The Forest in Medieval German Literature

The Forest in Medieval German Literature : Ecocritical Readings from a Historical Perspective

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The Forest in Medieval German Literature analyzes the topic of the "forest" through some of the best and lesser known examples of medieval German literature, approaching them through modern ecocritical issues that are paired with premodern perspectives. This study allows us to understand how much medieval concepts of the forest can aid in a better understanding of human society and nature in its historical context.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 254 pages
  • 159 x 236 x 23mm | 499g
  • Lanham, MD, United States
  • English
  • 0739195182
  • 9780739195185

Table of contents


Introduction and Theoretical Reflections:
The Forest as an Epistemological Challenge in the Middle Ages

Chapter One:
Hartmann von Aue's Concept of the Forest:
The Arthurian Adventure in the Forest and the Consequences

Chapter Two:
The Forest as Staging Ground for the Heroic Protagonist:
Glory and Demise in the Nibelungenlied

Chapter Three:
The Forest in Wolfram von Eschenbach's Works:
The Passage from the Arthurian Court
to the Grail Kingdom Through the Forest

Chapter Four:
The Forest in Gottfried von Strassburg's Tristan
and in Alternative Tristan Versions

Chapter Five:
The Forest in Der Melerantz von Frankreich by The Pleier

Chapter Six:
The Forest as the Transitional and Transformative Space
in Konrad von Wurzburg's Partonopier und Meliur

Chapter Seven:
The Ambivalence of the Forest: Exile or Safe Haven?
The Destiny of the Female Protagonist Refracted in the Forest:
Elisabeth von Nassau-Saarbrucken's Koenigin Sibille

Chapter Eight:
Forest in Thuring von Ringoltingen's Melusine:
Dark Spaces, Mysterious Origins, Meaningful Connections:
The Forest and the Establishment of Dynasties


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Review quote

Classen explores a hitherto understudied motif in medieval and early modern German literature: the forest. He provides an intensive study of noteworthy texts by seven authors and of the anonymously authored Nibelungenlied and offers an extensive survey that covers some 300 years. Classen points out the forest is used to portray adventure, heroic or dastardly deeds, passages both physical and metaphysical, transformation, and often mystery. Classen's . . . ecocritical approach seeks to balance the imaginative nature of literary works with the realities of the environments in which the protagonists act. As a place outside of yet accessible to those in traditional society (as presented in the literary canon), the forest represents Utopian refuge or mortal danger (and in some cases both at the same time), always reflecting on the status of the 'other' locale. There, nature and culture interact in sometimes surprising configurations. This richly annotated investigation reveals that other texts and authors might fruitfully be subjected to scrutiny similar to that Classen devotes to Hartmann von Aue, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Gottfried von Strassburg, et al. With its impressive bibliography and index, this is a valuable resource for those interested in German literature and history. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. * CHOICE * Genesis divides the natural world into two parts: the Garden and the wilderness. Eden is the natural space that is under direct oversight of the Creator, where Adam and Eve live in a paradisiac state in harmony with God's will. In opposition to this space stands the wilderness, the space into which post-lapsarian man is born, and the space in which he must struggle to find the way back to God's grace.... The Forest in Medieval German Literature by Albrecht Classen is both a fascinating and illuminating book that breaks with this simple binary configuration. Classen recasts the wilderness into a space that reflects the sophisticated relationship medieval people had with their own environment. This excellent study effectively shifts the focus of the landscape away from civilization and onto the wilderness.... This fresh perspective adds a fascinating layer of social, environmental, and psychological complexity to these already rich texts.... The Forest in Medieval German Literature reveals an important literary space that powerfully structures the narrative and interacts with the characters in ways that are unique to each work of literature. * The Medieval Review * The contextual materials and the summary of the scholarship on each work make the volume accessible to nonspecialists, and the book will be of interest to medievalists interested in the representation of the forest in German literature as well as, potentially, to scholars with ecocritical interests from other fields.... Classen's survey of woodlands is more descriptive than analytical and will provide a good starting point for scholars looking for an overview of descriptions of forested areas in canonical German literature, a good resource for students or for scholars in other disciplines interested in seeing how medieval German literary texts reference forests. * Speculum * Albrecht Classen's study of the forest in medieval and early Modern German literature (c. 1170-1500) challenges previous scholarly notions of the medieval forest as a consistently inhospitable space. Following an eco-centric approach, Classen examines the forest both as metaphor and as a natural resource with important economic potential in pre-modern Europe. Although many poets, theologians, and philosophers of the period portray the forest in allegorical terms, they also understood and appreciated sylvan space. Classen rebuffs earlier critics who see portrayals of the forests as mere stereotypical projections in which authors show little if any environmental awareness. He discusses a wide of range of Middle High German literary texts (and two fifteenth-century novels) to discern how various characters in these works interact with the forest, how they viewed it, whether it proved hostile or inviting. Classen's nature-oriented perspective will help contemporary readers to understand how medieval authors and their audiences understood their natural environment and what the forest meant for the development and maintenance of their value system. -- Connie L. Scarborough, Texas Tech University In this very readable volume, Albrecht Classen takes his readers for a rewarding trek through the woods as found in medieval German literature. He points out the many analogous uses of the forest, whether vital, metaphorical, idyllic, or transformational, and even dangerous, not omitting the poignant role of the linden tree under which Siegfried dies, in which Sigune sits and mourns, and from whose branches King Mark spies on his nephew and wife. The reader will enjoy following the path. -- Ronald Murphy, Georgetown Univesity In this volume Classen treats an important group of key works from the Medieval and Early Modern period in German literature, from Hartmann von Aue to Thuring von Ringoltingen, through the lens of ecocriticism. Bringing to bear a vast storehouse of knowledge regarding not only primary texts and authors but also the enormous body of critical literature on Medieval and Early Modern writing, Classen sensitively and authoritatively reads these texts and reveals how each of them evinces great reverence for the forest environment, a space that for centuries provided human beings with the means of survival but which was also a source of great fear and wonder. The result of Classen's efforts is a remarkably accessible, provocative and interesting investigation, which will contribute to Medieval literary and cultural studies, both in terms of its theoretical framework and its cogent and coherent analyses of the specific works. -- Christopher R. Clason, Oakland University
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About Albrecht Classen

Albrecht Classen is University Distinguished Professor of German studies at the University of Arizona.
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