Gottfried Keller

Gottfried Keller (19 July 1819 – 15 July 1890) was a Swiss poet and writer of German literature. Best known for his novel Green Henry (German: Der grüne Heinrich), he became one of the most popular narrators of literary realism in the late 19th century.

Gottfried Keller
Keller around 1885
Keller around 1885
Born19 July 1819
Zürich, Switzerland
Died15 July 1890 (aged 70)
Zürich, Switzerland

Gottfried Keller signature

Early life

His father was Rudolf Keller (1791-1824), a lathe-worker from Glattfelden; his mother was a woman named Elisabeth Scheuchzer (1787–1864). The couple had six children, four of whom died, meaning Keller only had his sister Regula (*1822) left. After his father died of tuberculosis, Keller's family lived in constant poverty, and, because of Keller's difficulties with his teachers, in continual disagreement with school authorities. Keller later gave a good rendering of his experiences in this period in his long novel, Der grüne Heinrich (1850–55; 2nd version, 1879). His mother seems to have brought him up in as carefree a condition as possible, sparing for him from her scanty meals, and allowing him the greatest possible liberty in the disposition of his time, the choice of a calling, etc. With some changes, a treatment of her relations to him may be found in his short story, “Frau Regel Amrain und ihr jüngster” (in the collection Die Leute von Seldwyla).


Keller's first true passion was painting. Expelled in a political mix-up from the Industrieschule in Zürich, he became an apprentice in 1834 to the landscape painter Steiger and in 1837 to the watercolourist Rudolf Meyer (1803–1857). In 1840, he went to Munich (Bavaria) to study art for a time at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

Keller returned to Zürich in 1842 and, although possessing artistic talent, took up writing. He published his first poems, Gedichte, in 1846. Jacob Wittmer Hartmann characterizes these six years at Zürich (1842–48) as a time of almost total inactivity, when Keller inclined strongly toward radicalism in politics, and was also subject to much temptation and indulged himself. From 1848 to 1850 he studied at the University of Heidelberg. There he came under the influence of the philosopher Feuerbach, and extended his radicalism also to matters of religion.

From 1850 to 1856, he worked in Berlin. Hartmann claims it was chiefly this stay in Berlin which molded Keller's character into its final shape, toned down his rather bitter pessimism to a more moderate form, and prepared him (not without the privations of hunger), in the whirl of a large city, for an enjoyment of the more restricted pleasures of his native Zürich. It was in Berlin that he turned definitely away from other pursuits and took up literature as a career.

Gottfried Keller 1860.jpeg
Gottfried Keller in 1860

In this period, Keller published the semi-autobiographical novel Der grüne Heinrich (Green Henry). It is the most personal of all his works. Under the influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's doctrine of a return to nature, this book was at first intended to be a short narrative of the collapse of the life of a young artist. It expanded as its composition progressed into a huge work drawing on Keller's youth and career (or more precisely non-career) as a painter up to 1842. Its reception by the literary world was cool, but the second version of 1879 is a rounded and satisfying artistic product.

Zürich - Enge - Gottfried Keller IMG 1874
Gottfried Keller memorial at Enge (Zürich) harbour

He also published his first collection of short stories, Die Leute von Seldwyla (The People of Seldwyla). It contains five stories averaging 60 pages each: “Pankraz der Schmoller,” “Frau Regel Amrain und ihr jüngster,” “Die drei gerechten Kammacher,” “Romeo und Julie auf dem Dorfe,” and “Spiegel das Kätzchen.” Hartmann characterizes two of the stories in Die Leute von Seldwyla as immortal: “Die drei gerechten Kammacher” he views as the most satyric and scorching attack on the sordid petit bourgeois morality ever penned by any writer, and “Romeo und Julie auf dem Dorfe” as one of the most pathetic tales in literature (Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet plot in a Swiss village setting).

Keller returned again to Zürich and became the First Official Secretary of the Canton of Zürich (Erster Zürcher Staatsschreiber) in 1861. The routine duties of this position were a sort of fixed point about which his artistic activities could revolve, but Hartmann opines that he produced little of permanent value in these years. In 1872, Keller published Seven Legends (Sieben Legenden), which dealt with the early Christian era. After 15 years at this post, he was retired in 1876, and began a period of literary activity that was to last to his death, living the life of an old bachelor with his sister Regula as his housekeeper. In spite of his often unsympathetic manner, his extreme reserve and idiosyncrasy in dealing with others, he had gained the affection of his fellow townspeople and an almost universal reputation before his death.


