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Berthold Auerbach: Preface to Village Tales from the Black Forest (1844)

Berthold Auerbach (1812-1882) was one of Germany's most widely read Realist novelists. In the preface to Village Tales (1844), Auerbach describes his realistic, non-idealized literary style, which, in this case, is used to provide a detailed account of peasant life in southwest Germany. Though subscribing to realism in method, Auerbach nevertheless portrayed rural village life as a simpler, more authentic, non-decadent counterpart to urban bourgeois existence.

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Forewords Prevent Slander [Vorreden spart Nachreden]
So goes a good German proverb, and thus I would like to preface my Village Tales [Dorfgeschichten] with a few introductory words. These representations were composed far from the places where they take place; it is up to the reader to decide if the viewpoint and tone are correct. It was my aim to present these life portraits neither directly from the life of the peasantry nor, on the other hand, from an urban standpoint. I believed that city dwellers and country folk alike could thus turn to them with interest. The peculiarities of dialect and manner of speech are therefore only retained to the extent that they give an essential impression. I have always thought of myself as narrating orally; the events are there as historical facts. Thus it must sometimes occur that some life rule or general remark is inserted.

I have deliberately not reached back into the historical past, although such a setting offers a writer's fantasy great freedom and one can attach one's stories to great events. Instead, I sought to give form to all aspects of peasant life today. In the first place, I did not intend to try to put an end to errors and abuses and that sort of thing. If this happens to result from these stories, then that would be joyful satisfaction for me. The fact that I touch upon grievances relating to Catholic clergy has only to do with the geographic setting of these tales. I expressly protest any notion that such things only occur among the Catholic clergy; in Protestant regions they take different forms. Religious life, which here is first and foremost church life, is a fundamental element in German folk life. It is the historical consciousness of the infinite, standing fast in its entirety, fulfilling its character. If individual consciousness already establishes itself here, if some individuals raise themselves above the given forms, then they give the characters in general their essential imprint. It is thus frivolous to ignore the religious foundation of peasant life, and it would be poetically untrue.

In centralized nations, where there is historical unity and uniformity, it is easier for a poet to propose national types. The English and the French have grown up under the same laws and similar living conditions and historical impressions. Their character has something in common, not merely in a general way, but rather in details, in habits, views, etc. We, however, separated by history, are much more an expression of the development of provincial life. Thus, analogous to the recent tendency in historical research on the provincial, the poetry which is taken from folk life must concentrate more and more on the local. Just as we have the duty to give political form to the individual detail, we also have this duty in literature. The consciousness of unification and unity must still sink in, and thus here, too, we have a portrait of a life divided into many components. The rounding off of our regions' borders has admittedly torn apart provincial life in many ways, but its core remains unchanged.

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