Nicholas Saul

German Intellectual and Literary History, Durham
Fellowship: 01.04.–30.09.2016



Nicholas Saul is Professor of German at the University of Durham. He has held Guest Professorships at Cologne and Vermont. His chief scholarly interests are Romanticism, Realisms, Classical Modernism, Romanies and literary Darwinisms. He has published essays on writers from Wilhelm Bölsche to Wilkie Collins, Frederick the Great of Prussia, Goethe, Wilhelm Raabe and Bram Stoker, also on suicide, death and utopias. Recent books are »Gypsies and Orientalism in German Literature and Anthropology of the Long Nineteenth Century« (2007), »The Cambridge Companion to German Romanticism« (2009), »The Evolution of Literature« (2011, with Simon J. James), and »Realism and Romanticism in German Literature« (2013, with Dirk Göttsche). He led a project »The Experience of Emergence« at the Durham Institute of Advanced Study 2014-2015, and  is currently writing a monograph Interrogations of Evolutionism in German Literature 1859-2008.


Fields of Research

  • Emergence
  • Evolutionism in literature and culture
  • Modernism
  • Realisms
  • Romanticism
  • Spiritualism and cultural secularization
  • Literature and science
  • Cognitive humanities
  • System theory


Project outline

»Progressive Phylogenie«. Von der Biographie der Natur zur Biographie des Menschen: Die Beschreibung des Lebens in der deutschen Literatur seit Darwin


My project reconstructs and evaluates how Darwinian evolutionism was deployed in narrative in German literature to represent and perform the ontogeny and socialisation of the individual from the middle of the C19 to to the present.

First, the new, post-classical conceptualisation of narrative is outlined. In recent scholarship classical aesthetic narrative theory has been synthesised with neurological research and evolutionary psychology. In consequence the two cultures division between natural science and humanities has been bridged, the social-cognitive potential of narration acknowledged. Narration has a dual social-cognitive function: as means of individual and collection socialisation and as tool of cultural evolution. Darwin’s theory can only be conceptualised and functionalised as a narrative. Evolutionism can only reflected upon in cultural history as narrative, specifically through the novel as the established ontological model of self-construction.

Thus the monograph reconstructs form and content of narrative reflections on evolutionism in a representative selection of German novels from 1859-2008: from Raabe, Jensen and Bölsche in a first phase around 1900, to Hans Grimm and Ernst Jünger in a second around the middle of the C20, to Botho Strauß, Franz Hohler and Dietmar Dath in today’s generation.

Finally the outcomes of these reconstructions are evaluated. In the first phase of evolutionist narration the reader is offered forms of identity which consist in compensatory interpretations of Darwinian evolution understood pessimistically as immersion in the brutal struggle for existence: dissolution of the self in aesthetic transcendence (Bölsche) or self-sacrifice in the cause of the race (Grimm). In the second half of the C20 however evolutionism is liberated from its inherited ideological ballast. It is construed not uncritically but positively, as offering humanity emancipatory possibilities: the power to channel the vital energy of evolution in the service of radically new self-realisations. This occurs in specifically narrative modes. Raabe had already experimented with alternative narrative models for the evolutionary re-constitution of self-understanding. Strauß offers a set of narrative instruments for manifesting the plural self. Hohler argues for the agency of narrative (emergence) in reconfiguring the relation of system and environment after eco-apocalypse. Dath welcomes the potential of the posthuman embodied self, capable at will of self-reconstitution and catalysing the emergence of a meta-species ethos.


Publications (Selection)

  • »Prediger aus der neuen romantischen Clique.« Zur Interaktion von Romantik und Homiletik um 1800. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann 1999, 218 pp.
  • Gypsies and Orientalism in German Literature and Anthropology of the Long Nineteenth Century. Oxford: Legenda 2007, x + 188 pp.
  • Nicholas Saul (ed.): The Body in German Literature around 1800. Special Number of German Life & Letters, Spring 1999, 155 pp.
  • Nicholas Saul (ed.): German Philosophy and Literature 1700-1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2002, xii + 324 pp. (second, paperback edition, 2010)
  • Nicholas Saul, Susan Tebbutt (eds.): The Role of the Romanies. Images and Self-Images of »Gypsies«/Romanies in European Cultures. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press 2004, xii + 245pp. (second, paperback edition, 2005)
  • Konrad Feilchenfeldt, Ursula Hudson-Wiedenmann, York-Gothardt Mix, Nicholas Saul (eds.): Romantik und Aufklärung. Neue Perspektiven der Forschung. Festschrift zu Ehren Roger Paulins zum 65. Geburtstag. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann 2006, 458 pp.
  • Nicholas Saul, Ricarda Schmidt (eds.): Literarische Wertung und Kanonbildung in der deutschen Tradition nach der Postmoderne. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann 2007, 208 pp.
  • Nicholas Saul (ed.): The Cambridge Companion to German Romanticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2009. xxx + 336 pp.
  • Nicholas Saul, Simon J. James (eds): The Evolution of Literature. Legacies of Darwin in European Cultures. Amsterdam: Rodopi 2011, 346 pp.
  • Dirk Göttsche, Nicholas Saul (eds.): Realism and Romanticism in German Literature. Bielefeld: Aisthesis 2013, 468 pp.
  • Stephanie Hilger, John A. McCarthy, Nicholas Saul, Heather Sullivan (eds.): Radical Reality. Monistic Anthropology and Literature in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Amsterdam: Rodopi 2015, 357 pp.
  • Nicholas Saul: »Modernity’s Dark Side. Wilhelm Bölsche: Die Mittagsgöttin. Darwinism, Evolutionary Aesthetics and Spiritualism.« In: Jerome Carroll, Steve Giles, Maike Oergel (eds.): Aesthetics and Modernity from Schiller to Marcuse. London: Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies 2012, pp. 233-253
  • Nicholas Saul: »Darwin in German Literary Culture 1890-1914.« In: Thomas F. Glick, Elinor Shaffer (eds.): The Literary and Cultural Reception of Charles Darwin in Europe. 2 vols. London, New Delhi, New York, Sydney: Bloomsbury 2014, I, pp. 46-77, 344-350.