The ironic characterization of Klinger's Storm and Stress genius figure
Johnson, Bonnie J.
Hanks, Dorothy Milford
Master of Arts
The central characters of Friedrich Maximilian Klinger's early works represent the epitome of the Storm and Stress genius idealization. These characters have superhuman strengths, prophetic insights, a yearning for simplicity, or naturalness, and a spontaneity that reflects their emotional fervor. In Klinger's works these traits become so overwhelming that they engulf the genius figure himself, smothering his very existence and thus rendering the author's idealization meaningless. This lack of meaning itself then becomes the focus of the reader's attention. It is generally thought that Klinger and the other Storm and Stress writers sincerely believed in "genius," uncritically depicted its idealization, and empathized with the genius' self-annihilating behavior. While this evaluation may hold some truth with respect to Klinger's earliest works, the ensuing developments of his genius figure belie its validity. His later works reveal an objectification of the earlier genius idealization. They are riddled with irony. In the last work discussed in this study, the genius figure is totally caricaturized. In fact, the only individuals in that work who are not treated in this manner are the "simple" human beings. It is the purpose of this study to illustrate the undercurrent of irony throughout Klinger's genius characterizations and to discuss its implications with regard to the Storm and Stress movement as a whole.