Supplementary Appendix 329p.1

Negative reaction to Schiller’s play Die Jungfrau von Orleans. Eine romantische Tragödie (Berlin: Unger, 1801) [*]

Sophie Bernhardi writes to Wilhelm Schlegel on ca. 20 October 1801 (letter 329p):

We received the Mädchen von Orlean and read it with considerable pleasure. I know not whether you still remember what I once told you about my brother’s tragedy Rudolph von Felseck, but Schiller’s piece seems to have been done much the same way, with the slight difference that it was not just Caspar der Toringer alone that was copied, as my brother quite innocently did, but rather — in order to make it truly wondrous — something from everything Schiller knows; and that is how this romantic tragedy came about. Next to Fiesko, it is probably the worst thing he has ever done.

On the one hand, Goethe declared Schiller’s new play to be his best to date according to Schiller himself in a letter to Christian Gottfried Körner in a letter on 13 May 1801: [1] “I am very anxious to hear your opinion on my “Maid of Orleans.” Goethe is of opinion that it is my chef-d’oeuvre, and is especially pleased with its ensemble.”

See, however, Goethe’s earthy remarks as recounted in Schelling’s letter to Wilhelm Schlegel from 9 November 1801 (letter 329r): “He [Goethe] remarked that women found it quite pleasing because for once it was a virgin rather than a wh***.” Wilhelm von Humboldt referred to it as the “most Shakespearean of his pieces.” [2] And Heinrich Joseph von Collin called it “the greatest work of this rich genius.” [3]

On the other hand, the Schlegel brothers were more inclined to join Sophie’s disparaging assessment: [4]

[Friedrich Schlegel] found the most recent efforts made by the “leaden, moral” Schiller to assimilate the element of fantasy exhibited by Tieck’s Genoveva merely comical, and the “romantic tragedy” of the Jungfrau von Orleans merely ridiculous (“the way the imitators always fall on precisely that which is most alien to them: leaden, moral Schiller on the romantic element, the element of fantasy, Tieck, Genoveva[5]).

And in the perfidious jargon the Schlegel brothers had polished for their public critique of the writer, he assesses this piece in the first issue of his journal Europa with words that, seemingly full of praise, essentially contain nothing more than ironic derision:

The effect made by Schiller’s Jungfrau von Orleans is pleasant insofar as it demonstrates the capacity to sense the divine beauty of this subject. It is meritorious to have found and chosen it, for boldness was indeed required to carry it out. The liberties the author took with the story itself are necessarily grounded in his manner and for that reason may not at all be disapproved of. [6]

[Josef Körner’s fn: even in the lectures Ueber neuere Geschichte (Vienna 1810), 239, that is, during a time when Friedrich was already striding about in the conciliatory slippers of his Catholic period, he writes with unmistakable reserve: “It was an excellent German writer who was the first to extol anew France’s heroine; nonetheless the historical truth stands very far indeed above this poetic portrayal.” That is, in other words: Through his own treatment, Schiller ruined what was otherwise magnificent poetic material.] . . .

A. W. Schlegel persisted in the same attitude toward Schiller he had assumed during the battles around the turn of the century [i.e., 1800], and though in his later publications he nonetheless had had to take account of Schiller’s acknowledged fame, not infrequently by sweetening the vinegar of his criticism with a cube of sugar, he did so only seemingly and by insincerely silencing his true disposition, for in his heart of hearts he never changed his dismissive view, nor even, as did his younger brother, subject it to thorough revision.

It is always the same malice that one hears, whether in glossing Schiller’s decision to join the new Jena Litteratur-Zeitung with the malicious quip that “one will again be able to read failed aesthetic essays,” [7] or whether . . . in a private letter to Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué on 12 March 1806, [8] he knows of no other way to explain the writer’s considerable fame and popularity than by pointing out how “he spent his entire life chasing after whatever elements are able to seize and vehemently move us (excepting perhaps the romantic grimace of Die Jungfrau von Orleans and the tragic grimace Die Braut von Messina, neither of which for precisely that reason is able to elicit even the slightest shred of emotion) . . .”

The objections the critic finds in Die Jungfrau von Orleans are even more numerous [than in Maria Stuart], both in details and in the whole: “The true, ignominious martyrdom of the betrayed and abandoned heroine would have moved us much more deeply than the brightened, rose-colored one Schiller imposes on her quite in contradiction to history.” [fn: Here Schlegel is adopting an objection raised by his wife (to Wilhelm Schlegel on 7/8 May 1801 (letter 314 present edition)].

