History of Literature









German literature




 


Erich Maria Remarque
 

born June 22, 1898, Osnabrück, Ger.
died Sept. 25, 1970, Locarno, Switz.


novelist who is chiefly remembered as the author of Im Westen nichts Neues (1929; All Quiet on the Western Front), which became perhaps the best-known and most representative novel dealing with World War I.

Remarque was drafted into the German army at the age of 18 and was wounded several times. After the war he worked as a racing-car driver and as a sportswriter while working on All Quiet on the Western Front. The novel’s events are those in the daily routine of soldiers who seem to have no past or future apart from their life in the trenches. Its title, the language of routine communiqués, is typical of its cool, terse style, which records the daily horrors of war in laconic understatement. Its casual amorality was in shocking contrast to patriotic rhetoric. The book was an immediate international success, as was the American film made from it in 1930. It was followed by a sequel, Der Weg zurück (1931; The Road Back), dealing with the collapse of Germany in 1918. Remarque wrote several other novels, most of them dealing with victims of the political upheavals of Europe during World Wars I and II. Some had popular success and were filmed (e.g., Arc de Triomphe, 1946), but none achieved the critical prestige of his first book.

Remarque left Germany for Switzerland in 1932. His books were banned by the Nazis in 1933. In 1939 he went to the United States, where he was naturalized in 1947. After World War II he settled in Porto Ronco, Switz., on Lake Maggiore, where he lived with his second wife, the American actress Paulette Goddard, until his death.
 

All Quiet on the Western Front

Erich Maria Remarque
1898-1970

The epigraph of Ail Quiet on the Western Front states that the intention of the book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, but an account of a generation, Including the survivors, "destroyed by the war." But rather than a warning, or even a statement of self-defense, this epigraph, marked by its simplicity and clarity, is a one-sentence declaration, however quiet, that what follows is a story of destruction.
In the polarized political debates of the Weimar Republic, the Great War was not a topic but a touchstone for all else. How you understood the war, its origins, its conduct, surrender, and defeat, was the index to your understanding of the past and to your understanding of how liveable or damaged the future could be. Given this interpretive context, the pacifism of the novel could satisfy neither left nor right ends of the critical spectrum in inter-war Germany. But Remarque's text does not assume or argue for pacifism; it simply enacts it as an appalled response to the daily efficiencies of organized slaughter. It is this quiet, certain, yet exploratory demonstration of the utter inhumanity of war that constitutes the magnificence of All Quiet on the Western Front as an anti-war novel.
Central to Remarque's achievement is the voice of Paul Baumer, the novel's nineteen-year-old narrator. He is one of a band of front-line soldiers whose experience of war strips the mythology of heroism bare, leaving the tedium, the earth-shaking fear, the loneliness, and the anger of men whose bodies are neither protected nor honored by military uniforms. The novel ends with the disappearance of Baumer's voice; it is replaced by the polite brevity of the report of his death on a day in which all was quiet on the western front.

 

 
 
 
 

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