To which extent does the Novel "The Temple", written by Stephen Spender, reflect the Zeitgeist of the Weimar Republic?

Term Paper, 2011

16 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents:

1. Introduction
1.1 Climate of the Thirties in Germany
1.2. The Queers in the Weimar Era

2. The Lifestyle during that Era
2.1. The Handling of Sexuality
2.2 The Spirit of the Time through Joachim’s Eyes

3. Description of the Social Attitudes
3.1 The Representation of two States in the Novel
3.2 The Political Changes in Germany in 1932

4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

The story The Temple written by Stephen Spender in 1929 is acting around the protagonist Paul Schoner, a 20 year old English student visiting a friend in Hamburg. He is also the focalizer of the novel and the reader experiences everything through his eyes, so he rather submits a subjective point of view. Nevertheless, the novel delivers a lot of impressions about the Weimar era and the spirit of that time, because Spender always “wrote poetry which derived its inspiration from the social, economic and political conditions of the day” (Pandey, p.3).

First, I want to give a short overview about the actual occurrences during the 1930s in Germany. Then, I will describe the conditions of the queers in this period of time.

Afterwards, I will take a closer look at the text and work out the way of living of the main characters by dealing with their sexual orientation. Furthermore, I will analyse some statements of Joachim Lenz.

After that, I will describe the social attitudes of the people in the novel. In the first place, I will lift out the contrast of the two countries in which the story takes place: “it analyses and contrasts the personalities of British and German youth during the final years of Weimar Republic.” (The Temple Summary & Study Guide) Subsequently, I will expand on the political changes in that era.

In the end, I will draw a conclusion if the novel really reflects the zeitgeist of the Weimar Republic.

1.1 Climate of the Thirties in Germany

In Germany, the 1930s are considered as the period with some of the most impressive cultural and social achievements: “something significant occurred during the Weimar era”(Lee, p.142). “Germans were guaranteed ‘equality before law’ (Article 109) […]” (Lee, p.135), what means that there have been a lot of marginalized groups which gained more power at that time. Furthermore, the law promised that “[…] each individual had ‘the right …to express his opinion freely by word […] or in other way ‘(Article 142) ” (Lee, p.136). This provoked that some groups liberated from the strict rules and the conservative attitudes which were dominant earlier: “certain groups within society were emancipated from some of the constraints and stigmas previously attached to them” (Lee, p.135). Some of these groups were for example the women, the Jews and the homosexuals.

The artists and writers of that time began to develop a new style of art. Their works were more extroverted and represented the spirit of that time. The author Marshall-Dill for example says in an article: “More specifically, literature and the arts reflected this diversity and conflict that evident at the political and social levels”(Lee, p.146). But not everyone supported this way of life and reacted in a rather conservative manner. They “yearned for a return to social values“(Highleyma):

“Berlin had a huge number of nightclubs and there were more emphasizes on sex in entertainment even than in Paris. Some people reacted prudishly of this, others were genuinely worried”

The politicians reacted to this opinion and supported the values of the conservative people: “Both the Nazi Party and the DNVP considered that what was being produced in the Weimar Republic was ‘decadent’ and unpatriotic, seeking to trivialize and choosing deliberately to ignore Germany’s traditional virtues.”

The author Stephen J. Lee summarizes in his book about the Weimar Republic, the difficulties of that time and why it failed to be seen as something special back then:

“The underlying problem of the Weimar Republic was that it failed to satisfy more than a minority of social aspirations. Some groups and sectional interests were permanently alienated. Others had their expectations raised, only to find that the economic and political base of the Republic was not equal to the task of sustaining them. The result was disillusionment – and therefore alienation. This does not necessarily reduce the scope of initial achievement but it does show how vulnerable that achievement was” (Lee, p.139)

1.2. The Queers in the Weimar Era

One group which benefited at this time were the gays: “the political climate of the Weimar Republic had encouraged a more relaxed attitude towards homosexuality” (Kirk, p.165). They began to enjoy their sexual orientation and did not hide it anymore. A vibrant queer culture emerged in Germany’s large cities: “A subculture of bars and other meeting places has existed in imperial Berlin and other large cities, and there had been attempts by Magnus Hirschfeld, and a number of leading intellectuals […] to have the law reformed.” (Kirk, p.165)

Due to Dr.Magnus Hirschfeld and his Scientific Humanitarian Committee (SHC), the oldest homosexual organization in the world, the Germans had the strongest gay right movement in the world. “Gay social life flourished during the 1920s in cities such as Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, and especially Berlin.” (Highleyma)

But the majority of Germans still felt contempt for this new openness. They quickly judged the homosexuals and saw their traditional values in danger: “Due largely to the efforts of the SHC, homosexuality became a widespread topic of conversation and debate in Germany. Gay rights were debated and discussed in the leading German newspapers and in households throughout the country.” (Gin)

Therefore, they supported the Nazi Party and the DNVP which promoted the conservative attitudes and began to exclude the Gays:

„[…]male homosexual relationships were already criminalized when Nazis came to power […] ‘Unnatural sexual acts’ (Unzucht wider die Natur), a category which included sexual intercourse between two men, was punishable under the provision of Paragraph 175 of the Reich penal law code of 1871“

So it can be said that the “Weimar Germany offers one of history's most prescient lessons about how liberalization can lead to backlash, and seemingly secure rights and freedoms can be lost.” (Highleyma)


Excerpt out of 16 pages


To which extent does the Novel "The Temple", written by Stephen Spender, reflect the Zeitgeist of the Weimar Republic?
University of Trier
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novel, temple, stephen, spender, zeitgeist, weimar, republic
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Anna Theresa Wendel (Author), 2011, To which extent does the Novel "The Temple", written by Stephen Spender, reflect the Zeitgeist of the Weimar Republic?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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