The Presentation of Herr von S. in Die Judenbuche

by Graeme Tytler
The Presentation of Herr von S. in Die Judenbuche
Graeme Tytler
The German Quarterly
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Oxford, England

The Presentation of Herr von S. inDie Judenbuche

One of the most intriguing aspects of scholarship on Die Judenbuche is the di- vergence of views on the role and function of Herr von S. On the one hand, there are those who regard him as a fundamentally good man, an exemplar of Christianity, even God's Vicar on earth; and, on the other, those who are critical of him for failing to relate properly to the villagers, for being niggardly in his feudalistic protection and, above all, for denying Friedrich a solemn burial.' And though it is now and then ac- knowledged that the Baron has his failings, there nevertheless seems to be some hesi- tancy about impugning a man whom the narrator commends for his charitableness and in whom some scholars, as has been re- cently pointed out, "appear [...] to respect too greatly the social authority vested in

This hesitancy is apparent in per- haps the most extensive (and the most neg- ative) discussion on the subject to date, in that its author, having, to my mind, rightly declared that the Baron's charitableness is that of a pseudo-Christian and that the reader is left with a generally unfavorable impression of him, believes such an inter- pretation to be contrary to Droste-Huls- hoff's intention, namely, that we should come away with "ein positives Bild" of his character.3 The fact that assessments of the Baron have, however, been based large- ly on particular deeds he performs but hardly on a comprehensive analysis of his presentation may in part account for the continuance of hesitant or conflicting atti- tudes toward him. Our aim here, then, will be to show, through a detailed examination of his presentation, that Droste-Hulshoff, far from setting Herr von S. up as some sort of paragon, is concerned not only to expose his moral limitations, but to suggest how far these limitations impinge upon, and even determine, the central events of the novella.

The presentation of the Baron is con- spicuous for the absolute authority he wields or exhibits throughout the novella. We see this partly in the obedience and sub- missiveness shown him by servants, for- esters, gamekeepers, and the like, and partly in his being addressed or referred to (sometimes with the Baroness) as "die gnadigen Herrschaften," "gnadiger Herr," "Ihre Gnaden," "Ihro Gnade," "Ew Gna- den," etc. Such details evoke the idea of the power and privileges enjoyed by the aris- tocracy in a pre-revolutionary German state. Yet, as is already suggested in the opening paragraphs of the novella with their ironic mention of "hochst einfachen und haufig unzulhglichen Gesetze" and "alten staubigten Urkunden"(Judenbuche 31, as well as in the account of nocturnal skirmishes between peasants and forest- ers, the governance of this tough Westpha- lian community is clearly not a straightfor- ward business, influenced as it seems to be by expediency rather than by ethic^.^ It comes, therefore, as no surprise that, al- though the Baron is prompt to begin the in- vestigation into Aaron's murder on the very night it is reported to him, he should at first be hampered in his task by the ap- parent lack of system by which juridical matters appear to be conducted in the com- munity. Thus the reader may have already wondered, for example, why Kapp, though

The German Quarterly 73.4 (Fall 2000) 337

a mere Gerichtsschreiber, should have felt "genWhigt" (Judenbuche 22) to hold the Brandis murder inquest instead of waiting for the Baron to do so upon his return. At any rate, the fact that nothing is said about the Baron's being in any way involved with this unsuccessful case would suggest that he is sometimes quite content to delegate his legal responsibilities entirely to his as- sistant. This may in turn help to explain not only Kapp's rather arrogant manner of interrogating Margreth about Friedrich's movements on the morning Brandis has been found killed but also his unconsciona- ble dilatoriness in reporting to the Baron for the Aaron murder investigation. More- over, it is probably because he senses some- thing of the Baron's inveterate depend- ency on him in the embarrassed silence which follows the latter's outburst of rage that Kapp is able to complete the explana- tion for his absence with such rhetorical and histrionic skill as to leave the Baron at the end of it "halb versohnt" (Judenbuche 33). But the chief interest of this dialogue for our purposes is that, through his prob- lematic relations with his subordinate, to say nothing of the curious assumptions he makes about the villagers, the Baron al- ready raises doubts about his competence as a leader.

In light of the foregoing it is hardly per- plexing that the Baron should handle the Aaron murder case in rather amateurish fashion. We note, for example, the alacrity with which he orders Friedrich's arrest, not merely because he has seen Aaron fol- low the latter out of the farmhouse after asking him in vain to pay up for the silver watch, but because he has conveniently recollected his two servants' account of Mergel's ghost, despite having at first dis- missed that account as "dummes Zeug" (Judenbuche 30). There is also something odd about the way the Baron makes up for his initial hesitancy to accept Margreth's offhand invitation to look for Friedrich by angrily ordering his men into her house with the words "worauf warten wir?" (Ju-

denbuche 32), just as there is something ridiculous about the grim fastidiousness with which he organizes the search for Friedrich on the premises, knowing as he should have done by then that that was the least likely place to find him. Furthermore, by being shown to have very mixed feelings about Friedrich's supposed flight, whether because he has felt flattered by the latter's mock homage to him at the peasant wed- ding or because he is disconcerted by Mar- greth's wan appearance and strange de- meanor, the Baron may be thought to be- tray a certain inability to be consistent and impartial with regard to legal matters. Again, whereas Kapp has taken his time over the Brandis murder inquest, espe- cially when interrogating Friedrich, the Baron is evidently encouraged by Kapp's absence to do everything more quickly "als sonst geschehen wke" (Judenbuche 31), just as he will hurry through the autopsy on Aaron's corpse as if he were too impa- tient to give due attention to such impor- tant matters. It is also significant that, whereas the Baron closes the Aaron mur- der case very soon afterwards, he does so to the dissatisfaction of the Jews, who, confi- dent that the suspect is probably still hid- ing in the vicinity, have spared "weder Miihe noch Geld" (Judenbuche 33) to hunt down the murderer. Certainly, the knowl- edge that a Jew going by the name of "der Wucherjoel" is willing to write off some- body's debt if they help catch Friedrich casts further doubt on the Baron's juridical objectivity, the more so as we may be prompted by that detail to wonder why the Baron apparently does not deign to investi- gate any of Aaron's "bose Schuldner in B. und S." (Judenbuche 31) mentioned in the testimony of his widow and her servant.