Hartmann bases Keller's fame chiefly on 15 short stories, the five mentioned above; the five contained in the second volume of Die Leute von Seldwyla (1874): “Die missbrauchten Liebesbriefe,” “Der Schmied seines Glücks,” “Dietegen,” “Kleider machen Leute,” and “Das verlorene Lachen”; and five in Züricher Novellen (1878): “Hadlaub,” “Der Narr auf Manegg,” “Der Landvogt von Greifensee,” “Das Fähnlein der sieben Aufrechten,” and “Ursula.” The milieu is always that of an orderly bourgeois existence, within which the most manifold human destinies, the most humorous relations are progressing, the most peculiar and hardy types of endurance and reticence being formed. Some of the stories contained a note that was new in German literature and that endeared them particularly to Germans as embodying an ideal as yet unrealized in their own country: they narrate the development of character under the relatively free conditions of little Switzerland, picturing an unbureaucratic civic life and an independence of business initiative that cannot but attract those who are denied these privileges.

Also noteworthy are his Collected Poetry (Gesammelte Gedichte) (1883), and the novel Martin Salander (1886).

Gottfried Keller Foundation

In 1890, shortly before the end of her tragic life, Lydia Escher (1858–1891) invested the Escher fortune in a foundation which she called the Gottfried Keller Stiftung, named after Gottfried Keller to whom her father gave consistent support. With her remaining substantial asset – Villa Belvoir including swing and marketable securities totaling nominally 4 million Swiss Francs – Lydia Escher established the foundation's base. According to the will of Lydia Escher, the foundation was established on 6 June 1890, and was managed by the Swiss Federal Council, thus, Lydia Escher wished to accomplish a patriotic work. The foundation should also promote the "independent work of women, at least in the field of the applied Arts," according to the original intention of the founder. This purpose was adopted but at the urging of Emil Welti not in the deed of the foundation. The Gottfried Keller Foundation became though an important collection institution for art, but the feminist concerns of Lydia Escher were not met.

Winterthur - Villa Am Römerholz (ehemalige Villa Henri Sulzer-Ziegler) und Sammlung Oskar Reinhart «Am Römerholz», Haldenstrasse 95 2011-09-12 14-29-50
Foundation in Winterthur

The foundation, as of today based in Winterthur, is listed as a Swiss inventory of cultural property of national and regional significance.[1]

See also

Works in English translation

  • Legends of Long Ago (1911, translated by Charles Hart Handschin).
  • Seldwyla Folks (1919, translated by Wolf von Schierbrand).
    • The People of Seldwyla, and Seven Legends (1970, translated by M.D. Hottinger).
  • A Village Romeo and Juliet (1952).
  • Green Henry (1960, translated by A.M. Holt).
  • Martin Salander (1963, translated by Kenneth Halwas).
  • Two Stories (1966, edited by Lionel Thomas).
  • The Banner of the Upright Seven, and Ursula; Two Novellas (1974, translated by Bayard Quincy Morgan).
  • The Misused Love Letters & Regula Amrain and Her Youngest Son; Two Novellas (1974, translated by Anne Fremantle and Michael Bullock).
  • Perspectives on People: Five Stories (1977, translated by Lawrence M. Washington).
  • Stories (1982, edited by Frank G. Ryder).


  1. ^ "A-Objekte KGS-Inventar" (in German). Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft, Amt für Bevölkerungsschutz. 2009. Archived from the original on 2010-06-28. Retrieved 2014-11-29.


Further reading

External links

2368 Beltrovata

2368 Beltrovata, provisional designation 1977 RA, is an eccentric stony asteroid and near-Earth object of the Amor group, approximately 2.7 kilometers in diameter. It was discovered on 4 September 1977, by Swiss astronomer Paul Wild at Zimmerwald Observatory near Bern, Switzerland. The asteroid was named for Betty Tendering, a friend of author Gottfried Keller.

A Village Romeo and Juliet

A Village Romeo and Juliet is an opera by Frederick Delius, the fourth of his six operas. The composer himself, with his wife Jelka, wrote the English-language libretto based on the short story Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorfe by the Swiss author Gottfried Keller. The first performance was at the Komische Oper Berlin on 21 February 1907, as Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorfe. Thomas Beecham conducted the British premiere at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London on 22 February 1910. The US premiere was on 26 April 1972 in Washington, D.C.While the opera has rarely been staged, the orchestral interlude between Scenes 5 and 6, "The Walk to the Paradise Garden", is heard separately in concerts and has been recorded many times.

Clothes Make the Man

Clothes Make the Man is a 1915 American film featuring Oliver Hardy based on the novella Kleider machen Leute by the Swiss author Gottfried Keller from 1874.

Clothes Make the Man (1921 film)

Clothes Make the Man (German:Kleider machen Leute) is a 1921 Austrian-German silent film based on a novel by Gottfried Keller, directed by Hans Steinhoff and starring Hermann Thimig, Dora Kaiser and Hugo Thimig.

