteenth-century scandal surrounding Comische Erzählungen, most Wieland scholars now side with the author, stressing the moralistic foundations of the ostensibly lewd descriptions (Haischer 181–96).

Wieland’s narrator also attempts to teach his reader by drawing attention to the limitations of language, the idea being that readers must be aware of the linguistic constraints under which narrators operate if they are going to be able judge works properly. In the case of Der Neue Amadis, the rhyming possibilities in German constitute one such constraint. Wieland’s narrator makes the reader attune to the difficulties at hand by inviting him to join the poetic process.17 When discussing the sexual dynamics between Amadis, Princess Colifischon and her sister Schattulliöse, the narrator struggles to find an appropriate rime: Indem der schöne PaladinDer schlauen Colifischon kokettisches Bemühn,Mit ihren Blicken sein Herz zu umwinden,Mehr auszuweichen als zu begünstigen schien.Die seinigen waren so ganz in Schatulliöses BusenUnd feuchten Augen koncentriert,Als ob – Da haben wir’s! Nun fehlt ein Reim auf Busen! (563)

The narrator proclaims that anyone who can come up with a fitting rhyme will be his great Apollo (Erit mihi magnus Apollo). He runs through a list of options (i.e., Musen, Medusen, and Lampedusen). This comic interjection makes the reader aware that the story is told through the medium of language, which carries with it its own possibilities and constraints.

In a truly Shandian fashion, Wieland’s text also thematizes the possibilities and constraints of print culture, i.e., the materiality of the codex. Tristram Shandy is famous for its typographical idiosyncrasies: black, blank and marbled pages, expressive dashes and curly brackets. Sterne’s innovative approach to print culture continuously reminds the reader that his text, an abstract construct, is also a book, a concrete physical entity (Fanning 129). In an homage to his muse, Wieland develops a typographical innovation of his own. His narrator tells the legend of King Midas, whom Apollo punishes with donkey ears for having questioned his musical supremacy. The king, who is embarrassed by his ears, hides them under a Phrygian cap, but he cannot hide them from his barber. The barber, bursting with the weight of his king’s secret, tells it into a hole in the ground, which he has dug for the purpose. Later, a bed of reeds springs up over the hole and begins to whisper: Der König Midas hat—was hat er?—Eselohren.piano     p.p. pianissimo (584)

These musical instructions indicate that the phrases be read softly, very softly and very softly, respectively. The typographical detail of placing them directly underneath the phrases to which they refer highlights an important difference between musical and literary conventions. Musical notation allows the artist to dictate how certain phrases are played. Wieland’s narrator demonstrates that, through a clever use of the text’s materiality, he can do the same.

In Tristram Shandy, Sterne famously defines good writing as a conversation between the author and the reader, in which the reader is expected to supply half the thought.18 Wieland takes his lead from Sterne, whose Socratic wisdom he admires (Briefwechsel 3: 479). In an homage to Sterne, Wieland creates a Socratic dialogue between his narrator and fictive readers, which guides the real reader through the process of responding to a narrative text without dictating his or her responses. The pedagogical goals of the text can be grouped into two broad categories. Wieland’s reader should be able to: 1) reflect on how the narrator’s, characters’, and reader’s individual points of view influence the text and its reception 2) analyze how narrative forms and conventions shape content. In essence, Der Neue Amadis teaches its reader to question the source and structure of ideas. Wieland and his contemporaries refer to this as “Richtigdenken,” “Selbstdenken,” “Helldenken,” and, most importantly, “Aufklärung.”

The pedagogical goals associated with Wieland’s text speak to his intense engagement with Sterne. As Wieland himself emphasizes, his comic reflections on the importance of individual viewpoints owes a great deal to Sterne’s concept of a hobbyhorse. Furthermore, Tristram Shandy represents an extreme in world literature for its replacement of conventional content with reflections on form (Shklovky 89). It is no coincidence that Wieland, at the height of his Shandean turn, shifts the focus of his comic poem from plot and characters to narrative forms and conventions. What then, if anything, is new about Wieland’s reading pedagogy? Der Neue Amadis differs from Tristram Shandy in its explicitly anti-sentimental aesthetics. Tristram Shandy aligns, at least to some degree, with the eighteenth-century conception of literature as an exercise in moral judgment.19 Goethe underlines Sterne’s formative influence on Sentimentalism, claiming he helped to prepare “die große Epoche reinerer Menschenkenntniß, elder Duldung, zarter Liebe” (Lorenz Sterne 339). Der Neue Amadis parodies the use of literature as a vehicle for prescriptive moral instruction. As a parody of sentimental conceptions of literature, Der Neue Amadis demonstrates a different consciousness of its place in the history of reading pedagogy. While Tristram Shandy balances Renaissance and sentimental conceptions of literature, Der Neue Amadis subsumes Renaissance and sentimental currents under a new banner. Renaissance catalogues of learning and sentimental reflections on good and evil make an appearance in Der Neue Amadis, but they are subservient to the text’s efforts to promote critical thought. The narrator laughs at those who use literature to demonstrate their erudition or improve their moral behaviour. Writing a full decade after the first volumes of Tristram Shandy, Wieland is responding to a different intellectual climate: Sentimentalism is no longer fashionable, and Wieland can ridicule it with impunity.

