In the 1800s, it wasn’t uncommon for long works of fiction to be published serially in newspapers and other periodicals. Books were luxury items and inaccessible to many, but periodicals reached a much broader audience. Several renowned authors published in this format—Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Alexander Dumas, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Leo Tolstoy just to name a few.
Serialized fiction was popular in Germany as well, and stories published in German periodicals eventually made their way to the States. The first issues of Der Deutsche Correspondent digitized by the Historic Maryland Newspapers Project contain such a story by Luise Mühlbach, called Friedrich der Grosse und sein Hof (Frederick the Great and His Court). To read the story as it was published in Der Deutsche Correspondent, head over to Chronicling America and look for the story on page 1, column 6 beginning January 1, 1858.
If you are not fluent in German, you’re in luck! My colleague in the Division of Digital Systems and Stewardship Jill Fosse has been tirelessly translating the story for our enjoyment. Over the next few weeks, we’ll get a taste of this novel as it was originally intended to be read—piece by piece. Enjoy Frederick the Great and His Court!
When we join the newspaper in January, 1858, the serial is well underway and is initially concentrating less on the court of Frederick, new King of Prussia, and more on those aspiring to join it. Miss Catherine Orguelin, daughter of an extremely wealthy merchant, is due to marry impoverished and heavily indebted Count Rhedern. When we enter the story, Catherine and her father are going over the wedding guest list.
The count shudders at the names—too bourgeois, nobody of any worth, horrid, barbaric creatures who could never appear at court. Mr. Orguelin, meanwhile, is thrilled that the richest and most elegant merchants in all Berlin will be coming to this wedding. It will be the most everything –sumptuous, elegant, delicious (French chefs have been retained), lavish, extravagant (fireworks!) wedding ever seen. The horrified count tries to wriggle out of this by suggesting that he and Caroline get married quietly, very soon and then have the celebration later, so as not to clash with the masked ball that the king will be holding later that week. Caroline is thrilled at the idea of a masked ball at court and immediately agrees with the count.
“So we are to marry the day after next?” asks Caroline.
“Yes, and on that day I will be the happiest of men,” sighs her fiancé.
“Your creditors are pressing for my dowry, no doubt?” responds Caroline sardonically. “I think it’s time you and I understand each other once and for all.”
Not even married and Catherine and her Count are already fighting about money—that can’t be good. Check back in a few days to see what happens next. Or for those of you who have been spoiled by marathoning TV shows on Netflix, you can read an English translation of the entire novel here thanks to the Gutenberg Project. We join the story in Book III, Chapter IV “The Bridal Pair.”