Title: Popular history and fiction: the myth of August the Strong in German literature, art, and media
Abstract: This thesis concerns the function of fiction in the creation of an historical myth and the uses that that myth is put to in a number of periods and differing régimes. Its case study is the popular myth of August the Strong (1670-1733), Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, as a man of extraordinary sexual prowess and the ruler over a magnificent, but frivolous, court in Dresden. It examines the origins of this myth in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, and its development up to the twenty-first century in German history writing, fiction, art, and media. The image August created for himself in the art, literature, and festivities of his court as an ideal ruler of extremely broad cultural and intellectual interests and high political ambitions and abilities linked him closely with eighteenth-century notions of galanterie. This narrowed the scope of his image later, especially as nineteenth-century historians selected fictional sources and interpreted them as historical sources to present August as an immoral political failure. Although nineteenth-century popular writers exhibited a more varied response to August’s historical role, the negative historiography continued to resonate in later history writing. Ironically, the myth of August the Strong represented an opportunity in the GDR in creating and fostering a sense of identity, first as a socialist state with historical and cultural links to the east, and then by examining Prusso-Saxon history as a uniquely (East) German issue. Finally, the thesis examines the practice of historical re-enactment as it is currently employed in a number of variations on German TV and in literature, and its impact on historical knowledge. The thesis concludes that, while narrative forms are necessary to history and fiction, and fiction is a necessary part of presenting history, inconsistent combinations of the two can undermine the projects of both.