The question remains whether Wieland’s contemporaries registered his pedagogical innovations. There are indications that Wieland’s texts were understood as promoting intellectual autonomy. Bergk, for example, uses Wieland’s work to exemplify his own pedagogical program: “Wer nicht Lust zum Selbstdenken hat, dessen Aufmerksamkeit wird auch durch Wielands und Göthes Schriften nicht erregt” (35). Yet despite Bergk’s continual citation of Wieland’s texts, he is critical of the author’s intellectualism, claiming “[Wieland] belehrt unsern Verstand, aber er erschüttert nicht unser Herz” (271). In a century with a programmatic dedication to holistic reading, Der neue Amadis represents a deviation from the norm. It promotes an approach to reading that rejects the moral didacticism of Richardson but predates the aesthetic immanence of Schiller. It is a transitional text, which unites an Enlightenment desire for reform, Sturm und Drang subjectivity, and a formbased aesthetics.

On a final note, it is important to remember that Wieland’s pedagogical program was inherently political. Der Neue Amadis puts the plot of a chivalric romance (i.e., Rococo or aristocratic content) in the service of a bourgeois ideal of enlightenment, thus mirroring the subordination of aristocratic values to bourgeois conceptions of self-formation and self-governance. If we forget its lessons, we lose more than just an approach to reading. We risk losing the independence of thought that forms the foundation of democratic participation. Without independent thought, people are carried away by the popular breeze, the aura popularis, the political implications of which Wieland presciently describes in Geschichte des Agathon (1766/67).


  • Andrea Speltz, Germanic and Slavic Studies University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue Waterloo ON, N2L 3G1 Canada, aspeltz{at}

  • 1 In a letter to Sophie La Roche from October or November of 1767, Wieland refers to Sterne for the first time as “mon favorit Sterne” (Briefwechsel 3: 472). Over a decade later, in November of 1784, Wieland continues to cite Sterne as his favorite author in his correspondence with Johann Wilhelm von Archenholz (Briefwechsel 8.1: 344).

  • 2 Many authors, including Cervantes, Marivaux, and Henry Fielding, had introduced self-reflective narrators prior to the publication of Tristram Shandy. What makes Sterne’s narrator different is that he becomes the main interest of the text (Booth 183).

  • 3 Bickenbach (Innere Geschichte 218), Harn (6), Sengle (19), Marchand (6–10), Michelsen (196), Moennighoff (67), and Wilson (Narrative Strategy 126–35). Michelsen argues convincingly that Wieland’s engagement with Sterne began as early as 1763 (186), not as Sengle and others had assumed in 1767 (16).

  • 4 Sterne explicitly states his desire to educate his readers, expressing his hope that “all good people, both male and female, from her example [i.e., the example of Madam, Sterne’s female fictive reader], may be taught to think as well as read” (49).

  • 5 Michael Hofmann and Magnus Wieland argue that Der Neue Amadis aims to train the reader to read (Reine Seelen 226–233 and 274, respectively). However, they neither flesh out Wieland’s pedagogical goals nor contextualize them within the history of reading pedagogy.

  • 6 According to Kant’s essay “Was heißt: sich im Denken orientieren?”, “Selbstdenken heißt den obersten Probierstein der Wahrheit in sich selbst (d.i. in seiner eigenen Vernunft) suchen; und die Maxime, jederzeit selbst zu denken, ist die Aufklärung” (283).

  • 7 The Russian formalist Victor Shklovsky makes this claim about Tristram Shandy: “The work’s content becomes the perception of form” (72).

  • 8 As Ian Jackson points out, not all historians of reading accept Engelsing’s thesis about a reading revolution (1050). Robert Darnton, for example, expresses skepticism about the existence of a revolution and prefers the idea of a “fundamental shift” (165). Furthermore, Roger Chartier insists that the opposition between “intensive” and “extensive” methods be reinterpreted insofar as the one may have succeeded the other but they also co-existed within one society (260).