Much more serious, however, is the ea- gerness with which the Baron allows him- self to be so far persuaded by the letter he receives from the "Prasident des Gerichtes zu E" as to give credence to the latter's con- tention that Friedrich is probably no more guilty of Aaron's murder than either of


them, no doubt because the Prasident sup- plements his claim with the information that aprisoner in his charge called Lumpen- moises confessed to killing a Jew named Aaron. And yet one wonders whether, amid his delight in reading the letter it has oc- curred to the Baron that it has been writ- ten by someone who now finds himself hard put to prove that hypothesis simply because he has been careless enough to al- low his key prisoner to hang himself during an inquest lunch break on an article of clothing that probably ought to have been confiscated in the first place. But even if the Prasident does not actually assert that Friedrich is innocent, it is almost certainly owing to the breezy tone of the letter, to say nothing of its patent crudity and racism, that by the time he has finished reading it aloud the Baron, hoping Aaron's murder might have indeed been perpetrated by a fellow Jew, appears strongly drawn to the idea of Friedrich's innocence, though not without first repeating the Priisident's words "Was sagen Sie dazu?" (Judenbuche 34) to Kapp. Yet instead of waiting for Kapp's answer to the question, he goes on straightaway to ask why Friedrich was so foolish as to take flight, as if his question to Kapp had already been answered once and for all. Whether or not Kapp, too, is taken in by the Prasident's letter, his explanation for the flight as having to do with wood- thieving seems to reassure the Baron in his fallacious thinking about Friedrich ("Da- bei beruhigte man sich" [Judenbuche 35]), perhaps because Kapp has buttressed his explanation with a dubious proverb ("der Bose lauft vor seinem eigenen Schatten" [Judenbuche 351) and an equally dubious judgment on the state of Friedrich's con- science. That the Prasident's letter has a lasting effect in the Baron's thinking is comically illustrated some twenty-eight years later when, having long since propa- gated the idea of Friedrich's innocence throughout the community, albeit appar- ently without having made further investi- gations in all that time, he takes it for granted, not to say as a foregone conclu- sion, that even Johannes is aware that Friedrich did not kill Aaron ("du weifit doch, da13 er unschuldig war?" [Judenbu- che 3711.5

If, on account of the simple rustics he has to work with and the rather primitive methods of criminal investigation at his disposal, the Baron might be judged le- niently for his mishandling of the Aaron murder case and his failure to solve it, it is doubtful whether similar allowance can be made in respect of his conduct after Johan- nes has returned from abroad. It is true that the Baron lets Johannes have his meals at the manor house and, with the Baroness's help, provides him with his cast-offs, just as he had food and medical help taken to Margreth when everybody else in the village had given up on her. At the same time it is not difficult to suppose that the Baron's charity is for the most part carried out by other people. We note, for example, that he assumes that the Hiils- meyers will put Johannes up on the second night of his return and that, instead of per- mitting him to stay temporarily at the manor house-which must have been pos- sible, to judge by the capacity of Haus Boker- hof near Bellersen (the probable model for Schlol3 B.1-he and the Baroness talk end- lessly into the night about where to find him accommodation.6 Moreover, even while he is entertaining him at the SchloB, it seems as if the Baron is more inclined to dominate Johannes than to show a true concern for his personal well-being. This we sense already in their first interview. Thus the Baron tactlessly laughs at the co- incidence of Johannes and Friedrich's hav- ingbeen in such close proximity to Kapp on the night of their flight, at the same time as, in apparent indifference to his interloc- utor's shuddering at that memory, he wist- fully recalls "seinen seligen Kapp und des- sen Abenteuer am Heerser Hange" (Ju- denbuche 38),as though it were merely some fictional incident to relish over. Pecu- liar, too, is the Baron's questioning the credibility of Johannes's rescue from the Bosporus as he raises his finger in much the same high-handed manner in which he will presently admonish him for turning down the Dutch shipowner's job offer. Even more peculiar is the way in which, in- stead of responding to Johannes's heartfelt wish to be buried in a Catholic cemetery, the Baron abruptly hands him apurse, and just as abruptly imputes him with tired- ness and befuddlement, as though such words and gestures were enough to salve the bad conscience with which he termi- nates a meeting he has evidently grown

tired of.

Although references to the Baron's shaking his head "mitleidig" (Judenbuche 39) at Johannes or having "das innigste Mitleiden mit dem armen Schelm" (Juden- buche 39) might be used in mitigation of what has just been said, it is still hard to es- cape the impression, as created partly by the somewhat patronizing tone of the lat- ter quotation, that the Baron's attitude to Johannes betokens condescending pity rather than sincere compassion. This is in some measure confirmed when, in answer to the Baroness's premonition that Johan- nes may go mad, the Baron merely dismis- ses the idea with a dubious generalization about the mental health of simpletons, thereby absolving himself perhaps from the need to become personally involved with him. No doubt, the Baron may be thought to deserve some credit for yielding, albeit reluctantly, to Johannes' request to carry messages, especially since the latter works well enough in the early days of his new em- ployment. That the Baron's concession has, however, been made more in an at- tempt to please than out of a desire to act in the best interest of the recipient is soon af- terwards ironically borne out when the Baroness, having already been "sehr besorgt" about Johannes's prolonged ab- sence while he was out on a "Botengange," and then noticed that, on his return, he looked "wunderlich und quer aus den Augen," says this to her husband: "Ichsage dir, Ernst, das nimmt noch ein schlimmes Ende" (Judenbuche 40). But, as on the oc- casion when he pooh-poohed the Baron- ess's anxiety about Johannes's mental health, the Baron's silent response to those words suggests that he is once again stub- bornly ignoring his wife's warning, sensi- ble as that warning is for being given in conjunction with reports that Johannes "habe auffallend verstort ausgesehen und unaufiorlich mit sich selber geredet" (Judenbuche 40).

