Swiss Literature Overview

Important works of German-language literature in Switzerland (selection)

From the Middle Ages to the 18th century

  • Easter play by Muri (1240–60)
  • Manessian manuscript (in Zurich in the first half of the 14th century a collection of all Middle High German minnesang)
  • H. Wittenwiler: »The Ring« (around 1410, satirical epic)
  • “The White Book of Sarnen” (around 1470, chronicle)
  • “Old Tellenlied” (around 1477)
  • »Urner Tellenspiel« (1512)
  • Bible translation under the direction of U. Zwingli (from 1525)
  • A. von Haller: “The Alps” (1732, poem)
  • J. J. Bodmer and J. J. Breitinger: “Critical Treatise on the Wonderful in Poetry” (1740)
  • S. Geßner: “Idyllen” (1756)
  • J. K. Lavater: »Physiognomic Fragments for the Promotion of Human Knowledge and Human Love «, 4 volumes (1775–78)
  • J. H. Pestalozzi: »Lienhard and Gertrud«, 4 volumes (1781–87, novel)
  • U. Bräker: “Life story and natural income of the poor man in Tockenburg” (1789, autobiography)

19th century

  • H. Zschokke: “The Goldmaker’s Village” (1817, story)
  • J. Gotthelf: “Uli the servant” (1846, novel)
  • G. Keller: “The Flag of the Seven Upright” (1861, novella); “Der Grüne Heinrich”, 4 volumes (2nd version 1879/80, autobiographical novel)
  • C. F. Meyer: “Jürg Jenatsch” (1876, novel), “The Roman Fountain” (1882, poem)
  • Johanna Spyri: “Heidi” novels (1880/81)

20th century

  • C. Spitteler: “The Olympic Spring” (2nd version 1910, epic)
  • R. Walser: “The Clerk” (1908, novel); »Micrograms« (and partly »From the pencil area« in 6 volumes published 1985–2000)
  • F. Glauser: “Wachtmeister Studer” (1936, detective novel)
  • M. Inglin: »Swiss Mirror« (1938, novel)
  • L. Hohl: “The Notes or About the Unhurried Reconciliation”, 2 volumes (1939–42)
  • E. Gomringer: »Constellations« (first collection of poetry 1953)
  • F. Dürrenmatt: “The Old Lady’s Visit” (1956, play); “The Physicists” (1962, piece)
  • M. Frisch: »Stiller« (1954, novel); »Andorra« (1961, piece)
  • A. Muschg: “In the summer of the rabbit” (1965, novel)
  • O. F. Walter: “The First Unrest” (1972, novel)
  • Verena Stefan: »Skinning« (1975, novel)
  • G. Späth: »Barbarswila« (1988, novel)
  • H. Burger: »Brenner« (1989, novel)

The actual poetic output of the founding of the federal state was the festival, which, thanks to a long popular performance tradition following the sacred and secular dramas of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and the preference of the folk festival over the art theater (among others by Rousseau and Pestalozzi) as particularly Swiss was valid; At the end of the 19th century it experienced a high level of popularity, which also  stimulated well-known authors such as C. A. Bernoulli, A. Frey and A. Ott – the latter noticeably influenced by the Meiningen Theater. When literary life in the rest of the German-speaking area was successively influenced by the innovations of naturalism, Impressionism and symbolism dominated, native art and traditional storytelling dominated in Switzerland. The image of a simple life in a village community or in the seclusion of the mountains, propagated by the Heimat movement, provided the novelists of that time with an abundance of motifs. This idyll is already forged in J. Spyri’s “Heidi” novels (1880/81). The image of a healthy mountain world produced a large number of novels that were very successful at the time (J. C. Heer, E. Zahn). The Heimat movement also took on the dialects, which were feared to become extinct in the face of industrialization and urbanization at the end of the 19th century. To save them, work began on the »Schweizerischer Idiotikon« (Volume 1 ff., 1881 ff.), The roots of which go back to the pioneering work of Franz Josef Stalder (* 1757, † 1833); language material was collected and language associations were founded which, on the one hand, were to promote the high German written language and, on the other hand, were to preserve the dialects as pure as possible; also Jakob Senns (* 1824, † 1879) “Chelläländer Schtückli” (1864) should be mentioned here. The dialect literature that emerged from this mentality saw itself as an expression of the folk soul, avoided the influence of all modern currents and limited itself to a simple tone in song-like poetry, stories and folk plays. Dialectal purity was essential, because its unmistakable sound was itself a part of what was sung and described. This literature can therefore be found in a multitude of regional variants: in Bernese dialect with Simon Gfeller (* 1868, † 1943) and R. von Tavel, in Solothurn dialect with the narrator and poet Joseph Reinhardt (* 1875, † 1957), at Fritz Liebrich (* 1879, † 1936) in Baseldeutscher, at Sophie Hämmerli-Marti (* 1868, † 1942) in aargau dialect and with M. Lienert in Schwyz dialect. With the Heimatschutztheater founded by Bernese Otto von Greyerz (* 1863, † 1940) in 1918, the vernacular and folk play also flourished (including O. von Greyerz; A. Huggenberger; Dominik Müller, * 1871, † 1953; Alfred Fankhausers, * 1890, † 1973). Homeland literature saw itself as the expression of a new national literature, as its fathers v. a. J. Gotthelf and G. Keller wereviewed. This broad epigonal literature reaches as far as A. Huggenberger and S. Gfeller; also H. Federer’s “Lachweiler Stories” (1911) are one of them. The critical homeland novels Moeschlin and J. Boßhart are also part of the aesthetic tradition of the 19th century, while in P. Ilg (“The Strong Man”, 1917), naturalistic influences are noticeable.

Completely new tones for Swiss literature struck at the turn of the century, C. Spitteler: In perfectly shaped epics he sought to oppose reality with an aristocratic idealism (“The Olympic Spring”, 2nd version 1910). The other outstanding figure in Swiss literature of the first decades of the 20th century is R. Walser, whose work (including the novel “Der Gehülfe”, 1908) was barely noticed by contemporaries and who only became an important representative of modernity after his death (1956) has been discovered. An early sponsor of both C. Spitteler and R. Walser was J. V. Widmann, the most influential Swiss literary critic of the turn of the century.

Swiss Literature Overview