Friedrich Armand Strubberg and James C. Kearney - Friedrichsburg: A Novel Reviews

Friedrich Armand Strubberg and James C. Kearney - Friedrichsburg: A Novel

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In 1850 people of German descent made up one fifth the population of Texas

Apr 13, 2013 (Updated Apr 13, 2013)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Germans and Mormons in 1840s Texas. Romance. Apaches, Comanches, Shawnees and  Delawares. Truth and Fiction.

Cons:The English translation of the German original at times limps or is flat.

The Bottom Line: Value FRIEDRICHSBURG for its history of the 1846 - 1847 founding of improbable Fredericksburg in Texas. Despite a sometimes limping translation, FRIEDRICHSBURG offers love, villainy and white-red interactions.

How many clues might it take for you to want to learn more about German adventure novelist Friedrich Armand Strubberg?

--(1) He was born in Kassel, Germany in 1806. He died in Alltenhasslau, Hessen in 1889. At age 51 he began his career as a writer, quickly issuing 21 books, ten of them set in Texas. He was a precursor of the far more popular German novelist of American cowboys and Indians Karl May (1842 - 1912), famed before 1900 for his fictitious characters, especially the German Old Shatterhand and his Apache friend Winnetou.

--(2) Before 2011 none of Strubberg's books had been published in English. In quick succession came two translations of what scholars consider his best novel, the latest by 2012 translator/scholar James C. Kearney called in English  Friedrichsburg: A Novel - Colony of the German Fuerstenverein. There has been in re-unified Germany a mini-revival of Strubberg. It therefore seems safe to forecast more translations, more studies of Germans in mid-1800s Texas and possibly even a few melodramatic, adventure films about Germans in Texas. 


In June 2012 author Kearney spoke of his novel to a library audience in Columbus, Texas. Before the public appearance Kearney held a long interview with Jacob Truchard, among other things summarizing at fair length the entire, fairly intricate plot of FRIEDRICHSBURG. Kearney began thus:

"A young German hero Rudolph, on the Texas frontier carries dispatches in harrowing night rides between New Braunfels and Fredericksburg. A beautiful maiden, Ludwina, the bride-elect of Rudolph, is captured by the wily and unreconstructed Comanche sub-chief Kateumsi and carried off to the cave of the Great Grey Bear to await a fate worse than death."

So far as anyone knows, 18-year old hero Rudolph von Wildhorst and his beautiful, saintly but very affectionate and cuddly fiancee Ludwina Limanski are entirely fictitious. They live in newly established Friedrichsburg (now Fredericksburg), a true life, planned in distant Germany subsidized German colony in the Texas Hill country not all that far from San Antonio and Austin. Both young lovers live at home with their retired German army officer fathers.

As in the historical novel genre created by Sir Walter Scott's 1814 WAVERLEY, fictional Rudolph and Ludwina interact strongly with real characters. First of all with author Strubberg himself. In 1846 - 1847 he called himself Dr Schubbert (possessing strong, tested medical skills) and was the first appointed director of Fredericksburg colony. Rudolph and Ludwina, allegedly like all other 500 families, virtually worshipped their town leader and he liked them. He frequently pressed Rudolph into carrying messages for him through dangerous Comanche territory to and from Colonies Immigration headquarters in New Braunfels, something Rudolph does to his great peril in Chapter One. 

Most ferociously anti-white and unbending of the several real Indian chiefs described in FRIEDRICHSBURG is the Southern Comanche warrior Kateumsi. He develops a lethal hatred of Rudolph and Rudolph manages to wound Kateumsi three times, never fatally. Kateumsi is strongly drawn to beauteous, virginal Ludwina. But she hates him and once saves Fredricksburg from a surprise raid by killing or wounding half his braves through firing grapeshot from the town's sole cannon at the charging braves. Also erotically attracted to Ludwina is Rudolph's great friend, a young Delaware chief Youngbear. He defers to Rudolph but, having finally slain Ludwina's dastardly kidnapper Kateumsi, Youngbear is rewarded with a taboo-testing dance with our heroine after her wedding to Rudolph.

FRIEDRICHSBURG is framed by the important 1847 peace treaty between Germans and most Comanches and a few Lipan Apaches and other chiefs. Adventure follows adventure, running battles between Germans and Comanches, scalpings, rattlesnake bites, creation of a short-lived polygamous Mormon colony 4 1/2 miles from Fredericksburg called Zodiac, bear hunts, building of a 60-mile road to Austin through Comanche lands, a deadly encounter with a huge grey bear and much more.

Scholars prize Strubberg's FRIEDRICHSBURG for its descriptions of nature and general atmospherics of strangers in a strange land cooking, worshipping, making merry, eating an inadequate diet, showcasing competing Anglo and German life styles (communal v. ruggedly individualistic) and on and on. 

Author James C. Kearney has a long INTRODUCTION well worth reading as a stand-alone essay about German immigration, tensions with Indians and the life and career of Friedrich Arman Strubberg himself. In the INTRODUCTION's final paragraph Kearney sings the praises of three early German landscape artists who did justice to Texas.

"...Friedrichsburg bears up well as the literary equivalent to the work of three well-known German artists of the Texas frontier: Richard Petri, Hermann Lungkwitz and Theodor Gentri."

Indeed Lungwitz's 1859 landscape painting from a hill above idyllic Fredericksburg adorns the cover of FRIEDRICHSBURG. 

My only complaint about Kearney's translation is that it is sometimes flat and a bit clunky. But then I have not compared offending passages with the German original. The novel itself is melodramatic. But unlike the godlike characters of later novelist Karl May, Strubberg's men and women -- both imagined and historically attested -- are three dimensional and believable as real creatures of flesh and blood.

Furthermore, this worked over doctoral dissertation is well fleshed out with Introduction, three score pages of helpful end notes, a glossary and an index. There is something here if not for everyone at least for

-- students of German immigration to Texas in the 1840s;

-- students of Mormons in Texas after the death of Joseph Smith;

-- readers who enjoy German historical/romantic novels, so visual that they cry out to be made into movies;

-- people ashamed of European treatment of the original inhabitants of North America. Chief Kateumsi speaks eloquently for the doomed Indian cause. Others make the case for Indian extermination -- including onetime President of the Republic of Texas Mirabeau B. Lamar.
-- and fifth and sixth generation descendants of the original German immigrants to Fredericksburg and New Braunfels. In 1850 these German cities were respectively seventh and fourth largest cities in all of Texas.

"Who brings much, brings something for many" (J. W. von Goethe, FAUST)


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