The Baron's apparent lack of concern for Johannes is nowhere more clearly seen in all its enormity than when, in reply to the inquiry by the latter's landlady as to his whereabouts after three days of absence, the Baron simply says: "Gott bewahre [...I ich weiR nichts von ihm" (Judenbuche 40). It is true that the Baron becomes energeti- cally involved in the subsequent search for Johannes. Yet the intensive measures he takes to leave no stoneunturned seem to be merely proportionate to his recent negli- gence, and to be carried out with an uneasy conscience. It is as if the Baron were even using Johannes's disappearance as an op- portunity once more to display his leader- ship through the haste and impetuosity with which he organizes the search for him. Indeed, in the imperious orders he el- liptically issues to the gamewardens about lookingin ditches and quarries, even as the latter are already making their way out of the manor house, and amid the hullabaloo of horns being blown and dogs dispatched in all directions, we sense a man anxious to show everybody that he is still in control. But commendable as all this busyness may appear to be at first blush-indicated by the haste with which the Baron goes to the beech ("Dennoch trieb der Gutsherr zur groaten Eile [...I"[Judenbuche 4211, and the undue persnicketiness with which he then orders the lowering of the corpse-it cannot but ultimately fail to mask his un- conscionable irresponsibility toward the cripple he has purportedly taken under his care.


The reader might well wonder why an aristocrat noted for his charitableness and conspicuous for his legal and administra- tive endeavors should be shown to have been largely unequal to the two important tasks he has so readily assumed. It could, of course, be argued that the Baron does com- mendably enough in very difficult circum- stances and that any blame for his blun- ders should attach, at least in some degree, to sheer bad luck. Yet a careful reading of the text suggests that the root of the Baron's failures seems to lie more or less within himself. We have already glimpsed some of the ways in which the Baron's talk and behavior are marked by a certain emo- tionalism. That emotionalism seems tounderlie the speech, the manner, the looks, and the silences of the Baron (and the Baroness) may be seen in the narrator's use of words denoting anger or annoyance ("barsch," "heftig," "verdriel3lich"); dejection ("seufzte," "verstimmt"); anxiety ("iingst- lich," "beihgstigt," "sehr besorgt," "in grol3er Unruhe," "seine Unruhe"); surpriseor shock ("befremdet," "tief erschuttert," "in tiefer Erschutterung," "fuhr zuriick"); and indeci- sion ("zogerte," "zweifelnd," "rnit unsicherer Stirnrne"). There is even a hint of claustro- phobia in the Baron when, having inspected the box of possessions in Johannes's lodg- ings, he suddenly leaves the latter's room because "ihm ward ganz beengt in dem dumpfen, engen Kiimmerchen [...I" (Judenbuche 41). Aside from suggesting that the Baron is too remote from the ordinary life of the community to take its problems and crises in his stride, such references be- speak a type of feudalistic authority whereby, thanks to a strictly hierarchical system as upheld and maintained through the obedience of various subordinates, there is little need for Herr von S. to dis- play, let alone cultivate, such intelligence as he may possess. Hence, for example, that tendency of his to speak without thinking carefully beforehand; a tendency which suggests a man used to having things done for him without needing to ask first, as we see when, having twice peremp- torily asked Margreth for the key to Friedrich's chest, he discovers that it is still in the lock and, again, when, having arrived at the beech expecting to find acorpse hanging from it, he bluntly remarks, "Ich sehe nichts" (Judenbuche 42). In both in- stances we discern an almost perverse dis- inclination in the Baron to pause and think about using his eyes or, at least, politely to ask to be shown what he is looking for. An inevitable by-product of the Baron's hasty speech is a certain forgetfulness, as we note, for example, when at one moment in his first interview with Johannes he tells him, "komm bald wieder" but in the next says, "morgen komm wieder" (Judenbuche 39). Furthermore, living as he does in a shel- tered world, the Baron sometimes gives rein to his imagination as if he were con- cerned with a purely fictional situation. Thus, when speculating about what might have happened to Johannes after three days of absence, the Baron indulges in a kind of fantasy as he imagines the latter not only lying helpless in a ditch and un- able to get out but having broken "eines von seinen schiefen Beinen" (Judenbuche 40). Even when the gamekeepers have re- turned home a few hours after their first unsuccessful search for Johannes, the Baron still clings to his image of the latter lying in a ditch "wie ein Stein" (Juden- buche 401, this time, however, comforting himself that Johannes is probably still alive on the strength of the pseudo-scien- tific assumption that "drei Tage hat's ein Mensch wohl ohne Nahrung aus" (Juden- buche 40). The futility of this essentially wishful thinking is, of course, made abun- dantly clear at the end of the novella when the cripple is found to be in a posture dia- metrically opposite to the one thus pic- tured.

One consequence of the Baron's being almost willfully out of touch with reality and shut up in his own inner world is his proneness to making presumptuous and false judgments. This is evident, for exam-


ple, when he wonders why there was not "irgend ein altes Weib" (Judenbuche 32) in the village to inform Kapp's maid about Aaron's murder and then, with the image of that hypothetical old woman still firmly planted in his mind, goes on to ask Kapp why someone did not, therefore, wake him up; or, again, in a later context when, hav- ing shortly afterwards confided in him about Friedrich's debts, he cuts Kapp short for his assertion that the divulgence of the debts will be "kein kleiner hger fir Frau Margreth" (Judenbuche 33) by angrily de- nying that she is even thinking about the matter at present. A similar presumptu- ousness is noticeable when on hearing that the younger Brandis has found a body hang- ing from the beech, the Baron promptly chides him for not cutting it down without first giving him the opportunity to say whether or not he has already done so. An- other memorable example is shown earlier in the narrative when some Jews come to see the Baron about buying the beech. Thus instead of at first inquiringwhat they want with the tree, he immediately asks them if they wish to cut it down "so mitten in vollem Laube?" (Judenbuche 34) there- by thoughtlessly implying that they are in- sensitive to the tree's present healthy con- dition. Yet though the Jews are quick to as- sure him that they intend to do no such thing, the Baron still seems to cling to his original image of their intention as he goes on to suggest that they might go even fur- ther by cutting down the entire forest: "Aber wenn ich nun den Wald hauen lasse, so schadet es dem jungen Aufschlag" (Ju- denbuche 34). Aside from the fact that that assertion will, ironically enough, be found contradicted twenty-eight years later by the presence of an almost intractable stretch of undergrowth in a virtually treeless Breder- holz, it proves to be an idle attempt at dis- suasion, especially when we consider the ap- parent readiness with which the Baronvery soon afterwards agrees to sell the tree for 200 Thaler.

In view of what has just been said, there is perhaps nothing out of the ordinary about the Baron's tendency to make gener- alizations. It is noteworthy in this connec- tion that, when alluding in her letter to G.

R. Schluter (April 28, 1840) to the idea of writing a Sittengemalde about Westphalia, Droste-Hulshoff should have asked the fol- lowing question: "Sol1 ich mich nun den niedren Klassen zuwenden? Das Landvolk zum Stoffe wiihlen mit seinen duseligen Begriffen, seltsamen Ansichten, lacher- lichen S~hlul3folgen?"~ That she went on to realize affirmative answers to those questions is plain to see from the various ways in whichMargreth and Simon, in par- ticular, are shown making all kinds of falla- cies, especially in their respective attempts to justify some of their utterances to Fried- rich with questionable proverbs and apho- rism~.~Yet Droste-Hiilshoff could have just as well ascribed the afore-mentioned foibles to the upper classes. We have, for example, already seen the Baron counter- ing the Baroness's fear for Johannes's san- ity with the claim that "simple Leute werden nie verriickt" (Judenbuche 39)-a categorical assertion which almost certainly begs the question on strictly medical grounds. Another such example occurs earlier when, annoyed at finding that his fountain works have been tampered with, the Baron broadens the target of his anger with the following aphoristic statement: "[...I was die Schelme nicht stehlen, das verderben die Narren" (Judenbuche 30); which, when examined closely in the con- text, proves to be altogether meaningless. There is little doubt that the Baron's pro- clivity to give himself airs with such pre- tentious statements argues an essentially dull intellect and helps us to understand why, for example, he should be persuaded by the letter from the Prasident enough to suppose that Friedrich is innocent of Aaron's murder. Certainly, it is reasonable to assume that, given his fondness for corning out with aphorisms of his own, the Baron is already more than half convinced of this view by the Prasident's quoting of



Boileau's words "le vrai n'est pas toujours vraisemblable" (Judenbuche34), the more so as they sound grandly philosophical in the noble language of Fren~h.~

The interest of all these examples of presumptuous thought and speech, inci- dental as they might be adjudged, is that they help us to account for the Baron's complex association with the village com- munity. To be sure, the Baron and Baron- ess's high status seems secure enough when they first appear as guests of honor at the peasant wedding, as we may gather from this detail about their departure: "die Menge theilte sich, wie der Wagen des Gutsherrn in den Hoflenkte" (Judenbuche 29). Yet already from the ironically jocose manner in which Friedrich browbeats his fellow guests into joining him in a toast to the Baron and Baroness and then apolo- gizes to the latter for their having to en- dure the company of mere "ungelehrte Bauernsleute" (Judenbuche 28), we sur- mise that relations between the aristoc- racy and the peasantry are far from easy. We may even guess from Friedrich's mock- ing attitude that, for all the obedience he can elicit from his subordinates, Herr von

S. scarcely holds their respect or affection. This we realize further when we hear that he has attended the wedding in order to maintain his popularity in the commu- nity-a gesture which, incidentally, seems to suggest that his later deeds of charita- bleness are performed for much the same questionable reason. And whereas it is un- derstandable that, as on similar social oc- casions, the Baron should be in a bad mood on his way home, the more so as he has wit- nessed all kinds of unruly behavior amid the physical discomforts of an overcrowded farmhouse, there is nevertheless something quite petty, not to say childish, about the way in which he vents his annoyance on two of his servants, instead of, say, listening and responding to their tale of Mergel's ghost in a manner befitting his social rank. Moreover, the fact that the Baron's irrita- tion here, as in later contexts with Kapp and the younger Brandis, seems to have very little to do with righteous indignation but a good deal to do with a chronic lack of self-control, gives rise to certain misgiv-

ings about his moral character. Such misgivings, however, prove amply justified once we have come to realize that the Baron is inherently misanthropic. This is evident, for example, in his ten- dency to resort to impersonal generaliza- tions when dealing with his subordinates or referring to the villagers. Thus instead of confining his anger to Kapp, and to Kapp alone, for his dilatoriness, he sarcastically berates him with the sweeping term "Scho- ne Polizei!" (Judenbuche32). Again, there is something unmistakably impersonal, not to say misogynous, about his referring in the same context to the women villagers as "irgend ein altes Weib" or complaining about the fact that "jede alte Schachtel im Dorf weilj Bescheid, wenn es recht geheim zugehen soll" (Judenbuche321, as if in all three cases he were indifferent to any of these people as individuals. But it is when he uses the epithet "dumm", whether in response to the account of Hermann Mergel's ghost, in his image of a criminal that is easy to catch, in his incomprehen- sion as to Friedrich's flight, or in his criti- cism of Johannes for begging his way home instead of accepting the shipowner's job of- fer, that the Baron displays an arrant tact- lessness, at the same time as, in his disdain for other viewpoints, he reveals himself as someone desirous of displaying more intel- ligence than he actually possesses. Furthermore, not unlike other characters in the novella such as Margreth, Simon, the elder Brandis and the Prasident, who are given to all kinds of name-calling, the Baron betrays his essential misanthropy with the fallacious practice of referring more or less vituperatively to people as ani- mals, be it in identifying two servants as "ein paar selige Schweine aus unserem eigenen Stall" (Judenbuche29), designat- ing Friedrich as "der Esel von einem Bur- schen" (Judenbuche34) for taking flight,


or addressing the younger Brandis as "Esel" (Judenbuche 42) for not cutting the corpse down from the beech.1°