Clothes Make the Man (1940 film)

Clothes Make the Man (German: Kleider machen Leute) is a 1940 German historical comedy film directed by Helmut Käutner and starring Heinz Rühmann, Hertha Feiler and Hilde Sessak. It was shot at the Barrandov Studios in German-occupied Prague as well as at the Babelsberg Studio near Berlin.

Deutsche Rundschau

Deutsche Rundschau is a literary and political periodical established in 1874 by Julius Rodenberg. It strongly influenced German politics, literature and culture was considered one of the most successful launches of periodicals in Germany. Among its authors were Theodor Fontane (Effi Briest), Paul Heyse, Theodor Storm (The Dykemaster), Gottfried Keller and Ernst Robert Curtius.

Enge (Zürich)

Enge is a quarter in District 2 of Zürich, Switzerland.


The Gottfried-Keller-Preis or Prix Gottfried Keller is one of the oldest literary awards of Switzerland.

The prize was created by Martin Bodmer and is named after the Swiss author Gottfried Keller. It is awarded every 2-3 years.

Gottfried Keller-Stiftung

Gottfried Keller-Stiftung (Gottfried Keller Foundation, French: la fondation Gottfried-Keller), commonly abbreviated to GKS, is an arts foundation focused on cultural heritage of Switzerland. It was named by its founder Lydia Welti-Escher (1858–1891) after the Swiss national poet Gottfried Keller (1819–1891).

Gottfried Keller (musician)

Gottfried Keller (died 1704) was a German keyboard player and composer in England, at least for the last decade of his life, where he was known as Godfrey Keller. He wrote on the basso continuo.Keller's published chamber music suggests associations in London with John Shore and other musicians. He died in November 1704.

Green Henry

Green Henry (German: Der grüne Heinrich) is a partially autobiographical novel by the Swiss author Gottfried Keller, first published in 1855, and extensively revised in 1879. Truth is freely mingled with fiction, and there is a generalizing purpose to exhibit the psychic disease that affected the whole generation of the transition from romanticism to realism in life and art. The work stands with Adalbert Stifter's Der Nachsommer as one of the two most important examples of a Bildungsroman.

Hermine and the Seven Upright Men

Hermine and the Seven Upright Men (German: Hermine und die sieben Aufrechten) is a 1935 German drama film based on the novella Das Fähnlein der sieben Aufrechten by Gottfried Keller.

Kleider machen Leute (opera)

Kleider machen Leute (Clothes make the man or Fine feathers make fine birds) is a comic opera in a prologue and two acts by Austrian composer Alexander Zemlinsky. The libretto was written by Leo Feld, based on the short novel by Gottfried Keller.

Lydia Welti-Escher

Lydia Welti Escher, (née Lydia Escher, 10 July 1858 in Zürich-Enge – 12 December 1891 in Genève-Champel) was a Swiss patron of the arts and the daughter of Augusta Escher-Uebel (1838–1864) and Alfred Escher (1819–1882), among others the founder of the Gotthardbahn. Lydia Escher was one of the richest women of Switzerland in the 19th century, patron of the arts and established the Gottfried Keller Foundation.

Regine (1927 film)

Regine (German: Regine, die Tragödie einer Frau) is a 1927 German silent drama film directed by Erich Waschneck and starring Lee Parry, Harry Liedtke and Vivian Gibson.The film's sets were designed by the art director Alfred Junge.

Regine (1956 film)

Regine is a 1956 West German drama film directed by Harald Braun and starring Johanna Matz, Erik Schumann and Horst Buchholz.It was shot at the Bavaria Studios in Munich. The film's sets were designed by the art director Kurt Herlth and Robert Herlth.

Regine (film)

Regine is a 1935 German drama film directed by Erich Waschneck and starring Luise Ullrich, Anton Walbrook and Olga Tschechowa.The film's sets were designed by Otto Erdmann and Hans Sohnle.

Schadau Castle

Schadau Castle (German: Schloss Schadau) is a castle on the south side of the Aar near Lake Thun in the city of Thun, Canton Bern, Switzerland. It is a Swiss heritage site of national significance.

Wülflingen Castle

Wülflingen Castle (German: Schloss Wülflingen) is a castle in the city of Winterthur and the canton of Zurich in Switzerland. It is a Swiss heritage site of national significance.The Gottfried Keller Foundation aims the acquisition of major works from Switzerland and abroad, to entrust them as loans to Swiss museums or to return them to their original locations, such as the interior of Schloss Wülflingen. The collection comprises more than 8,500 paintings, sculptures and other art objects in around 110 museums respectively locations in Switzerland.

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