Heinrich boll: “the lost honor of katharina blum

A narrative as an indictment against hysteria and abuse of power. Although it is set in the 70s, i.e. in the pre-digital world, the story about lies and media agitation still has an oppressive topicality.

Heinrich Boll Writer

What was Heinrich Boll accused of: being a terrorist sympathizer, inciting violence, the writer was even compared to Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels?. In an obituary on his death it was said: "That he was a good man, has damaged his literary reputation."

The committed writer

What Heinrich Boll really was: the symbolic figure of a committed writer who intervened, commented on social events – and who had a decisive influence on the post-war Federal Republic of Germany. Together with colleagues such as Gunter Grass and Martin Walser, Boll was considered a moral authority. Three who wrote against the silence about the Second World War. Who accompanied the rebellion of the 68er generation. And who subsequently wanted to understand the motives of the left-wing terrorists, classified or – as their critics called it – "belittled" them.

"The lost honor of Katharina Blum" by Heinrich Boll

Knowing Heinrich Boll’s role and the circumstances of the time is not unimportant for understanding the background and the discussion surrounding his most successful literary work to date, the story "The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. The book was published in 1974, two years after Boll was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. To date, over four million copies have been sold in Germany alone.

A pamphlet against the sensationalism of the tabloid media

"Characters and plot of this story are fictitious. If, in the description of certain journalistic practices, similarities have arisen with the practices of the Bild-Zeitung, these similarities are neither intentional nor coincidental, but unavoidable",

Boll writes in the preface to his story. Shortly before, he and his family had been targeted by terrorism investigators – and then by Germany’s biggest tabloid, Bild-newspaper, falsely accused of glorifying violence and possible complicity in planning attacks.

Heinrich Boll understands his story as a "pamphlet in narrative disguise", as he explained in an epilogue ten years after the first edition, as a polemic about the sensational journalism of the seventies. But "The lost honor of Katharina Blum" is much more than that.

Katharina Blum – a revenge fantasy?

The story of the young Katharina Blum is laid out like a factual report, sober and restrained in its language.

Boll describes how a previously blameless woman becomes a victim of the tabloid press because she spent the night with a man who is wanted by the police. The "ZEITUNG", as she is called, insinuates that Katharina Blum is cold and calculating, a terrorist bride who has allowed her lover to escape, knowing that he is accused of murder in the. More and more, a sleazy reporter invades the woman’s private life, denigrates her to her neighbors, exposes her to the "ZEITUNG" again claiming brazen lies.

Logo BILD newspaper, taken in Berlin

"NEWSPAPER", the name of the tabloid in Boll’s story – with "inevitable Similarity to the real-life model

In the heated atmosphere of the seventies, this leads to Katharina Blum receiving obscene, hateful phone calls and letters. When her seriously ill mother is confronted with the accusations against her daughter in the hospital, she dies – and Katharina, out of rage and despair, kills the reporter responsible for it.

One could say "The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum".. as a revenge novel, the dark fantasy of a writer who saw himself as the victim of a media campaign. However, this does not explain the continuing success of the story, which has been adapted for German cinema audiences as well as for American television.

Boll succeeds in showing through the plot how language can be manipulated – and how it manipulates itself. In the interrogation with the prosecutors and the investigating commissioner, for example, Katharina Blum insists on the subtle differences in terminology.

"There were real definitional controversies between her and the prosecutors, her and Beizmenne, because Katharina claimed that tenderness was a mutual and intrusiveness a unilateral act, and that the latter had always been the case. When the gentlemen thought that it was not important and that it was her fault if the interrogation lasted longer than usual, she said that she would not sign a protocol in which tenderness was written instead of importunity. The difference is crucial for her. There had been similar controversies around the ‘kindly,’ applied to the Blorna couple. The minutes said ‘kind to me’, Blum insisted on the word kind, and when the word good-natured was suggested to her instead, because kind sounded so old-fashioned, she was outraged and claimed that kindness and good-naturedness had nothing to do with kindness."

Still topical

Film still The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum

"The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum": Volker Schlondorff’s film (1975), like Boll’s book, tells the story of a woman who innocently gets caught up in the mills of justice and the sensational press.

"The lost honor of Catherine Blum" was a huge success for Heinrich Boll. Some magazines, out of political opportunism, did not print bestseller lists in the weeks after the story appeared, because this book and this author were at the top of the list. What Boll wrote hit people in the heart. And still does today. In the age of the internet, it is no longer a question of a single newspaper. But what the misuse of language and the defamation of individuals can do, we experience every day.

"The lost honor of Katharina Blum or How violence can arise and where it can lead" (1974), Kiepenheuer& Witsch

Heinrich Boll (1917-1985) was one of the most important writers of post-war Germany. In 1972 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his "vision of contemporary history combined with sensitive empathy". His best-known novels include "Billiards at 9:30 a.m." and "The Wedding", "Views of a Clown" and "Group picture with lady.

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Nobel Prize winner Heinrich Boll was the critical and often hostile companion of the young Federal Republic of Germany. In Ireland he had his refuge. It is the 100th anniversary of the author’s birth. Times. (21.12.2017)

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