In face of such heedless language one might reasonably ask whether those who deem the Baron a good Christian would not be a little embarrassed for him, and per- haps even more so on account of his impi- ous interjections, notably the three ("Gott," "Lieber Himmel," and "Mein Gott" [Ju- denbuche 421) he utters just before and immediately after identifying Friedrich's corpse. Such utterances are, to be sure, hardly different in kind from the Baron's peevish complaint ("Furchtbares Wetter" [Judenbuche 301) about the storm that breaks out on the night Aaron's murder is reported to him or, more particularly, from the way in which, during a search for Johannes, he curses the undergrowth as follows: "Wenn nur das verdammte Busch- werk nicht so dicht wiire! Da kann keine Seele hindurch" (Judenbuche 41). Yet, quite apart from furnishing us with yet an- other example of the Baron's fallacious thinking, that quotation is notable for the use of the word "verdammt," linked as it is with his impious interjections, which, in any case, ill become someone of his sup- posed authority, not least because they con- travene the Third Commandment ("Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain."). Even the Baroness on hearing about Johannes' twenty-six years of slav- ery in Turkey, is quick to exclaim: "Gott im Himmel! Das ist aber doch schrecklich!" (Judenbuche 38). Furthermore, the fact that impious interjections of all kinds are common enough in Die Judenbuche indi- cates that the Baron and the Baroness are, at least in that respect, no better than some of their social inferiors.

Since all such bad language is by itsvery nature an unconscious expression of superstition, it would not be inappropriate to see it as forming an essential part of the ut- terly cheerless image of Christianity that permeates the novella as a whole.ll Indeed, there is much to suggest that, for all the im- portance attached to such practices as reading aloud or quoting from the Bible, calling upon the Virgin Mary, saying the Lord's Prayer, tellingbeads, taking the sac- rament, going to confession, observing feast days, planning pilgrimages, receiving the last rites, and so on, being religious seems not much more than a matter of now tormenting oneself, as Margreth so often does, with a morbid sense of sin and an equally morbid dread of Divine Judgment or even the Devil, now presuming, as Si- mon does, that the Almighty will take care of Friedrich's good-for-nothing father in the after-life, notwithstanding the claim made only a few moments earlier that the latter has in his drunkenness gone "ohne Bulje und Oelung zum Teufel" (Juden- buche 12). In other words, religion seems to have much less to do with the Christian graces of faith, hope and love than with fear, sentimentality and superstition.12

It may be, therefore, not without signif- icance that as far as neighborly love is con- cerned the Jewish community should ac- quit itselfrather better than the Christian. This is suggested not only in the trouble taken by the Jews to mourn their dead as in the solemn ceremony held by the rabbi at the beech but in their compassion for the bereaved and distressed: "Die Juden der Umgegend hatten groljen Antheil gezeigt. Das Haus der Wittwe ward nie leer von Jammernden und Rathenden. Seit Men- schengedenken waren nicht so vie1 Juden beisammen in L. gesehen worden" (Juden- buche 33). Moreover, just as we may sur- mise that the widow's eventually taking a second husband is an indirect consequence of all the moral support she has received, so we may suppose that Margreth's gradual loss of sanity, notwithstanding all the (es- sentially limited) charitableness shown to her, is due in part to the fact that she "blieb ungetrostet" (Judenbuche 34) amid her Christian neighbors. Perhaps that is why it seems quite appropriate that, at one point in his account, Johannes should tell the Baron and Baroness that "die Tiirken

TYTLER:Droste-Hiilshoff 345

halten uns Christen nicht besser als Hunde" (Judenbuche 38); for in reminding us of those characters in the novella that contemptuously designate others as dogs (and other animals), and sometimes even threaten to treat them as such, Johannes's comparison makes it ironically plain that so-called Christians are themselves just as 'heathen' as the Turks in their treatment of their fellow creatures. At all events, that figure of speech must needs be considered as integral to the author's implicit depreca- tion of those for whom Christianity (viz. Catholicism) seems all too often to be at best a matter of observing doctrine and dogma to the letter. This we see most poi- gnantly exemplified when, notwithstand- ing the hero's having already expressed to him a longing to be buried "auf einem katholischen Kirchhofe" (Judenbuche 39), a place which he was seen visiting on the first night after his arrival, and on some of whose graves he seemed to fur his "starre Blicke" (Judenbuche 37) from a distance, the Baron has the latter's corpse consigned to a carrion-pit-a gesture that seems oddly similar in ethos to the Hebrew carved on the beech. The fact that a sentiment analogous to that of "Aug um Auge, Zahn um Zahn" (Judenbuche 31) should literally have the last word in the novella may well be interpreted as the ascendancy of the Law over the Christian spirit of understanding and forgiveness, the Baron's selling of the beech to the Jews being, therefore, seen in retrospect as a kind of symbolic adumbra- tion of his apparent indifference to that same spirit which poetically informs the opening epigraph.13

The disposal of the hanged man's corpse in unconsecrated ground has some- times been condemned as a callous act on the Baron's part, partly because Winkel- hannes (the hero's model) was, despite having himself committed suicide, given a formal burial by the author's maternal grandfather.14 But even if the Baron's in- junction in that respect may be defended as being in perfect accordance with official

Catholic practice at that time, it neverthe- less raises questions as to his ulterior mo- tives. For example, has it been partly de- termined by his annoyance at having been deceived by Friedrich for such a long time? Is it an attempt to re-establish his author- ity over his subordinates in the wake of his shortcomings with respect to the hero's welfare? Is it a gesture aimed at fulfilling the expectations of the villagers and hence yet another bid to curry favor with them? If all these questions seem to invite an- swers in the affirmative, they do so, how- ever, without any help from the narrator who remains conspicuously silent on what the present-day reader might condemn as a needlessly inclement action. That the narrator is almost certainly on the Baron's side throughout the novella may be seen not only from the references to his charita- bleness, but from the complete absence of criticism for any of his deeds or utterances. This is, of course, in glaring contrast to the narrator's noticeable subjectivity toward the main characters. Thus, not only is the narrator prompt to evaluate Friedrich's character negatively at different stages of his development and to be quite censorious of Simon for his baneful influence on the latter, to the point of hinting that he is the very Devil incarnate, but is prone to refer- ring patronizingly to Margreth and Johannes with epithets such as "arm," "iirm- lich," "arrnselig" and "unbeachtet," or with nouns such as "Teufel," "Schelm," "Delin- quent" and "Schiitzling," and, on one occa- sion, even describes Johannes as Fried- rich's "verkiimrnertes Spiegelbild" (Juden- buche 14).This haughty narratorial stance is underscored in some measure by the in- clusion in the text of some forty Gallicisms and Latinisms, all of which forcibly bring to mind how much the German aristocracy, not least that which governed Westphalia under a more or less Prussian aegis, had been influenced by the high culture of the ancien regime, especially since the early eighteenth century.15 Sometimes, too, the rather junkerhaft tone of certain specula-

