Adalbert Stifter and Peter Rosegger: Literature between Snow and Ice
Adalbert Stifter and Peter Rosegger’s stories focus on people experiencing the beauty and the challenges of winter in the Alps. The natural phenomena of the coldest season and their effects on the human psyche are motifs both writers were fascinated with.
Adalbert Stifter's „Rock Crystal“
The story “Bergkristall” (“Rock Crystal”) by Adalbert Stifter is a masterpiece chronicling the hostile yet fascinating snow and ice landscapes of the Alps in the 1800s. It tells of the fate of two children who lose their way in the dense snowfall on a Christmas Eve in high Alpine territory. Their path leads them across the Gars, a snowy mountain with caves and crevasses. The two end up having to spend Christmas Eve under open skies, cold and scared. They are rescued the next day by the villagers who bring them back home.
The story is more than just a Christmas story. Its outstanding descriptions of nature follow Stifter’s “gentle law,” which ranks nature’s will above that of humans, whereby the “the magnificent is no more important than the minuscule, the violent no more than the peaceful.”
Salzkammergut, Literary Role Model
Stifter set his story in two fictional villages which are separated by a mountain. The two siblings Konrad and Sanna have to pass the mountain on Christmas Eve to get to their home. It is not hard to guess that Stifter had Hallstatt and Gosau in Upper Austria’s Salzkammergut in mind when he created these fictional locations.
When you visit the villages at the base of the Dachstein mountain in winter, you recognize Stifter’s archaic nature descriptions in the bizarre rock formations, in the “steep walls, covered with a white frost, and like a varnish, glazed with the thinnest ice …“ The children’s hike from their grandmother’s house back to their parents in the opposite valley becomes a dizzying odyssey, leading through a menacing landscape of ice which Stifter describes as “singular white darkness.”
The monumental happens as simply as the trickle of water, the streaming of air or the growing of wheat.
Christmas in the Waldheimat
Through the eyes of a child, Peter Rosegger (1843-1918) recounts the beauty and the hardships of winter. Having grown up on a farm in the mountains of Styria - the poet will later call it his “Waldheimat” (forest home) - he became one of the most celebrated writers of the German-speaking world around the turn of the last century. Especially his three-volume story collection “Als ich noch ein Waldbauernbub war,“ published between 1900 and 1902, became a bestseller.
In the age of industrialisation, Rosegger’s stories met the yearning for authentic village life and a positive counterbalance to the hectic machinations of the big cities. The genre “Heimatroman” was born. Yet, Rosegger cannot be regarded as a literary representative of idealistic, bucolic kitsch. He chronicled deprivation, poverty and the stark imbalance between wealthy landowners and the needy.
Everything important which mankind has ever brought forth has sprung from solitude, from the deepening of mental insight.
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