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Nigel Harris

Class Struggle and Literature

(Summer 1966)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.25, Summer 1966, p.33.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Aristocracy and the Middle Classes in Germany, Social Types in German Literature, 1830-1900
Ernest K. Bramsted
Chicago-Proenix, 21s

This revised edition of a book originally published in 1937 is very welcome. It is not the best of its kind, nor has it that depth of sympathy and penetration which characterises a classic, but it is nevertheless a useful and thoughtful account of the middle class’s view of the aristocracy (and vice versa) during a period of profound struggle of the former against the latter, as revealed in a selection of novels, with some reference to poetry and popular journalism. Mr Bramsted, in particular, relates the course of that struggle – from middle-class resentment at aristocratic political power, through a phase of feeling securely superior, and finally mutual identification of the two as their common interest against the rising proletariat became clear – to the actual historical background. Necessarily, he identifies crucial conceptions on both sides and helps in the sociological identification of general ideological tendencies in Europe during the rise to power of the industrial middle class.

The weakness of the book is in the limit of its scope – neither the working class nor foreign powers appear very prominently in the scheme. Again, the author to some extent himself reveals late middle-class or rather intelligentsia biases – this type of study necessarily tends to lack rigour, so that an increase in the discipline of the writer is even more necessary if he is to present a sociologically rounded account. However, given that most writers do not even attempt such analysis, this one is to be most warmly welcomed.

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Last updated: 24 April 2010