Eberhard Happel, German Baroque author of an extensive body of work of fiction and nonfiction, has for many years been categorized as a “courtly-gallant” novelist. In Mediating Culture in the Seventeenth-Century German Novel, author Gerhild Scholz Williams argues that categorizing him thus is to seriously misread him and to miss out on a fascinating perspective on this dynamic period in German history.
Happel primarily lived and worked in the vigorous port city of Hamburg, which was a “media center” in terms of the access it offered to a wide library of books in public and private collections. Hamburg’s port status meant it buzzed with news and information, and Happel drew on this flow of data in his novels. His books deal with many topics of current interest—national identity formation, gender and sexualities, Western European encounters with neighbors to the East, confrontations with non-European and non-Western powers and cultures—and they feature multiple media, including news reports, news collections, and travel writings. As a result, Happel’s use of contemporary source material in his novels feeds our current interest in the impact of the production of knowledge on seventeenth-century narrative. Mediating Culture in the Seventeenth-Century German Novel explores the narrative wealth and multiversity of Happel’s work, examines Happel’s novels as illustrative of seventeenth-century novel writing in Germany, and investigates the synergistic relationship in Happel’s writings between the booming print media industry and the evolution of the German novel.
“The second half of the Seventeenth Century was an age of endless curiosity. There were the earliest newspapers of course, but also the real or imagined reports by world travelers from the Far East, America, and Africa. The Thirty Years’ War was over, and German cities quickly regained prosperity. The joy of reading for pleasure was rediscovered after decades of deprivation. It was a time of voracious though uncritical reading fed by a never-ending appetite for news of the outside world, whether real or fictitious. It almost seems surprising therefore that no one appears to have thought of a comprehensive appreciation of Happel’s work before. Quite aside from a most enjoyable reading, the book makes a major contribution of Happel and his oeuvre, to gender studies and cultural history of the Early Modern period, as well as to the rapidly growing interest in Leserforschung.”
—Gerhard Dünnhaupt FRSC, Professor emeritus, University of Michigan
Illustration: Portrait of Happel and newspaper images courtesy of Holger Böning, Zitungsarchiv Breman, Germany.