  • 9 It is difficult to determine exactly what Goethe meant when using the terms taste and judgment. In his “Rede zu Wielands Andenken,” Goethe references both Shaftesbury’s and Kant’s definitions of these terms. For Shaftesbury, taste and judgment are directed at form and content, respectively: “so ward einerseits der Menschenverstand über den Inhalt, und der Geschmack über die Art des Vortrags zum Richter gesetzt” (434). Kant, according to Goethe, pushed taste (“individuelles Gefallen”) aside in order to give aesthetic judgment a firmer philosophical ground. The “Rede zu Wielands Andenken” contains a representative commentary of Goethe’s reaction to Kant’s portrayal of taste in Kritik der Urteilskraft (1790) (Goethe Wörterbuch 46).

  • 10 For the development of the reading pedagogy of Neuhumanismus, see: Bickenbach 142-173; Boueke 374; Ballauff und Schaller 490–502 and Fuhrmann (113–27). Canonical texts in this movement include: Gesner’s Kleine deutsche Schriften (1756), Sulzer’s “Vorübungen zur Erweckung der Aufmerksamkeit und des Nachdenkens” (1768), and Herder’s “Von der Ausbildung der Rede und Sprache in Kindern und Jünglingen” (1796).

  • 11 Wieland himself makes a similar complaint in his “Plan einer Academie zu Bildung des Verstandes und des Herzens junger Leute” (1758). This text can also be seen as an early formation of the pedagogy behind Neuhumanismus. Wieland emphasizes the importance of reading the classics for the development of taste and the importance of taste in the overall economy of the mind (198).

  • 12 What does Wieland mean when he refers to Der Neue Amadis as Hogarthian poetry? With what works of Hogarth was Wieland familiar? He certainly had access to the Hogarthian illustrations of Tristram Shandy. It would be a worthwhile study to figure out what his image of Hogarth was and where he saw the commonalities between Hogarth’s art and his own.

  • 13 I follow Terence James Reed and other who view Sturm und Drang and Weimar Classicism as manifestations of the German Enlightenment.

  • 14 Sarah Vandegrift Eldridge points out a similar transitional phase, which she calls a “productive gap,” in her study “Narrating (Im)Maturity: The Progressive Popularization of Enlightenment Principles in Wieland’s Geschichte des Agathon and Engel’s Herr Lorenz Stark” (536).

  • 15 In his PMLA article “Readers in Texts” (1981), W. Daniel Wilson takes on the difficult task of synthesizing the terminology produced by a decade’s worth of scholarship on reader response theory. He narrows the field down to three terms, which I will adopt for the purposes of this article: the implied fictive reader, the characterized reader, and the real reader, thus creating a synthetic taxonomy. Both the implied reader and the characterized reader are found within the structure of the text. They can be one and the same or they can differ. For example, an author can characterize a reader, i.e., refer to him or her explicitly, whom the author considers subpar. The implied reader would recognize that the narrator is making fun of the characterized reader. The implied reader is defined as “the behavior, attitudes, and background—presupposed or defined, usually indirectly, in the text itself—necessary for a proper understanding of the text” (848).

  • 16 Other narrative commentary on the use of deus ex machina are a fog, which the narrator suggests using in order to save Amadis from a fight (558), and a fainting spell, which saves Schattulliose from an embarrassing situation (560). In both cases, the narrator discusses whether or not he should use such a device in order to save the hero or heroine from desperate situations.

  • 17 Other invitations to join the poetic process include an example of fictive reading polling. In Canton 15, Wieland’s narrator asks the reader for advice on how to proceed with the narrative. Boreas and Antiseladon are about to duel and the narrator does not know who should emerge victorious (620).

  • 18 “Writing, when properly managed, (as you may be sure I think mine is) is but a different name for conversation: As no one, who knows what he is about in good company, would venture to talk all; -so no author, who understands the just boundaries of decorum and good breeding, would presume to think all: The truest respect which you can pay to the reader’s understanding, is to halve this matter amicably, and leave him something to imagine, in his turn, as well as yourself.

    For my own part, I am eternally paying him compliments of this kind, and do all that lies in my power to keep his imagination as busy as my own.” (Sterne 87)

  • 19 Sterne scholars argue convincingly that Sterne both upholds and satirizes sentimental culture: There is no “clear distinction between sentimental sincerity and Shandean satire” (Keymer 90). Still, Tristram Shandy’s relationship to Sentimentalism is ambivalent, while DerNeue Amadis is solidly anti-sentimental.

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