tive comments suggests that the narrator is but blandly reflecting the Baron's earlier utterances or probable thoughts, say, about Friedrich's flight and the incompe- tence of the village police ("Und wo war Friedrich? Ohne Zweifel fort, weit genug, um die kurzen Arme einer so schwachen Polizei nicht mehr furchten zu durfen" [Judenbuche 3411, or about Johannes's possible situation after his second disap- pearance ("So war er denn zum zweitenmal verschwunden; ob man ihn wie- derfinden wiirde-vielleicht einmal nach Jahren seine Knochen in einem trockenen Graben? Ihn lebend wieder zu sehen, dazu war wenig Hoffnung, und jedenfalls nach acht-und-zwanzig Jahren gewil3 nicht" [Judenbuche 411).

If some scholars may have, then, been thus encouraged by the narrator to main- tain a more or less respectful attitude to- ward the Baron, it is nevertheless a com- monplace that fictional narrators can be notoriously unreliable and even quite bi- ased with respect to their characters. This has certainly been shown to be true of Die Judenbuche, whose narrator gives the im- pression of being actually made up of sev- eral different voices or personas. That the narrator is, in any case, not to be conflated with the author is made obvious for us by the considerable difference in tone that ex- ists between the narrative and the epi- graph. Another good reason for avoiding such a conflation is that Droste-Hulshoff here makes use, so to speak, of the 'objec- tive' methods of the drama, inasmuch as the bare-boned economy ofnarrative detail by which the definitive version of the no- vella differs so markedly from the two ear- lier versions, indirectly places the task of interpretation quite heavily on the shoul- ders of the reader. Thus we can see how much the Baron's presentation is given through the medium of dialogue and, as said above, how seldom evaluative com- ments are made about his words or deeds. This puts us in avery good position to judge him as if he were a character in a play, and that notwithstanding the imposing pres- ence and, therefore, possibly misleading influence, of an authoritative narrator. In this connection it is useful to recall that Droste-Hulshoff had no mean talent for drama, as is evident from her comedy Per- du; indeed, it may be partly through an awareness of the satire in this little piece that the reader is alerted to the presence of humor in Die Judenbuche.lG Certainly, there are episodes in the novella that seem to attest a sense of fun, even a mischievous streak, in its author but which, being sub- tly interwoven with the tragic content, are not always easily discernible for their com- ical implications.17 This blending, as it were, of the humorous with the serious may also be said to underlie the character- ization of such figures as Simon, Margreth, and Kapp, and, as we have suggested above, to be essential to the presentation of the Baron.

It might be asked why, given his partic- ular status and responsibilities, the Baron was not portrayed as someone more or less as 'normal' as the author's grandfather ap- pears to have been. The fact that the Baron no more escapes a sharply critical eye than any of the other main figures; that he is, in- deed, subject to a scrutiny as though sub specie aeternitatis, doubtless has to do with the way character and action seem to be grounded in the author's implicit preoccu- pation with transcendental issues. And though it is possible from a purely secular standpoint to play down the Baron's foi- bles as being but manifestations of an ex- cusable, even endearing, eccentricity, there can be little doubt that through his ten- dency to be pompous, overbearing, short- tempered, cantankerous, impetuous, pre- sumptuous, careless in speech and, above all, misanthropic, he makes a pretty poor representative of the basic codes of Chris- tian conduct. It is not that the Baron can in any way be described as a bad or evil man; such a description of him is necessarily pre- cluded by our awareness that he is not without perfectly honorable intentions.



Rather, it should be said that he lacks true moral fiber, concerned as he is to keep the proverbial boat from rocking, that is, to ad- here to the community ethos of expediency instead of fearlessly rising above it. This is suggested to some extent by the assump- tion that his readiness to postulate Fried- rich's innocence may have been deter- mined as much by a desire to propitiate the Christian community as by a certain reluc- tance to ensure that justice be seen to be done on behalf of the Jews. And perhaps it is because the Baron gives the impression of being guided by expediency rather than by ethical or even spiritual considerations that he is meant to cut an essentially ridic- ulous figure in the novella, and one who, as we have tried to show, would not be out of place in the realm of high comedy. Such an assessment forms part of the conclusion to our foregoing discussions and may be rein- forced by reference to some light-hearted comical details about the Baron not men- tioned hitherto: his tendency to speak as if he were thinking aloud; to repeat words or phrases in anger or astonishment; and to use elliptical or incomplete sentences. comical, too, is the fact that, on his first visit to the manor house on his return from abroad, Johannes should find the Baron heavily slumped in an armchair and still wearing the same little red cap he wore twenty-eight years before, as if that head- gear were a kind of emblem of his hide- bound conservatism; that the Baron's name is Ernst, with all that such a name might evoke in the mind of the reader; and that he may even be a little henpecked, at least judging from his wife's insistence on the all but abandoned search for Johannes being resumed.

