Jeremias Gotthelf

Jeremias Gotthelf

Gotthelf, Jeremias, 1797-1854, Swiss writer and clergyman. His real name was Albert Bitzius; his pen name is that of the hero of his autobiographical Bauernspiegel (1837). Gotthelf, working as Protestant pastor in Bern canton, took an active interest in the education and economic improvement of the poverty-stricken rural population. His 38 volumes of prose are characterized by Christian fervor, humor, sincerity, and vigor. Many were written in the Swiss-German idiom. Best known are Ulric, the Farm Servant (1840, tr. 1888) and Die schwarze Spinne [The Black Spider] (1842, tr. 1975).
Albert Bitzius (October 4, 1797October 22, 1854), Swiss novelist, best known by his pen name of Jeremias Gotthelf, was born at Murten, where his father was pastor.

In 1804 the home was moved to Utzenstorf, a village in the Bernese Emmental. Here young Bitzius grew up, receiving his early education and consorting with the boys of the village, as well as helping his father to cultivate his glebe. In 1812 he went to complete his education at Bern, and in 1820 was received as a pastor. In 1821 he visited the University of Göttingen, but returned home in 1822 to act as his father's assistant. On his father's death (1824) he went in the same capacity to Herzogen buchsee, and later to Bern (1829). Early in 1831 he went as assistant to the aged pastor of the village of Lützelflüh, in the Upper Emmenthal (between Langnau and Burgdorf), being soon elected his successor (1832) and marrying one of his granddaughters (1833). He spent the rest of his life there, leaving three children (the son was a pastor, the two daughters married pastors).

His first work, the Bauernspiegel, appeared in 1837. It purported to be the life of Jeremias Gotthelf, narrated by himself, and this name was later adopted by the author as his pen name. It is a living picture of Bernese (or, strictly speaking, Emmenthal) village life, true to nature, and not attempting to gloss over its defects and failings. It is written (like the rest of his works) in German, but contains expressions from the Bernese dialect of the Emmenthal, though it must be remembered that Bitzius was not (like Auerbach) a peasant by birth, but belonged to the educated classes, so that he reproduces what he had seen and learnt, and not what he had himself personally experienced. The book was a great success, as it was a picture of real life, and not of fancifully beribboned eighteenth-century villagers.

His best known work is without doubt the short novel Die Schwarze Spinne (The Black Spider), a semi-allegorical tale of the plague in form of the titular monster that devastates a Swiss valley community; first as a result of a pact with the devil born out of need and a second time due to the moral decay that releases the monster from its prison again.

Among his later tales are the Leiden und Freuden eines Schulmeisters (1838-1839), Uli der Knecht (1841), with its continuation, Uli der Pächter (1849), Anne-Bäbi Jowäger (1843-1844), Käthi, die Großmutter (1846), Die Käserei in der Vehfreude (1850), and the Erlebnisse eines Schuldenbauers (1853). He also published several volumes of shorter tales.

One slight drawback to some of his writings is the echo of local political controversies, for Bitzius was a Whig and strongly opposed to the Radical party in the canton, which carried the day in 1846.

He died on October 22, 1854 in Lützelflüh in Canton of Bern.

Lives by C. Manuel, in the Berlin edition of Bitzius's works (Berlin, 1861), and by J. Ammann in vol. i. (Bern, 1884) of time Sammlung Bernischer Biographien. His works were issued in 24 vols. at Berlin, 1856-1861, while 10 vols., giving the original text of each story, were issued at Bern, 1898-1900.

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