Two Centuries of the German Novel: Goethe, Fontane, Thomas Mann, Ingeborg Bachmann, W.G. Sebald

Course Dates: 19/01/23 - 23/03/23
Time: 10:15 - 12:15
Location: Online
Explore five masterpieces that trace the coming of age of the German novel, from Goethe’s spectacular arrival on the European literary scene in the late 18th century, to two of the most celebrated and influential products of 19th century social realism, to two contrasting responses, both formally brilliant and emotionally unflinching, to the catastrophic impact of the Second World War.
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
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Full fee £219.00 Senior fee £175.00 Concession £142.00

This course has now finished

Course Code: HLT135

Finished Thu, day, 19 Jan - 23 Mar '23

Duration: 10 sessions (over 10 weeks)

Please note: We offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. Just visit our online Help Center for more information on a range of topics including fees, online learning and FAQs.

What is the course about?

This online literature course focuses on the close reading of five works that show Germany’s modern evolution as a cultural powerhouse, attuned to all the latest developments in literary expression, and as an overwhelming presence in the history of the European nations. Each novel, or novella, in turn, reflects a major shift in sensibility in the surrounding society, and in the wider world. All five have had a profound intellectual impact on their readerships, and continue to do so, some more controversially than others. The issues they raise about personal and national identity, and the role and limits of literature, are still of profound significance today.

The five are: The Sorrows of Young Werther [1774], Effi Briest [1895], Death in Venice [1912], Malina [1971] and Austerlitz [2001].

This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
- Earphones/headphones/speakers.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.

What will we cover?

All the chosen texts celebrate human passion, longing, and attachment against different backdrops of crushing social convention and historical circumstance.

Goethe’s charming, effusive, semi-autobiographical emotional potboiler has been called, variously, the first confessional novel, the first tragic novel, the first existential novel.

“Effi Briest” belongs to the sudden outburst of productivity in the 1880s and 90s that made Fontane the doyen of German realism, revered by Thomas Mann, Gunter Grass and Samuel Beckett.

“Death in Venice” stands on the brink of a collapsing world, and uses an outwardly simple narrative device - illicit homoerotic desire - to question the whole edifice of German literature, philosophy and disciplinarian self-regard of which Mann himself was, in many ways, the foremost living representative.

“Malina” and “Austerlitz” both take up that struggle in new forms, as experienced, post WW2, in neighbouring Austria and, in Sebald’s case, permanent displacement from the homeland in England and elsewhere. Bachmann’s novel – a dizzying, uninhibited monologue - maddeningly and exhilaratingly charts the psychological disintegration of her brilliantly intelligent female protagonist, in a Vienna where human relationships can still barely be separated from the murderous national history. “Austerlitz” is indisputably Sebald’s greatest, most comprehensive response to the Holocaust.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

• Discuss the featured novels with some critical sophistication and technical knowledge
• Explore other works by the same writers with a greater awareness of their governing themes and preoccupations
• Use these texts as springboards for further investigation of the relationship between the evolution of the German novel and its cultural and intellectual backgrounds.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

Some previous literary study would be helpful though anyone who enjoys close reading and is willing to take part in discussion is welcome.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

There will be a variety of teaching methods, including direct tutor input, power point and video. There will be opportunities to express why individually we are participating on the course and what we hope to take away from it. No set work outside class apart from reading the novel extracts sent digitally before each session.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

Although the circulated extracts will be our main focus, anyone wanting a more detailed engagement with these writers would certainly benefit from buying and reading the featured texts. They are all available in paperback: Goethe, Fontane, Bachmann and Sebald are all published by Penguin, Death in Venice by Vintage.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

Please see other Literature courses on the web at under History, Culture and Writing/Literature.

Stephen Winfield

Stephen Winfield has lectured in English for over thirty years. He taught Language and Literature at Richmond upon Thames College in Twickenham from 1989 to 2017, and was Coordinator of the International Baccalaureate there from 2004 to 2016. He has also lectured in English Literature at the University of Katowice in Poland and taught Business English in Paris. He has taught a range of EFL courses at Richmond College, for the Bell School of Languages, the Sinoscope Project at Kings College London and the BBC Summer School. He has taught classes in English, American and International Literature at City Lit since 2014.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.