The autobiography of childhood and youth from Fontane to Carossa: Four case studies
Author(s)Heitzman, Betty Louise
Contributor(s)Weissenberger, Klaus H.
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AbstractThe literary autobiography of childhood is an extension of the literary autobiography, portraying the distilled essence of the author's life. The autobiography of childhood is distinct from autobiographical fiction but includes more than the "poetical" childhood. Jean Starobinski's model of the elegiac and picaresque forms of autobiography applies to the childhood autobiography. While the structure of autobiography is preserved, there are distinct features resulting from the limited time frame. The forward movement of the autobiography is accentuated, and the teleological aspect is enhanced by the distance from the time described and the greater sense of completeness. The extremely elegiac autobiography is similar to the extremely picaresque autobiography in that both desire a break between the past and the present. The moderate forms show continuity between the past and the present. Both extreme forms are contrary to the intention of the childhood autobiography. The autobiographer may end with his childhood as a matter of convenience or to avoid embarrassment, but the early closure may reflect the author's purpose. Theodor Fontane, by means of coming to some clarification of the conflict between the principled and empathetic sides of humanity, achieves convalescence through the writing of Meine Kinderjahre. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach illustrates the principle of repetition in Meine Kinderjahre. through the theme of "Abschied," as well as displaying contentment in her understanding of her relationship with her Heavenly Father. Hans Carossa attempts to create a new childhood in Eine Kindheit and Verwandlungen einer Jugend, in that he melds an imaginary childhood with his own, while omitting essential components of his own childhood. The result is the illusion of childhood autobiography. Jugend in Wien is Arthur Schnitzler's confession and bid for absolution for the hypocrisy and snobbery of his youth; Schnitzler's atheism, however, leaves him no alternative but pretense. As with any literary work, the reader needs to be careful to understand the author's intent, not read his own intent into the work. The autobiography of childhood is not uniform, but rather, rich and diverse.