Elsewhere as well Wilhelm referred to Die Jungfrau von Orleans as “an utterly failed imitation of Tieck’s Genoveva.” [9] Even Wilhelm’s diplomatic praise in his Vorlesungen über schöne Literatur und Kunst is at best lukewarm: [10]

With such a wonderful subject as the Maid of Orleans, Schiller thought himself entitled to take greater liberties. The plot is looser; the scene with Montgomery, an epic intermixture, is at variance with the general tone; in the singular and inconceivable appearance of the black knight, the object of the poet is ambiguous; in the character of Talbot, and many other parts, Schiller has entered into an unsuccessful competition with Shakespeare; and I know not but the colouring employed, which is not so brilliant as might be imagined, is an equivalent for the severer pathos which has been sacrificed to it.

The history of the Maid of Orelans, even to its details, is generally known; her high mission was believed by herself and generally by her contemporaries, and produced the most extraordinary effects. The marvel might, therefore, have been represented by the poet, even though the sceptical spirit of his contemporaries should have deterred him from giving it out for real; and the real ignominious martyrdom of this betrayed and abandoned heroine would have agitated us more deeply than the gaudy and rose-coloured one which, in contradiction to history, Schiller has invented for her.

Shakespeare’s picture, though partial from national prejudice, still possesses much more historical truth and profundity. However, the German piece will ever remain as a generous attempt to vindicate the honour of a name deformed by impudent ridicule; and its dazzling effect, strengthened by the rich ornateness of the language, deservedly gained for it on the stage the most eminent success.

The resemblance between Sophie’s assessment and that in a diary entry of Friedrich Hebbel is striking: [11]Die Jungfrau von Orleans is Schiller’s ultimate conscious conception, just as Die Räuber are his ultimate unconscious one.” Hebbel is similarly harsh in his review of the correspondence between Schiller and Christian Gottfried Körner, here referring to the same letter mentioned above, namely, that from Schiller to Körner on 15 October 1801: [12]

I have never been able to understand how Schiller thought he was up to the task of this material. No one can argue that there was subject matter enough for a play here; but just as little can one fail to see that this material absolutely had to be treated as a psychological drama, and that for precisely that reason it was beyond Schiller’s capacity.

Under no conditions could Johanna be allowed to reflect on herself; she had to complete her path like a sleepwalker, with eyes closed, and even plunge into the final abyss with closed eyes. The element of naiveté, which precludes any interior break and which, as we know from the files of her trial, accompanied the French girl even into the flames, was indispensable, and Schiller himself had to realize that he would be utterly unable to breathe such naiveté into her.

As it is, his heroine hovers free-floating in the air; her actions and disposition presuppose an element of naiveté that she simply lacks, and the impression she makes is thus like that of an apple tree that has been hung with grapes but which is unable to grow actual grapes.


[*] Basic information for this excursus comes from Josef Körner’s notes, Krisenjahre 3:27–28, to Sophie Bernhardi’s letter to Wilhelm Schlegel on ca. 20 October 1801 (letter 329p); see the notes to that letter for clarification of works cited in Sophie’s quote here. Back.

[1] Schillers Briefe, Kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. Fritz Jonas, 7 vols. (Stuttgart 1892–96), 6:278; trans. Correspondence of Schiller with Körner, trans. Leonard Simpson, 3 vols. (London 1849), 3:236. Back.

[2] Wilhelm von Humboldts Briefe an Johann Gottfried Schweighäuser, ed. Albert Leitzmann (Jena 1934), 15–16. Back.

[3] Sämmtliche Werke, 6 vols. in 3 (Vienna 1812–14), 6:383. Back.

[4] Josef Körner, Romantiker und Klassiker. Die Brüder Schlegel in ihren Beziehungen zu Schiller und Goethe (Berlin 1924), 138–39, 148–9, 151. Back.

[5] Friedrich in a letter to Rahel Levin from Dresden on 8 February 1802, Galerie von Bildnissen aus Rahel’s Umgang und Briefwechsel, ed. K. A. Varnhagen von Ense, 2 vols. (Leipzig 1836), 1:230. Back.

[6] Europa 1 [1803] 58–59. Back.

[7] To Schleiermacher on 26 September 1803 (Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben 3:363). Back.

[8] Sämmtliche Werke 8:148. Back.

[9] David Salomon, Autographen. Sammlung Wokan Wien und andere Beiträge, Katalog 77 (Berlin 1931), no. 22205a. Matthäus von Collin, “Ueber Heinrich Joseph Edlen von Collin und seine Werke,” Heinrich J. v. Collins sämmtliche Werke, 6 vols. (Vienna 1814), 6:391–450, here 6:396, noticed the same dependency. Back.

[10] Sämmtliche Werke 6:421–22; Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, trans. John Black, 2nd rev. ed. by A. J. W. Morrison (London 1904), 521. Back.

[11] Sämtliche Werke. Historisch-kritische Ausgabe, ed. Richard Maria Werner, 24 vols. (1901–7), Tagebücher, 3:353. Back.

[12] Sämtliche Werke, 11:191–92. Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott