In the century between 1750 and 1850, the idea of freedom became a central concept for the ways in which European writers understood themselves and their literary works. Yet different writers had very different types of freedom in mind. While some focused on the freedom from patronage, others talked about the freedom from the pressures of the literary market—and still others about the freedom from the rules governing individual genres, or even a more abstract sense of freedom that readers could experience when reading literature. Drawing on texts by Rousseau, Goethe, Schiller, and others, this talk assesses how these various types of freedom coalesced into a concept of literature whose legacy is still felt today.
Martin Wagner (Ph.D., Yale University, 2014) is Professor of German at the University of Calgary. His research focuses on German literary and intellectual history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. His latest book, A Stage for Debate (University of Toronto Press, 2023), assesses the contribution of the most important German-language stage of the nineteenth century, Vienna’s Burgtheater, to the social and political debates in Austria. He currently works on a SSHRC-funded project on the history of obedience in Germany.