Truth, fiction and deception in Meinhold’s Maria Schweidler, die Bernsteinhexe

Burns, B. (2011) Truth, fiction and deception in Meinhold’s Maria Schweidler, die Bernsteinhexe. Neophilologus, 95(4), pp. 627-638. (doi: 10.1007/s11061-011-9261-5)

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The article examines Meinhold’s novel Maria Schweidler, die Bernsteinhexe (1843) as an example of a literary hoax. Purporting to be an authentic seventeenth-century chronicle of a local witch trial, the text was conceived by Meinhold, a conservative Pomeranian cleric and novelist, as a challenge to the contemporary world of historical criticism, represented in particular by the theologian Strauß. The test was whether scholars truly had the skills to distinguish fact from fiction. While the hoax provoked controversy at the highest level and led ultimately to the discrediting of its author, this study seeks to accord Meinhold some overdue recognition for successfully crafting his work in such a manner as to deceive his readership, at least for a time. Analysis of Meinhold’s use of paratextual elements such as preface, footnotes, intertitles and epilogue to construct the form of an edited text, shows that his method was not without skill. It is argued that, as well as offering a window on the religious debates and cultural sensibilities of its nineteenth-century context, this novel indicates a considerable achievement in literary deception.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Burns, Dr Barbara
Authors: Burns, B.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Modern Languages and Cultures > German
Journal Name:Neophilologus
ISSN (Online):1572-8668
Published Online:01 January 2011

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