Georg Buchner (pronounced Buechner) was born on October 17, 1813 in the small town of Goddelau, in Hessen, Germany. His father, a scientist and rationalist, primed him from an early age with a scientific approach to the world, which would later manifest itself in the sharp, realistic, and critical nature of his writing. Buchner grew up in a stable, pleasant household, though he eventually became unusually disillusioned and pessimistic in his literary style. He began his medical training at Strasbourg in 1831, where he became clandestinely engaged to Minna Jaegle, the daughter of a pastor. Two years later he transferred to Giessen, where he began to study philosophy and history. It was there that he became embroiled in his country’s political arena, helping plot a conspiracy against the Hessian government. In an attempt to mobilize the peasantry, he published a famous revolutionary political tract, “The Hessian Messenger.”
Because of his radical political involvement, Buchner was eventually forced to flee Germany altogether. After settling there, he relinquished his political fervor and developed a politically-disillusioned outlook that manifested itself deeply in his three plays, “Danton’s Death,” “Leonce and Lena,” and especially his ultimate effort, “Woyzeck.” In addition to these, Buchner completed the introspective story, “Lenz,” and a play based on the life of the Venetian wit Pietro Arentino. Despite the short length of his literary career, Buchner contributed immeasurably to the dramatic canon and being considered “the inexhaustible source of modern drama,” he never considered himself a playwright by profession.
While in Zurich, he was preparing to be a researcher and teacher at the university. As a writer, Buchner’s influences included Shakespeare first and foremost, in addition to the young Goethe and writer Johann Michael Reinhold Lenz. Buchner did not identify himself with any of the literary movements of his time, save perhaps the Storm-and-Stress movement of the 1770s, but it is certain that he had no patience for Romanticism or any other trend that drew focus away from or made fantastical the raw nature of life.
Although scholars have interpreted his works in the various contexts of their own interest and times, there is a common agreement that Buchner’s work is so ahead of its time that it will always remain universal. He is said to have precipitated a wide and far-reaching array of literary movements including: “Naturalism, Social Realism, Psychological Irrationalism, Expressionism, and Existential Theatre.” As Herbert Lindenberger phrases it, he is “perhaps the only German writer before our own [20th] century who speaks directly to our time without the need of mediation.” Georg Buchner died of an undiagnosed fever, probably typhus, at the age of 23 on February 19, 1837.