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Heinrich von Kleist - A Modern Man

Today, Heinrich von Kleist appears as a modern man who became involved in the radical political and social changes in Germany at the turn of the 19th century and, although he came from an aristocratic family in Brandenburg, endured unstable living conditions throughout his life. Continual experience of crisis led him to develop his ideas and to change his career plans frequently. For Kleist, social reform theories and literary experiment went hand in hand. He joined the Prussian Army at the early age of fifteen and was discharged seven years later as a lieutenant; he studied philosophy, physics, mathematics and political science in his city of birth Frankfurt (Oder) and showed an interest in technology, education and administration throughout his life.

Kleist was a restless spirit; he had many, constantly changing places of residence; he travelled all of his life. In his narrative literary works and drama he drew attention by presenting the extremes of human relationships and their failure, and with his radical formal aims. Kleist’s protagonists are quite free of German inwardness and pondering; they act and they founder in reality. This is what made, and still makes Kleist’s works so appealing to readers all over the world. Kleist was active and passionate in many fields; he was driven by his desire for happiness and his ambition to succeed as an independent writer. He longed for fame, which he did not achieve during his lifetime, and for a calm point in his life that he did not find until his suicide, which he staged with “irrepressible cheerfulness”.

Kleist's Works Online

A lot of the works of Heinrich von Kleist are online available, please check Projekt Gutenberg-DE or Project Gutenberg. Particularly noteworthy is the Brandenburger Kleist Ausgabe (BKA), which provides an extensive collection of documents and testimonies to Kleist's life and work. Wikisource offers a wide range of Kleist's Works, with a lot of links directing to scans of Kleist's original editions.