Christian Enzensberger: German scholar of English literature

February 12, 2009 at 8:20 am Leave a comment

It was Christian Enzensberger who made Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass available to German readers in scintillating translations.

As Professor of English Literature at the Institute of English Philology at Munich University his interests ranged from Chaucer to T. S. Eliot and Graham Greene, but his chief enthusiasm was the Victorians, and it was to them that he devoted his passion and his profound scholarship throughout his career.

He obtained his doctorate at Munich University with a dissertation on Victorian poetry. And to that topic, with a special focus on Alfred Tennyson and Algernon Swinburne he devoted decades of his meticulous, subsequent scholarship. With that also he established his reputation as an Anglist, the technical German description for specialists in English literature. In that field he also won special recognition for his translations into German of the poems of Edith Sitwell.

From his base in English literature, which he never neglected or deserted, his restless intellect ranged far wider. Totally unrelated to his literary work, he became fascinated by dirt, physical and verbal. He applied his considerable scholarly skills to the topic, and published a dissertation on it in l968. Its first edition rapidly sold out and two more German editions followed. Its English translation appeared as Smut. An Anatomy of Dirt (l972).

Enzensberger’s restless intellect led him to translate into German Ogden Nash’s collection I’m a Stranger Here Myself and more recently he translated works by Edward Bond, Samuel Beckett and Ian McEwan.

Enzensberger came from a family that had not previously made any contribution of note to German and European literature. So it was the more remarkable that his elder brother, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, who survives him, became one of the leading German writers of the later decades of the 20th century. Christian’s own reputation did not match his brother’s global fame, but his scholarly writing continues to seize the attention of students worldwide.

Christian Enzensberger, German scholar of English literature, was born on December 24, 1931. He died on January 27, 2009, aged 77

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