Georg Büchner, physician and plawright precursor of expressionism


André J. Fabre                     Octobre 2012   

 Georg Büchner (1813-1837),  was at the same time,  physician, poet, writer, scientist and revolutionary.

Should we see genetics behind such a case ? Büchner came from a family where intelligence was a common lot :

The father, a former officer in Napoleon Army, settled as physician in a small town in Hesse  called Goddelau and was elected Assessor of the College of Medicine of the Grand Duke of Hesse. Brilliant intelligence, he kept throughout his life a passion for sciences.

His six children; image of the father, were all gifted of  a rich personality: Wilhelm mad e a great career in politics; Luise, became a writer devoted to feminist cause, Ludwig, was physician whose philosophical work mark the materialistic ideas of  his century and Alexander, was professor in Literature and also writer.

Georg was the eldest. From childhood he showed a remarkable aptitude for studies. At age 10, he could speak four languages and had read all the books of Goethe and Schiller. At 18, Georg decided to follow his father's footsteps and become physician. He started his medical studies in Strasbourg, and  graduated in Giessen, the great Hessen university town.


Georg wanted primarily to devote his career to sciences : he chose biology and went to Zurich where he obtained in 1834 his doctorate. He was appointed professor of Medicine at the Faculty at the same time Professor in a field which was very familiar for him : Natural Sciences.


 After his graduation, Georg intended to take part to the revolutionary movement that shook at that time the German world.

Embracing the ideas of Auguste Blanqui and Saint-Simon, Büchner in 1834 wrote a violent pamphlet : 'The Messenger of Hesse" where he called for a "fight between the riches and the poors", launching an explosive phrase "Peace to cottages, war to palaces".

Büchner then publishes his lost famius book, "Lenz", celebrating a suicidal poet's soul, disciple and friend of Goethe.

In consequence; Georg declared suspect was threatened of arrest, fled to Strasbourg, where he composed in  a few weeks a bitter and brutal theatre drama," Danton's Death, which became emblem for the new movement "Sturm und Drang" ("Storm and stress")

Near the gates of death, Danton and Camille Desmoulins discuss on Republic, love and rebellion and climb the scaffold while around them the people snorts, indifferent to the fate of revolutionaries.


The last months of his life, Georg wrote a drama that would be a landmark in the history of theatre ; " Woyszeck "but he could not achieve his work : he died on February 19, 1837, of typhoid fever he was just 23 years

The fragments of the manuscript remained scattered in four different versions and we do not know, in fact, of the end planned by Büchner.

The drama was inspired by the story of  a former soldier, barber by profession, who stabbed to death  his fiancée and was hanged in the market square of Leipzig.

The genius of Büchner is to have transmuted a trivial accident into a romantic saga about despair and brutality of life.:  a soldier, Woyszek, frustrated and hopeless to get a little money for  his wife, Mary, and their son, accepts to serve as scapegoat for his brutal captain and the regiment's physician.

Wozzek ends up insane from that everyday brutality, cruelty and blindness. When he sees his wife seduced by, the drum major of the regiment, Woyszek stabbs Mary to death.

The whole drama lies in a tragic atmosphere filled with violent carricatures of the daily life in Army, but despair is often tinted of grotesque sarcasms. 


 Büchner the rebel defies any categorization but he was obviously founder of the movement that swept Germany after WW1; under the name of "expressionism".

Expressionism "is more than a mere reaction against the " French Impressionism " of the previous century: it is a desperate attempt to transmute the real world to express the unbearable, intolerable human condition .

The movement rose, unexpectedly, to a  peak with the cinema, as expressed by : films as , the famed "Doctor Caligari".

Woyszek since the nineteenth century, remains an inexhaustible source of inspiration in all areas of art :

An emblematic work of twelve-tone music was composed by Alban Berg in 1922 and is always present , since on all stages of the world.

The opera composed by German composer Manfred Gurlitt

The musical suite by Canadian composer John Rea

Werner Herzog's film directed  in 1978 with Klaus Kinski in the title role.

 Who said: "Men of genius are meteors who burn to bring light to their century ..." ? Did you get the answer ? : Napoleon Bonaparte in a speech given in Lyon in 1791 ...



Date de dernière mise à jour : 30/07/2013

Créer un site gratuit avec e-monsite - Signaler un contenu illicite sur ce site