Biography  |  Bibliography  |  Articles  |  Quotes  |  Links  

Jean Paul - Biography

Jean Paul, formally known as Johann Paul Friedrich Richter, was born in Wunsiedel, Germany on March 21, 1763. He died in Bayreuth, Germany on November 14, 1825. He was a writer and humorist.

Jean Paul's father was a schoolmaster and organist. His father was first a pastor in Joditz (1765), and shortly thereafter in Schwarzenbach. Unfortunately, Jean Paul's father´s death in 1779 left the family in great poverty. The same year as his father's death, Jean Paul left home in order to attend Gymnasium in the city of Hof.

In 1781 Jean Paul began his University studies in theology at the University of Leipzig. During this time the young student became increasingly fascinated with literature and decided to pursue a career as a writer instead of as a theologian. However, three years later, he had to give up his studies completely because of financial difficulties and returned to Hof, where he lived with his mother and worked as a private tutor from 1787 to 1789. In the following year he began to teach at an elementary school that he had founded himself, and held his post there until 1794. It was at this time, and for the first time, that Jean Paul began to earn a living from his writing.

In 1797, after the death of his mother, Jean Paul gave up living in Hof and embarked on a nomadic lifestyle. He went back to Leipzig for a while and then moved to Weimar, where he stayed for a couple years, from 1798-1800. There he met Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, and Johann Gottfried von Herder. While well received by the latter, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller did not appreciate the uniqueness and satirical tone of his writing.

Jean Paul was eventually married in 1801 to Caroline Meyer and took up residence in Berlin. While in Berlin he met Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Karl Wilhelm Friedrich von Schlegel, and Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher. Jean Paul and his wife later moved to Meiningen and then Coburg before eventually settling in Bayreuth in 1804. From 1808 onwards Jean Paul obtained a yearly pension from the “Reichsfreiherr” Karl Theodore von Dalberg, which improved his financial situation considerably.

Jean Paul’s first published works (after his early epistolary novel Abelard und Heloise, written in 1781) were the collections Grönländische Prozesse (Greenland Lawsuits, 1783-4) and Auswahl aus des Teufels Papieren (Selections from the Devil’s Papers, 1789), which, due to their unorthodox style and satirical nature, were unsuccessful and met with little response. It was not until his next book that Jean Paul gained his reputation, the romantic novel Die unsichtbare Loge (The Invisible Lodge) was published in 1793 and his new pen name “Jean Paul,” which he had published under.

In the Loge, Jean Paul had already adopted his truly unusual and original diction, which was well received among the critics. One of his biggest admirers was the enthusiastic Karl Phillip Moritz. In 1790, he had had a spiritual vision, in which he faced his own death. This experience had a profound impact on both his perception and style. He consequently moved from a dark satirical style towards a more lenient form of humour.

The fame constituted by the Loge, which also contained the short story Leben des vergnügten Schulmeisterleins Maria Wutz in Auenthal (The Life of the Very Contented Little Teacher Maria Wutz From Auenthal) as an appendix, continued with the novel Hesperus that appeared two years later.

Among his next works during this period were: Biographische Belustigungen unter der Gehirnschale einer Riesin (1796), Leben des Quintus Fixlein (Life of Quintus Fixlein, 1796) and Blumen- Frucht- und Dornenstücke, oder Ehestand, Tod und Hochzeit des Armenadvokaten Siebenkäs (Flower, Fruit and Thom Pieces, 1796—97). In this latter humorous novel, published in three volumes, Jean Paul develops the character of Firmian Stanislaus Siebenkäs, who, being stuck in an unhappy marriage, feigns his own death in order to escape his wife. In Siebenkäs, Jean Paul invented the term “Doppelgänger,” through which he addressed Siebenkäs’ supportive friend Leibgeber.

Other known works of Jean Paul include: Biographische Belustigungen (1796), Der Jubelsenior (1797), Das Kampaner Tal (1797), Konjekturalbiographie (1798) and Titan (1800-03). The latter deemed by Jean Paul as his masterpiece, could not live up to the success of his earlier works. The same holds true for his next important novel Flegeljahre (Walt and Vult, 1804/05), which was published in four volumes and provided the inspiration for Schumann’s piece “Papillons,” as well, Gustav Mahler was also quite influenced by Jean Paul’s work.

Around 1800 Jean Paul had reached the peak of his creative work. Situated at the borders of Classicism and the Romanticism, while refusing both, Jean Paul’s work eludes definite classification, as it does not possess a rigid structure. This is also reflected in his later and more humorous works such as Des Luftschiffers Giannozzo Seebuch (1801), Freiheitsbüchlein (1805), Das Leben Fibels (1806-1812), Dr. Katzenbergers Badereise (Dr. Katzenberger’s Journey to the Spa, 1809) and Des Feldpredigers Schmelzle Reise nach Flätz (Army Chaplain Schmelzle’s Journey to Flätz, 1809), the latter was the most popular of his late novels.

Being a Platonist and also greatly influenced by Herder, Jean Paul was truly spiritual and very much inspired by nature. He took a great interest in the relation between the mundane of everyday life and the spiritual other-worldly realm. His spiritual view was always accompanied by his unique humorist approach, which, amongst others, had big influence on E.T.A. Hoffmann, whom Jean Paul supported throughout his lifetime.

Among his favourite motifs were not only the Platonist shadows on the wall, but also his idea of the so-called “Hohe Menschen,” who condemned to lead a material life, are actually destined to live in higher places. This topic is central in his main work, Titan, where he describes the coming-of-age of the hero Albano de Cesara and criticises the lack of morality of the century.

During his later life, Jean Paul also composed treatises on aesthetics, education and society, which did not attract as wide an interest until the 20th century. His Vorschule der Aesthetik (1804) deals with dark humor and art, whereas in Levana oder Erziehungslehre (Levana, or the Doctrine of Education 1806-1807) he elaborates on humanist theories of education. Further works on contemporary events include: Friedenspredigt (1808), Dämmerungen für Deutschland (1809) and Politische Fastenpredigten (1817).

Unfortunately, Jean Paul’s later works did not prove to be as popular as his earlier ones and after his only son had died of typhus in 1821, Jean Paul never finished his last (satirical) novel, Der Komet oder Nikolaus Marggraf (The Comet, or Nicholas Marggraf ca. 1820). In 1823 he developed a cataract and became blind. Two years later, in 1825, he died of hydropsy.



Jean Paul was a German writer. (March 21, 1763 – November 14, 1825)