Fritz Mauthner, Meersburg, Germany, early 1900s. (Leo Baeck Institute, New York)

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Mauthner, Fritz

(1849–1923), journalist, novelist, philosopher, and literary critic. Born into an assimilated, well-to-do Jewish family from Hořitz (Hořice; also Horschitz) in Bohemia, Fritz Mauthner received his primary and secondary education at German schools in Prague. Although he officially studied law, he acquired a broad education at the German university in Prague. In 1876, Mauthner moved to Berlin, where he published articles in or collaborated on several literary journals, earning his living primarily through writing theater reviews. In 1889, he was a founder of the avant-garde theater Freie Bühne (Free Stage). He wrote plays, novels, short stories, and satires.

Mauthner was virtually unique among German Jewish writers from Bohemia in that he held extremely anti-Czech views. That attitude is most clearly reflected in his novels Der letzte Deutsche von Blatna (The Last German in Blatna; 1897), dealing with the growing dominance of the Czech element in Bohemia toward the end of the nineteenth century, and Die böhmische Handschrift (The Czech Manuscript; 1897), concerning the Czech cause célèbre: the controversy over whether philologist Václav Hanka had found parchments containing medieval Czech poetic works or had forged them [for a detailed description of this controversy, see the biography of David Kuh]. His own feeling of not belonging pervades the novel Der neue Ahasver: Roman aus Jung-Berlin (The New Ahasuerus: A Novel of Young Berlin; 1882), a naturalistic work published seven years before the naturalist movement is said to have entered German literature.

Mauthner is best known as a philosopher and critic of language. He explored the latter field in his Beiträge zu einer Kritik der Sprache (Contributions to a Critique of Language); its three volumes were issued in 1901–1902. Beginning in 1911, he published volumes of his Bibliothek der Philosophen (Library of Philosophers). In 1909, he moved to the small town of Meersburg, on Lake Constance in Germany. His Erinnerungen (Memoirs), published in 1918, cover the story of his life until this move; in particular, he recounts his childhood and the family lore handed down about his grandfather, who was a disciple of Jakub Frank. Mauthner’s last work, published in four volumes in 1920–1922 before he died in Meersburg, was Der Atheismus und seine Geschichte im Abendlande (Atheism and Its History in the Western World).

Suggested Reading

Josef Mühlberger, Geschichte der deutschen Literatur in Böhmen, 1900–1939 (Munich and Vienna, 1981), pp. 113–118; Gershon Weiler, “Fritz Mauthner: A Study in Jewish Self-Rejection,” Leo Baeck Institute Year Book 8 (1963): 136–148; Gershon Weiler, “Fritz Mauthner as an Historian,” History and Theory 4 (1964–1965): 57–71.