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Adalbert Stifter's Brigitta Through Social And Political Changes

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Adalbert Stifter's Brigitta through social and political changes

It was between 1842 and 1844 that the Austrian author Adalbert Stifter wrote his novella Brigitta. Along with descriptions of beautiful landscapes and the love story between the Major and Brigitta, the work offers countless references to concomitant social and political events happening during the first half of the 19th century. Whether Stifter felt influenced by these changes or if he actually contributed to their taking place by influencing others through his works, we don't know.

Europe and its social and political changes are the center of attention of many history and geography books. The first half of the 19th century was quite tumultuous and rich of events. Revolutions, insurrections and reformations, which took place between 1800 and 1850, played a particularly important role in the shaping and formation of Central and Eastern Europe. New nations and peoples were able to affirm their identity during those decades.

While Thomas Cook was contracting the construction of a well-distributed net of railways, other concomitant political events, such as the Congress of Vienna and the revolution of 1848, characterized the 19th century with significant changes in both political and social systems. Wars and the desire for peace and justice are themes often encountered in the literature of this time. Such is the case of Stifter's Brigitta, a novella where many of the above-mentioned social and political changes seem to take an effective role in the course of the story.

Considering the importance of literary texts in a socio-political background, During explained that there is a difference in role between the mere political desire for nationalism and the desire to exercise some sort of influence upon society. He said that, "literature has operated in different social spaces than nationalism, employing different signifying practices" (During 138). In regard to Stifter's Brigitta this may mean that the role of this novella might be different if seen from a political or from a social aspect.

In this paper I argue that Stifter's Brigitta is closely connected with both political and social changes occurring in 19th century. I will attempt to show how these changes might have either influenced or even been influenced by Stifter's novella.

Starting from a brief historical background on the main text, I will discuss my thesis by dividing this paper in two sections. The first will intend to show how Brigitta directly relates to political events, such as the preparation for the VormÐ"¤rz revolution of 1848 in Hungary and how the main character Brigitta functions as a personification of Hungary, its repressed past, inner worth and desire for independence. I will then move onto the social aspect of my paper, discussing how Thomas Cook's organized travels and Stifter's desire for utopian peace and his search for beauty as reflected in the detailed descriptions of landscapes may be directly connected with each other.

Adalbert Stifter's Brigitta

Until 1840 Stifter attempted to be actively engaged in visual-art careers, which were nevertheless never a success. It was at this time that the author decided to yield to his writing talent and dedicated himself to the expression of natural themes through his novels and stories (Matz 130). In 1842 Stifter began to write Brigitta. In the first edition published in the pocket book Gedenke Mein! of the year 1844, the novel was preceded by an introductory page endowed with an explanation of its content and references to the theme of "beauty." It was thus clear that Stifter feared the risk of being misunderstood and considered the necessity of blatantly explaining himself as very important.

In the finished edition of 1847 published in the fourth volume of his book Studien, the introductory page was permanently removed. In the second finished edition the author also better elaborated the concepts of suffering and reason, as the course of the novel shows. Brigitta was written in chapters, the titles of which were: Steppenwanderung, Steppenhaus, Steppenvergangenheit and Steppengegenwart; all of these chapter names referred to the Hungarian steppe landscape as the main point of the events taking place in the course of the story (Von Wiese, 196).

It was in this same year that Stifter took a journey with his wife Amelie through his native villages of Oberplan and Friedberg in Upper Austria and then traveled down until the Salzkammergut, close to the Italian border (Baumer, 135). This traveling, concurrent to Sir Thomas Cook's arrival in Hungary to bargain the construction of the Austro-Hungarian railways, will be the result of further discussion in the course of this paper.

Brigitta is a novella told by a narrator, whose name stays unknown throughout the work. After meeting the Major while on a trip in Naples, the narrator returns home and corresponds to the Major, who resides in Hungary. When the Major invites him for a visit, the narrator takes advantage of this chance and decided to travel to Uwar, where the Major's residence is. Along the journey beautiful, but also desolate landscapes are the main center of the narrator's attention. Upon arrival in Uwar, the Major shows the narrator his possessions and together they experience the routine of everyday life in Hungary. As the Major and the narrator visit Brigitta, a woman with great skills and talents, who was left by her husband years before because of adultery, a new aspect of the novella begins.

The Major is clearly interested in pursuing Brigitta for a wife and the narrator wishes she did not have a pending case of divorce so that the Major could actually really marry her. When a wild wolf deadly wounds Gustav (Brigitta's son), the Major and Brigitta decide to reconcile and declare their love for each other. It is only in the end that the narrator understands that Stephan, the Major, was Brigitta's husband and that he was the one who had previously left her for another woman.

Political Events

Hungary and the VormÐ"¤rz revolution of 1848

Writing his novel, Adalbert Stifter probably felt the political pressure of his times, and attempted to address political events in an indirect way, by binding the main character Brigitta to the ongoing events.

The Restoration of 1815 after Napoleon's defeat saw principalities and kingdoms again restored to their status prior to the French emperor's military attacks. The renewed denial of national identity in those countries that for centuries had suffered the dominion of a foreign crown and that saw in Napoleon



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