(Article, ‘Young Germany’, originally published in The Cambridge Wagner Encyclopedia, ed. Nicholas Vazsonyi (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)
A group of German writers during the pre-1848 period. Reacted strongly against perceived apolitical and reactionary tendencies in German Romanticism. Several, including Heinrich Laube, Karl Gutzkow, Heinrich Heine, and Georg Herwegh, were known personally to Wagner; others include Ludwig Börne, Theodor Mundt, Ludolf Wienbarg, and Georg Büchner. In 1835, the German Confederation proscribed many such writings as injurious to the Christian religion and morality; Laube’s subsequent imprisonment made a great impression upon Wagner. According to Heine (Die romantische Schule), Young Germans, unlike Goethe and the Romantics, treated life and literature as one; as for Wagner, this signaled revival of the Hellenic spirit following Christian aberration. Wagner published articles in Laube’s Leipzig-based Zeitung für die elegante Welt, including his Autobiographical Sketch (1842), where Wagner likens Das Liebesverbot to Laube’s Young Europe in their “victory of free sensualism over puritanical hypocrisy.” Young German influence may be traced throughout Wagner’s dramatic oeuvre, especially Tannhäuser.