Sudermann, Hermann

Hermann Sudermann was born on 30 September 1857 on the Matzicken estate in the district of Heydekrug (today Šilutė, Lithuania), East Prussia’s northern-most district. His father was a brewer and worked hard all his life to feed his family. His children grew up in poverty. Although Hermann managed to complete his secondary schooling, he was ultimately forced to abandon his studies in Berlin. His initial attempts to establish himself as a writer brought little success but he was able to find work as a journalist and from 1881 to 1882 was co-editor of the Deutsches Reichsblatt. His breakthrough as a writer came in 1889 with the enormous success of his socially critical play Die Ehre (Honor). Over the following decades, Sudermann numbered among the Germany’s most often performed playwrights and was often a target of critics. He wrote a total of some 30 plays, including Sodoms Ende (1890), Heimat (1893) and Johannes (1898). His prose works, particularly the novels Frau Sorge (Dame Care, 1887) and Katzensteg (Cats’ Bridge, 1890) also found a large readership, enabling Sudermann to live as a freelance writer, marry and in 1902 to purchase the Blankensee estate near Berlin as well as a villa in Berlin’s exclusive Grunewald district. He played a prominent role in writers’ associations and, following the outbreak of war in 1914, he was one of the initiators and signatories of the Aufruf an die Kulturwelt (Appeal to the Cultural World / Fulda Manifesto).

Sudermann’s time came to an end with the decline of imperial Germany. In this respect, it is significant that his Litauische Geschichten (Lithuanian Stories) of 1917 marks a withdrawal from the present into a semi-mythic space of asynchronicity. His work attracted little interest in post-war society, although he achieved some success in 1922 with his notably autobiographical work Das Bilderbuch meiner Jugend (Picture Book of my Youth). He died in Berlin on 21 November 1928.