Frets about plagiary: changing attitudes towards plagiarism in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century German literature

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The celebration of genius and originality in German literature of the late Enlightenment and Romantic periods is accompanied by an increased concern with the question of plagiarism. Borrowing themes and forms from other national literatures is still advocated (most notably by Lessing), but perceived as problematic in an age which saw the development of copyright law and the modern conception of the literary author. The relatively insouciant attitude of the late Goethe towards such questions is set against two emerging traditions in addressing the problem of plagiarism, termed ‘fretful’ and ‘playful’. Examples of the former—self-consciously thematizing the need to avoid plagiarism — are found in Lessing himself, Moritz and Tieck; the latter trend — sending up such concerns and moving towards the (post)modern conception of intertextuality — is exemplified by Lichtenberg, Bürger, Jean Paul and Hoffmann. Parodying ‘frets about plagiary’ is seen as an important aspect of the development of the comic novel in German, and remarks from Heine indicate that the susceptibility of German writers to being plagiarized themselves is a measure of the degree of autonomy German literature had achieved by the end of the period under consideration.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-17
Number of pages15
JournalPublications of the English Goethe Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2004

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