There is something comical, too, not to say absurd, about a man who, for all his propensity to peer at people and objects with "den hellen Augen" (Judenbuche37) he still possesses in great age, seems, not unlike those villagers that can only gape at Johannes on the day after his return, to lack the physiognomic awareness which, with or without the help of his spectacles, might have enabled him to recognize Friedrich in good time and thus, possibly, avert the tragic outcome. As it is, the hero is identified too late from a scar on his neck, and that beneath the very tree which, ow- ing to the Baron's strict injunction about its conservation, turns out, ironically enough, to have been the only one in the otherwise treeless Brederholz that could have made such a suicide possible. Yet the Baron's emotional reactions to the scar and the pomposity of his final pronouncement, with its equivocal rhetoric about the guilty and the innocent as something meant for the ears of "allen Leuten" (Judenbuche 42), seem all of a piece with what we have seen of him in the novella hitherto. Whe- ther or not Friedrich is indeed the hanged man or has even committed murder are questions that, however crucial for the reader, may at this stage seem much less important than the question of how far the well-meaning but bungling Herr von S. may be considered, together with the vio- lent and superstitious community under his jurisdiction, to have been indirectly re- sponsible for the suicide; that is, as long as we regard that suicide as the effect of acute loneliness, even insanity, rather than as the act of penitence it is sometimes thought to be.18 Perhaps the spirit of that question is not unconnected with the fact that this feudalistic Westphalian commu- nity-which, as we may gather already from the first paragraph of the narrative, has over the years become fossilized in its corruptions-complacently reasserts itself, as it were, at the end of Die Judenbuche the year before, if not in the very year of, a historic event that was irre- vocably to put an end to the old order.lg


lFor favorable assessments of the Baron, see especially Edson Chick, "Voices in Discord: Some Observations on Die Judenbuche," Ger-


man Quarterly 42 (1969): 154; Frederic Coenen, "The 'Idee' in Annette von Droste-Hulshoff's Die Judenbuche," German Quarterly 12 (1939): 206-09; Ernst Feise, Xenion: Themes, Forms and Ideas in German Literature (Balti- more: The Johns Hopkins Press, 19501, 140; Wilhelm Gossmann, "Die Judenbuche-Eine Geschichte der Nicht-Heimkehr," Zeitschrift fur deutsche Philologie 99 (1980): 141f; Felix Heitmann, Annette von Droste-Hiilshoff als Erzahlerin. Realismus und Objektivitat in der -Judenbuche- (Munster: Aschendorffschever- lagsbuchhandlung, 19141, 37f, 71; Lore Hoff- mann, "Die Erziihlkunst der Droste in der Ju- denbuche," (Diss. University of Munster, 1948): 28,66; Carmen Rieb, '"Ich kann nichts davon oder dazu tun.' Zur Fiktion der Berichterstat- tung in Annette von Droste-Hulshoffs Juden- buche," in Wolfgang Brandt, ed., Erzahler, Erzahlen und Erzahltes. Festschrift der Mar- burger Arbeitsgruppe Narrativik fur Rudolf Freudenberg zum 65. Geburtstag (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 19961, 63; Wolfgang Wittkow- ski, "Das Ratsel der Judenbuche und seine Losung. Religiose Geheimsignale in Zeitanga- ben der Literatur um 1840," Sprachkunst 16 (1985): 191; Winfried Woesler, "Die Literari- sierung eines Kriminalfalls," Zeitschrift fur deutsche Philologie 99 (1980): 16-19. For neg- ative comments on the Baron, see especially Maruta Lietina-Ray, "Das Recht der offent- lichen Meinung. her das Vorurteil in der Judenbuche," Zeitschrift fur deutsche Philo- logie 99(1980): 102f; Christa Kalthoff-Ptitar, Annette von Droste-Hiilshoff im Kontext ihrer Zeit (Frankfurtmain, Bern, New York: Peter Lang, 1988): 57; Betty Nance Weber, "Droste's Judenbuche: Westphalia in International Con- text," Germanic Review 50 (1975): 210.

2See Maruta Lietina-Ray, "Annette von Droste-Hulshoff and Critics of Die Juden- buche," in Avriel H. Goldberger, ed., Woman as Mediatrix. Essays on Nineteenth-Century Eu- ropean Women Writers (New York: Greenwood Press, 1987): 126.

3See Monika Salmen, Das Autorbewubtsein Annette von Droste-Hiilshoffs. Eine Vorausset- zung fur Verstandnis und Vermittlung ihres literarischen Werks (Frankfurtmain: Peter Lang, 1985): 288-95.

4Quotations from Die Judenbuche (with page numbers) are taken from Walter Huge, ed., Annette von Droste-Hiilshoff: Historisch- kritische Ausgabe, Y i, Prosa, Text (Tubingen: Max Niemeyer, 1978) and cited throughout as Judenbuche.

5See Note 2. For the sake of convenience, Friedrich will be referred to as Johannes whenever the discussion is concerned with the period between his return from abroad and his identification at the end.

6For details about Haus Bokerhof as the model for Schlolj B., see Heinz Rolleke, ed. Annette von Droste-Hiilshoff: Die Judenbuche (Bad Homburg v. d. H.: Gehlen Verlag, 1970) :168-72.

7See Karl Schulte Kemminghausen, ed., Die Briefe der Annette von Droste-Hiilshoff (Jena: Eugen DiederichsVerlag, 1944), I: 408.

8For discussions on the use of proverbs in Die Judenbuche, see, for example, Felix Heit- mann, Annette von Droste-Hulshoff: 48; Ulrike Horstmann-Guthrie, "Fontanes Kriminalerziih- lungen und Droste-Hulshoffs Die Judenbu- che," Fontane Blatter 47 (1989): 72; Wolfgang Mieder, "Das Sprichwort in den Prosawerken Annette von Droste-Hulshoffs," Rheinisches Jahrbuch fur Volkskunde 21 (1973): 329-46. However, no critic appears, to my knowledge, to have discussed Droste's use of proverbs as fallacies.

gSome critics interpret the Boileau quota- tion as pointing not only to the idea of Fried- rich's innocence, but to the "meaning" of Die Judenbuche. See, for example, Walter Huge, "Die Judenbuche als Kriminalgeschichte. Das Problem von Erkenntnis und Urteil im Kriminalschema," Zeitschrift fur deutsche Philologie 99 (1980): 69; Phillip Mellen, "Am- biguity and Intent in Die Judenbuche," Ger- manic Notes 8 (1977): 9; Rieb, "Zur Fiktion der Berichterstattung": 61.

