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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama


The Journalists

Gustav Freytag

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To purchase The Journalists

Title: The Journalists
Author: Gustav Freytag
Genre: Play
Written: 1852 (Eng. 1888)
Length: 118 pages
Original in: German
Availability: The Journalists - US
The Journalists - UK
The Journalists - Canada
Les journalistes - France
Die Journalisten - Deutschland
  • Comedy in Four Acts
  • German title: Die Journalisten
  • Also translated by Herbert Leslie (1904) and Vivian Elsie Lyon (1916)

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Our Assessment:

B : reasonably good fun, though the comic-political mix is a bit odd

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times . 5/4/1888 .

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The complete review's Review:

[Note: this review is based on the German original, but quotes are taken from the (unattributed) 1888 English translation; the original names are, however, retained (Adelheid rather than Adelaide; Conrad rather than Konrad).]

       The Journalists is indeed well-populated with journalists, from two rival newspapers: the Union and the Coriolanus, with the battle of the day the upcoming local elections, as both newspapers are closely aligned with particular parties and political priorities (the Union, liberal-modernizing; the Coriolanus, conservative-reactionary). The election is for the city House of Representatives; in these only rudimentarily democratic times (the play is from the mid-nineteenth century) votes are limited to a hundred electors.
       The situation is brought to a head by the liberal party naming a Union editor, Professor Eduard Oldendorf, their candidate. Oldendorf has long been good friends with and welcome in the home of Colonel-emeritus Berg -- and it seems to be taken for granted by all that he will eventually marry the Colonel's daughter, Ida. The Colonel is, however, politically otherwise inclined -- and the sneaky editors of the Coriolanus turn this to their advantage, by soliciting opinion pieces from the Colonel for their newspaper; these poorly written essays naturally get criticized in the Union, further inflaming the Colonel -- to the extent that he eventually decides to stand in the election too.
       This swells the rift between the Colonel and the Professor, even as the Union folk try to smooth things over as much as possible. The election is a nail biter, but Union-editor Conrad Bolz ingratiates himself with an influential elector ("he is a well-to-do man and ought to command more than five or six votes from his adherents"), wine merchant Piepenbrink -- also described as being: "very unpolished, and does not bother himself much about politics" -- and even as the Colonel is getting ready to make his victory speech, Oldendorf narrowly pips him at the post.
       All of gracious winner Oldendorf's initial efforts at reconciliation fail, as the Colonel remains stubborn. Meanwhile, his party has more ideas how to turn things back to their advantage, hatching a plan for a rich investor to purchase the Union (and then change the political leanings of the paper).
       While Oldendorf's long friendship with the Colonel -- and his anticipated union with daughter Ida -- form the main personal drama in the play, there are also other strands, including another romantic story, as editor Conrad Bolz doesn't quite know how to react to the appearance of Adelheid Runeck, an old love of his from his hometown. The two dance a bit around each other, Adelheid mourning the death of her father -- but now also a wealthy heiress -- while Conrad is completely dedicated to his journalistic work and ideals, but they find common cause in reconciling the Colonel with Oldendorf -- which of course also brings them closer together.
       A final piece in the puzzle is the shabbily treated Coriolanus-employee Schmock -- who knows about how the editors used the Colonel and his editorials (of which they themselves also had a poor opinion) to bring about a breach between the Colonel and Oldendorf. The hardworking Schmock is willing to do whatever is asked of him, and bend whichever way the wind blows; he tries to offer his services to the Union by explaining that:

I have learned from Blumenberg to write in all directions. I have written left and again right. I can write in all directions.
       That doesn't correspond to Conrad's journalistic ideals -- his response: "I see you have a character" is not meant as a compliment -- but eventually Schmock does prove useful (and he does get properly rewarded for it -- allowing him also to move on to more suitable employment).
       The Journalists is a comedy, but the political dealings and trickery feel all too true to life -- and surprisingly contemporary, including regarding the role of the (politically-aligned) press. However, with little discussion of the significance of power -- elected or otherwise -- and with both men standing for election here considered upstanding, fine men by one and all (with only the Colonel briefly blinded about Oldendorf by his hurt pride), the stakes and consequences are almost incidental. Only regarding those a bit more behind the scenes does the ugly picture of political manipulation come into better focus; disappointingly, too, there's no debate about how very much money talks here. (The Union is sold -- but it doesn't come as much of a surprise who the buyer ultimately winds up being.)
       Among the interactions where The Journalists is most successful is in the love story between Conrad and Adelheid; the more central one between Ida and Oldendorf, on the other hand, feels almost boringly long decided on, with the Colonel's outburst and cruel choice -- "Forget him, or forget that you are my daughter", he barks at Ida -- obviously just a reaction in the heat of the moment, and little doubt that sense, and romance, will win the day.
       The Journalists -- phenomenally popular in its times -- is a fine play, with entertaining scenes, solid dialogue, decent suspense, and comic relief that holds up even today. Still, it feels a bit light and inconsequential, with the happily resolved love-matches -- though they are not really at the forefront of most of the play -- more the point than any debate about journalism or politics. The journalism-in-practice twists -- how both sides get what they want -- are amusing, but there's not really enough of this either to see the play as a real insider-look at the profession.
       Solid, overall, but slight.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 August 2019

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The Journalists: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German author Gustav Freytag lived 1816 to 1895.

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© 2019 the complete review

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