If you want a quick understanding of German Naturalism, read this.
Gerhart Hauptmann is a controversial figure in literature: he was adored/instrumentalised by the Nazis, despite his clear textual deviations from their ideologies (let’s just call it “complicated”), but his influence on literature and language is undisputed up until today.
This book really sums up everything that happened in his earlier works: young priest moves to remote village in the mountainous parts of Northern Italy, is stricken by the poverty of a banished family, but also enraptured by the chance to bring these unwashed heathens closer to Jesus. Only if it weren’t for their hot 15-year-old daughter who enraptures something other than his mind too.
If this sounds dismissive, good, it’s meant to, because despite the many more interesting layers of the novella and its powerful structure, I just can’t get past the Madonna-whore complex projected on that underaged girl. What is it about men losing their heads over pure “temptresses”, who break their superior intellects with the power of their adorable simpleness and the size of their tits under loose garments? I honestly don’t want an answer, I just hope their twitching dicks only have this much power in literature and not in real life (life experience tells me otherwise though).
Other than that, the book is good. As I mentioned in the first sentence, you have all the important checkpoints of German Naturalism, commentary on bad social dynamics, a return to the simplicity of life and as peeved as I am by the lusting, the deconstruction of religion and religious institutions is rather glorious.
There is a lot of meaning stuffed into few pages, yet it all seems effortless and linguistically you can’t tell that this was written in 1918; Hauptmann’s style sort of set the standard for a lot of modern German literature. The framing of the story as a story inside of a story is great too and leaves some interesting room for interpretation. It’s also super short, so if you find a translation and are curious, give it a try.