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Sturm und Drang Literary Movement | What is Sturm und Drang?

Instructor: Spencer Linford

Spencer holds a bachelor's of literature and a bachelor's of environmental studies from the University of California Santa Cruz. He works as a freelance writer and editor.

Learn about the Sturm und Drang Literary Movement in Germany. Discover how Sturm und Drang, "storm and stress", impacted German literature, music, and visual arts. Updated: 09/01/2022

German Romanticism

Sturm und Drang was a late 18th-century German literary movement that valued the unbridled expression of raw emotion and individualism. Like its predecessors, Sturm und Drang (or "Storm and Stress") was a reactionary movement that developed in response to the pragmatic ideals of the Enlightenment and laid the foundation for 18th-century and early 19th-century German Romanticism. Sturm und Drang's development announced a shift in the German creative intellectuals' understanding of human experience. Its disciples believed that human experience could not be rationalized with science, reason, or logic. Instead, the Sturm und Drang movement understood human experience to be deeply personal, connected with nature, and dictated by passionate emotions.

Although Sturm und Drang was not a cultural mission, it did have goals. Sturm und Drang sought to resist the mechanical march of progress that culminated in the industrial revolution. Its cultural resistance to the development of capitalism hinged on its ability to unify society with art. In other words, Sturm und Drang reframed the aesthetic philosophy that informed the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was interested in logic, reason, and scientific discovery, while Sturm und Drang was concerned with emotion, individualism, and natural beauty.

German Romanticism rediscovered the ethos of Sturm und Drang shortly after the latter movement capitulated to Weimar Classicism. Inspired by its conception of art and society, German Romantics sought to unify art, science, and philosophy into a single discipline that could wholistically explain the human experience. As German Romanticism gained traction as a movement, the difficulty of unifying antithetical facets of human cultures, such as religion and science, became readily apparent. Soon, the unification of disparate studies became untenable, and members of the German Romantic movement shifted their focus to the disconnect between mundane life and creative genius— a trope whose origins are traceable to Sturm und Drang's tragic heroes hobbled by society's rules and expectations.

Like Sturm und Drang's philosophy, German Romanticism sought to resist the shift in societal values due to industrialization. In response to the industrial valuation of labor and capital, German Romanticism elevated individuals and art— A philosophical approach borne of Sturm und Drang's belief that the truth of human existence existed in an idyllic past, where humans, unburdened by modern society's behavioral and economic expectations, communed with nature.

Sturm und Drang Translation and Definition: "Storm and Stress"

Sturm und Drang is a late 18th-century artistic movement by the philosophies of Jean-Jacques Rousseau that spurned neoclassical literary expression. In English, Sturm und Drang translates roughly to "Storm and Stress " or "Storm and Urge" —the former translation is more common. Although Sturm und Drang was a German cultural movement that was primarily concerned with written forms, such as poems, novels, and plays, it also influenced music and visual arts. Mozart was among the musicians influenced by the philosophy of Sturm und Drang. Sturm und Drang got its name from Friedrich Maximilian Klinger's play of the same name. Klinger's play drew heavily on works from the Kraftmensch movement, illustrating that the ideas of Sturm und Drang did not develop in a vacuum. Instead, it formalized a new take on a cultural rebellion that had been brewing for some time.

Common themes of Romanticism literary works include subjectivity, individualism, violence, and beauty. Compared to the Enlightenment, Sturm und Drang extolled emotions that aristocratic German society considered shameful, such as sorrow, fear, disappointment, and disenchantment. The ethos of Sturm und Drang is best exemplified by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's works, notably the poem Prometheus and the play Götz von Berlichingen. Other notable Sturm und Drang works from influential writers of the movement include

  • Julius of Taranto by Johann Anton Leisewitz
  • Die Reue nach der Tat (The Remorse After the Deed) by Heinrich Leopold Wagner
  • Die Soldaten (The Soldiers) by Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz
  • Sturm und Drang by Friedrich Maximilian Klinger
  • Die Räuber (The Robbers) by Friedrich Schiller

Major Writers

Major writers of the German Storm and Stress movement include Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johann Anton Leisewitz, Heinrich Leopold Wagner, Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz, Friedrich Maximilian Klinger, Friedrich Schiller. Of all the written forms used to communicate the artistic principles of Storm and Stress, plays were the most effective. The emotional scenes of Sturm und Drang plays lent themselves to dramatic performance. Moreover, the medium of the play dodged the need for literacy, making the art available to a broad audience. Prose and poetry were popular Sturm und Drang forms, but they lacked the emotional proximity actors could inject on stage.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How did Sturm und Drang influence romanticism?

Sturm und Drang was a precursor to German Romanticism. It made the expression of dramatized emotion and fantastical scenarios that characterized German Romanticism culturally acceptable.

What was the Sturm und Drang movement?

Sturm und Drang was a late 18th-century German literary movement that valued raw human emotion and beauty. The Sturm und Drang movement preceded German Romanticism, continental Europe's earliest Romantic movement.

How to use Sturm und Drang in a sentence?

Sturm und Drang is a proper noun that denotes a period of time and a body of thought. For example, ''Sturm und Drang developed during the late 18th century in response to Enlightenment philosophy.''

Which German playwright was considered the greatest writer of Sturm und Drang plays?

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is considered Sturm und Drang's greatest writer. His play "Götz von Berlichingen" has many themes and motifs that defined the Sturm und Drang movement.

What does the term Sturm und Drang mean?

Sturm und Drang means storm and stress in English. The translation loses its ability to identify a specific cultural period of history but communicates the intense emotion of Sturm und Drang proponents.

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