Heinrich von Kleist, born October 18, 1777 in Frankfurt/Oder. Commited suicide at the Wannsee November 21, 1811
German dramatic poet.

He was one of the most evocative and disturbing of the German Romantic writers. Kleist served (1792-99) in the Prussian army. He studied (1799/1800) Philosophy, Physics, Math and political science.

He abandoned his studies and went to Paris and Switzerland, where he wrote his first book "Die Familie Schriffenstein" (The Schroffenstein family). After that he took a journey to Paris and tried to volunteer for the french army. Expelled from France, he traveled to Dresden but he was imprisoned and arrested for 6 month as a spy by the french.

taken from britannica.com: "Poets of the Realist, Expressionist, Nationalist, and Existentialist movements in France and Germany all saw their prototype in Kleist"

famous comedies: "Der zerbrochene Krug" (1806, tr. The Broken Pitcher, 1961) and "Amphitryon" (1807), after Molière.
tragedies: "Käthchen von Heilbronn" (1810) is a tale of chivalry; his masterpiece is "The Prince of Homburg", (1821, tr. 1956), a historical tragedy. novellas: Best known of these are Michael Kohlhaas (1810-11, tr. 1967) and The Marquis of O (1810-11, tr. 1978).
philosophical texts: Über die allmähliche Verfertigung der Gedanken beim Reden.

Sources: www.kleist.org (very good non-profit page.. only in german)
www.gutenberg.aol.de www.columbia.edu www.britannica.com

Heinrich von Kleist served as a literary role model for, among others, Franz Kafka, whose style and sentence structure seem strongly influenced by the writings of Kleist.

Kleist lived in the shadow of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the most celebrated German dramatist and poet of his time, and indeed of any time in German history. Kleist simultaneously worshiped Goethe's talent and envied his incredible success.

In true megalomaniac fashion, Kleist alternated between feelings of utter worthlessness, and a sense of almost Godlike significance, with the notion that he was meant for better things. This is a character trait that he seems to have shared in common with Franz Kafka, and Russian author Nikolai Gogol. Something else he has in common with these two authors is the fact that not all of his significant works have been preserved. His stories and plays have survived, but his one novel was lost and never published. Similarly, Gogol destroyed several versions of his novel Dead Souls, which exists today only in an incomplete form, and Kafka destroyed untold numbers of stories, fragments, and books before his death.

When Kleist committed suicide at the age of thirty-five, he did not die alone. He first killed a terminally ill woman who, though he did not love her or have much to do with her personally, also shared his deathwish. Before dying, he was quoted as saying "I am going, since there is nothing left for me either to learn or gain in this life." He also wrote to his sister "The fact of the matter is that there was no help for me on this earth."

His writing was often brutal, harsh, cynical, and could at times be emotionally expressive, while more often it was grim and coldly matter-of-fact... but it always fell into the realm of the romantic. Thomas Mann wrote of Kleist:

"Kleist knows how to put us on the rack and--such is
his triumph as an artist--succeeds in making us thank
him for that torture."
Though I'm sure there is no intentional association to this, Mann's metaphor conjures up an image from Kafka's story In The Penal Colony, in which a torturer/executioner is placed upon his own execution machine, in fulfilment of a secret inner wish.

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