'OHeitmann, Annette von Droste-Hiilshoff: 46, notes twenty-five references to animals in Die Judenbuche, but without commenting on their structural function. Fallacies in Die Judenbuche have been occasionally discussed, though, apparently, without specific reference to Herr von S. See, for example, Doris Brett, "Friedrich, the Beech and Margreth in Droste-Hulshoff's Judenbuche," Journal of English and Germanic Philology 84 (1985): 157-65; and Winfried Freund, "Der Morder des Juden Aaron," Wirkendes Wort 19 (1969): 244-53.

"That religion often seems but a form of


superstition is nowhere better illustrated than on the night of the storm when the Baroness, having ordered her household to kneel while she reads from St. John's gospel, is, together with those kneeling in her midst, not only badly shaken by a "furchtbarer Donnerschlag", but, mistaking the noisy entrance of Aaron's widow for an outbreak of fire, and with an interjectory "Um Gottes willen", immediately "sank mit dem Gesichte auf den Stuhl" (Judenbuche 30). This momentary loss of faith, as manifest partly in that movement, might, therefore, in- dicate that the opening verses of St. John's gos- pel were being read out on that occasion more for the mumbo-jumbo appeal of certain re- peated words than for their theological import. In this connection, it is interesting to learn that, according to a Handbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens, the opening verse of St. John's gospel plays "eine grol3e Rolle im Wetterzauber als Abwehrmittel gegen Gewitter." See Rolle-

ke, ed., Die Judenbuche: 15811.

12Perhaps no character in Die Judenbuche better represents the latter three ideas than Margreth, who, for all her insistence on reli- gious observances and rituals, though by no means entirely through her own fault, comes across as a proud, capricious, sentimental, self-pitying, discontented, domineering, vin- dictive, clannish and misanthropic woman. We also note that, not unlike those who witness Friedrich's dispute with Aaron at the peasant wedding and the Prasident des Gerichtes zu I?, she is patently anti-Semitic.

13In this connection, Salmen rather signifi- cantly remarks: "Zieht man die eingeleiteten Verse hinzu, so kann man nicht umhin, die dort ausgesprochene Warnung auf die Guts- herrschaft zu beziehen." See Salmen, Das Au- torbewuatsein: 294. Relevant here, too, is Rolleke's following statement: "[...I daR in den hebriiischen Lettern indes eindeutig alttesta- mentliches Ethos ausspricht, wurde geflis- sentlich iibersehen." See Riilleke, ed., Die Ju- denbuche: 201x1.

14For comparisons between Herr von S. and Freiherr Werner von Haxthausen or Im- mermann's Baron Munchhausen, see, for ex- ample, Rolleke, ed., Die Judenbuche: 129f, 141, 167, 181; Winfried Woesler, "Die Literarisie- rung eines Kriminalfalls,": 7-18; Mary E. Mor- gan, Annette von Droste-Hiilshoff A Biogra- phy (Bern: Peter Lang, 1984): 164. For details about Winkelhannes, see Rolleke, ed. Die Judenbuche: 87-113.

15Among critics who have noted an aristo- cratic tone in the narrator's voice, see espe- cially Edson Chick, "Voices in Discord": 154; and Rieb, "Zur Fiktion der Berichterstat- tung": 56.

l6For a useful account of Droste's gift for satirical comedy, see Gertrud Bauer Pickar, "Perdu Reclaimed: A Reappraisal of Droste's Comedy," Monatshefte 76 (1984): 409-21.

17Interesting in this connection is the way in which, in Die Grenzboten (1859), Julian Schmidt commends Droste for weaving humor into Die Judenbuche as follows: "Die schwere Aufgabe, das Entsetzliche und Humoristische, Grauen und Ironie, so ineinander zu venveben, daR das eine vom anderen nicht aufgehoben wird, ist ihr vollkommen gelungen." See Aloys Haverbuch and Lothar Jordan, eds., Modell- fall der Rezeptionsforschung. Droste-Rezeption im 19. Jahrhundert, Dokumentation, Analy- sen, Bibliographie (Frankfurtmain: Peter Lang, 1980): I, i, 218. Among notable examples of Droste's humor in Die Judenbuche might be counted the description of the young bride's discomfiture while being wedded to a much older man, Kapp's account of comforting him- self with his pipe during a break in his perilous coach journey, the scrupulous noiselessness with which the Baron's men surround Mar- greth's house, Lumpenmoises' hanging him- self on a garter during a court of inquiry lunch break, the younger Brandis's complaint about the malodorous toadstools and his constantly removing his cap or putting it on again in the hot September sun, to say nothing of some of the longer passages of dialogue.

l8The idea that Friedrich's suicide is not so much an act of contrition as the consequence of loneliness and lack of love, and that the village community is partly to blame for it, has been suggested by Walter Nigg, Wallfahrt zur Dich- tung (Zurich: Artemis, 1966): 60; Gossmann, "Die Judenbuche-Eine Geschichte der Nicht- Heimkehr": 133, 141f; Lietina-Ray, "Das Recht der offentlichen Meinung": 100; and Herbert Kraft, "Annette von Droste-Hulshoff s Judenbuche," Australian Universities Language and Literature Association 69 (1988): 81-84. That Friedrich's suicide may also be partly the effect of hereditary insanity should not be ruled out, especially in view of


Margreth's eventual decline into insanity, Hermann Mergel's alcoholism, Simon Semm- ler's (possible) somnambulism and Johannes Niemand's feeble-mindedness, not to mention physiognomic similarities on both sides of Friedrich's family and frequent references to the abnormal facial expressions and bodily ges- tures or movements of the aforementioned, in- cluding those of Friedrich himself in the last days of his life.

lgFor comments affirming the relevance of the French Revolution to the denouement of Die Judenbuche, see especially Rolleke, "Er- ziihltes Mysterium. Studie zur Judenbuche der Annette von Droste-Hiilshoff," Deutsche Vier- teljahresschrift 42 (1968): 415, and idem, ed., Die Judenbuche: 177; Weber, "Droste's Juden- buche": 203; Helmut Koopmann, "Die Wirk- lichkeit des Bosen in der Judenbuche der Droste. Zu einer moralischen Erzahlung des

19. Jahrhunderts," Zeitschrift fur deutsche Philologie 99 (1980): 84.

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