The German novelist Jean Paul was a man counted amongst the most popular humor writers of the early 19th centuries. He was one of the early writers of the Romantic era, the artistic and literary movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century. His writings mark the transition from the ideals of Weimar Classicism to the intuitiveness of Romanticism. He was born as the son of a pastor and his family which was never rich plunged to abject poverty after the death of his father; Jean was a teenager then. As a young man he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and began studying theology. However, he soon realized that a career in religion was not his calling and decided to become a writer instead. At birth he had been named Johann Paul Friedrich Richter though he adopted a different pen-name when he began to write. As he had always admired the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Genevan philosopher and writer, he chose Jean Paul as his pseudonym. A spiritual experience stemming from the vision of his own death changed his outlook on life and deeply influenced him as a writer. The women characters in his books possessed a certain psychological depth which endeared him to his female writers as most male writers in Germany at that time lacked empathy towards women.
He returned to his hometown to live with his mother and worked as a tutor near his village from 1787 to 1789. It was a time of great financial difficulty for the family.
Initially he used to write in a satirical tone, and published another satire, ‘Auswahl aus des Teufels Papieren’ ("Selections from the Devil's Papers") in 1789. This work was not received favorably.
He set up a school in Schwarzenbach and began teaching there in 1790; he worked in this position for four years till 1794. During this time he also began to make some money through his writings.
The year 1790 was one of great significance for him. Finding himself in the midst of a spiritual crisis, his outlook towards life underwent a sea change after he had a vision of his own death. This event prompted him to change his writing voice from bitter satire to humour.
By the 1790s he had become a fan of the writer Laurence Sterne and was inspired by him. He published his novel ‘Die unsichtbare Loge’ (The Invisible Lodge) in 1793 which was much appreciated by the author Karl Philipp Moritz and became a success.
This success was followed by more critical acclaim when he brought out the novel ‘Hesperus’ in 1795. This novel earned him a celebrity status and soon many writers of that time began to admire him.
While living in Weimar he became acquainted with the writers like Goethe, Herder and Schiller and was welcomed into the literary circles of his time.
As a writer he reached the peak of his creativity around 1800s. He was influenced by both Classicism and Romanticism though he did not strictly adhere to either of these.
His major works produced during the 1800s include ‘Des Luftschiffers Giannozzo Seebuch’ (1801), ‘Freiheitsbüchlein’ (1805), and ‘Des Feldpredigers Schmelzle Reise nach Flätz’ (Army Chaplain Schmelzle’s Journey to Flätz, 1809).
Unfortunately his later writings did not become much popular as he had suffered a major tragedy when his only son died and he could no longer focus wholeheartedly on his writing because of his sorrow.
His novel ‘Siebenkäs’, which was published in three volumes during 1796-97, is considered one of his most popular works. The story is a humorous take on the life of an unhappily married man who plans to feign his own death in order to escape from his wife.
The novel ‘Titan’, another one of his major works, was published in four volumes between 1800 and 1804. It tells the story of how the young hero, Albano, transforms from a passionate young man into a mature individual.
He was born on 21 March 1763 in Wunsiedel into a family of humble means. His father was a school teacher and an organist who also worked as a pastor. After the death of his father in 1779, the family became very poor and struggled to make ends meet.
He started studying theology and philosophy at the University of Leipzig in 1781 which continued till 1784. During this time he grew interested in literature and realized that he actually wanted to be a writer and not a theologian.
He began writing when he was still a student and was greatly inspired by the writer Jonathan Swift. His satire ‘Grönländische Prozesse ’ (The Greenland Lawsuits) was published in 1783. He gave up studies in 1784 because of financial difficulties.
He married Caroline Meyer in 1801 and settled into a simple and happy family life. The couple was blessed with two children. The initial years of his domestic life was very pleasant. However, tragedy struck when his son, Max, died leaving behind a grieving family.
Jean Paul lost his sight in 1824 and died of dropsy in November 1825.