1896 – 1992
Born in Hamburg on September 21, 1896, Käte Hamburger grew up in a middle-class home which enabled her, even as an adult, to obtain a relatively orderly academic education, even throughout World War I. She studied philosophy and graduated in Munich in 1922. The topics with which she dealt throughout her “writing life” became truly her own. Thus reading Jean Paul’s Titan during an illness shortly after her graduation resulted in her essay “The Problem of Death in Jean Paul.” Here we already see an inclination towards literature, even though her approach always remained philosophical. In 1928 she became an assistant to the Berlin philosopher Paul Hoffmann (1880–1947), whose work investigated the issue raised by Wilhelm Dilthey of Sense as a philosophical category. In a groundbreaking essay published in 1929, “Novalis und die Mathematik,” Käte Hamburger examined the significance of mathematics for romantic poetry worldwide. At the same time (1930) she began dealing with Thomas Mann, who interested her all her life, just as she remained committed to researching Goethe’s ideal of a human being.
In 1933 Käte Hamburger was forced to leave Germany. She traveled to Sweden via France, where her work on Rahel Varnhagen appeared (1934). She lived in Göteborg, learnt Swedish and worked as a freelance journalist, taught German and served as a teacher’s assistant. Grammar, on which she based her language teaching, inspired Käte to investigate “The Logic of Literature” (1957). In this major work of hers Käte Hamburger asked how the grammatical tense, which expresses reality, inter-relates with a fictional creation like the novel; in doing so, she questioned the traditional theory of genre, i.e. the basic tripartite division between lyric, dramatic and epic genres, simplifying it into an opposition between the lyric and the fictional. This study, which attracted considerable attention, led Fritz Martini to invite her to Stuttgart, where she taught at the Technische Hochschule, qualified as a university lecturer and finally found an appropriate work environment as associate professor.
Käte Hamburger died in Stuttgart on April 8, 1992.
Thomas Mann und die Romantik. Berlin: 1932; Thomas Manns Roman Joseph und seine Brüder. Stockholm: 1945; Rainer Maria Rilke. Stockholm: 1949; Leo Tolstoi. Gestalt und Problem. Bern: 1950; Von Sophokles zu Sartre. Stuttgart: 1962; Philosophie der Dichter. Stuttgart: 1966; Wahrheit und ästhetische Wahrheit. Stuttgart: 1979; Th. Manns biblisches Werk. München: 1981; Das Mitleid. Stuttgart: 1985; Ibsens Drama in seiner Zeit. Stuttgart: 1989; The Logic of Literature. With photographs of Hamburger by Gerard Genette. Bloomington, Indiana: 1994.
Bossinade, Johanna and Angelika Schaser, eds. Käte Hamburger: Zur Aktualitat einer Klassikerin. Göttingen: 2003.
Brunträger, Hubert, ed. [Thomas Mann Studien 20] Thomas Mann – Käte Hamburger. Briefwechsel 1932–1955. Frankfurt am Main: 1999.
Ehrenpromotion Käte Hamburger. Siegen: 1980.
Kreuzer, H., and J. Kühnel. Käte Hamburger zum 90sten Geburtstag. Siegen: 1986.
Schweikert, Uwe. “Gelebte Humanität.” In Frankfurter Rundschau, April 11, 1992.
Lexikon Jüdische Frauen. Edited by Jutta Dick and Marina Sassenberg.