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Walter Kempowski's Deutsche Chronik : a study in ironic narration

posted on 2023-05-27, 15:58 authored by Riley, CG
Mention of irony is common to the critiques of all Walter Kempowski' s novels, and it was with this in mind that the present examination of the novels constituting his Deutsche Chronik was undertaken. Firstly, a study was made of irony in order to provide a basis for the investigation. It was found that irony works both on a surface level, where the reader becomes aware of some semantic disparity and attempts to reconstruct meaning, and on a deep structure level, where the relationship of the author to his text is revealed in the work's narrative structure, the author's process of self-analysis can be viewed and the reader's reception of the novel can be investigated. The study of the six novels themselves revealed that irony does, indeed, enable a thorough investigation of the works at both levels. On the surface level Kempowski has utilised irony as a tool to uncover the real workings of the respective period focused upon in each work. Rather than the narrator informing the reader about family relationships, education, or the political situation, the characters of the novels tell their own stories through their everyday lives, and it is through the contradictions between their words and actions or their passing of comments, the folly of which is obvious with the hindsight of contemporary perspective, in other words through irony, that the author presents to the reader the history of Germany in the first half of the twentieth century. On the deep structure level Kempowski attempts to construct his narrative in such a way as to be able to stand back from the material he presents. But this clashes directly with the autobiographical aspects of the Deutsche Chronik, and thus reveals the fundamental irony of the series. The narrative is a mixture of fiction and material taken directly from the author's and others' lives which, in its entirety, sheds light on Kempowski's own investigation of his past. The focus of the work is not exclusively on the past, however. While the novels' readers are given the opportunity to share Kempowski's examination of German history, the series also invites them to apply the lessons that can be learnt from this period, not only to the present, but also to the future, and it is here that the real value of the Deutsche Chronik lies.


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Copyright 1995 the author Thesis has been commercially published as: Riley, C., 1997, Walter Kempowski's Deutsche Chronik : a study in ironic narration, Frankfurt am Main ; New York : P. Lang. Please source the published version.

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