Der Kanon

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Der Kanon or more precisely Marcel-Reich-Ranickis Kanon is a large anthology of exemplary works of German literature. Edited by the literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki, he called the anthology, announced, on June 18, 2001 in the German news magazine Der Spiegel under the title "The Canon of worthwhile German Works", his magnum opus. The five parts appeared from 2002 to 2006 published by Insel Verlag: 1. Novels (2002), 2. Tales/Stories (2003), 3. Dramatic Works (2004), 4. Poetry (2005), and 5. Essays (2006). As expected, the anthology met with opposition and criticism, and even the idea of an anthology was questioned, but Reich-Ranicki called this questioning "incomprehensible, because the lack of a canon would mean relapse into barbarism.[1] Reich-Ranicki sought to differentiate his anthology from previous compilations in his hope to imagine a "reader judge" such as teachers, students, librarians, who would need to draw from this canon because they were in the "first line of those who deal with literature professionally."[2]

The edited anthology takes the series title, Der Kanon. Die deutsche Literatur (The Canon of German Literature) in book form with slip cases.

  • Der Kanon. Die deutsche Literatur. Romane. 20 Volumes (2002), ISBN 3-458-06678-0
  • Der Kanon. Die deutsche Literatur. Erzählungen. 10 Volumes and 1 Companion Volume (2003), ISBN 3-458-06760-4
  • Der Kanon. Die deutsche Literatur. Dramen. 8 Volumes and 1 Companion Volume (2004), ISBN 3-458-06780-9
  • Der Kanon. Die deutsche Literatur. Gedichte. 7 Volumes and 1 Companion Volume (2005), ISBN 3-458-06785-X
  • Der Kanon. Die deutsche Literatur. Essays. 5 Volumes und 1 Companion Volume (2006), ISBN 3-458-06830-9

Main Contents[edit]

Early Works[edit]

18th Century[edit]

19th Century[edit]

20th Century[edit]


Author Title Author Title
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Die Leiden des jungen Werthers Robert Musil Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Die Wahlverwandtschaften Franz Kafka Der Prozeß
E. T. A. Hoffmann Die Elixiere des Teufels Alfred Döblin Berlin Alexanderplatz
Gottfried Keller Der grüne Heinrich Joseph Roth Radetzkymarsch
Theodor Fontane Frau Jenny Treibel Anna Seghers Das siebte Kreuz
Theodor Fontane Effi Briest Heimito von Doderer Die Strudlhofstiege
Thomas Mann Buddenbrooks Wolfgang Koeppen Tauben im Gras
Thomas Mann Der Zauberberg Günter Grass Die Blechtrommel
Heinrich Mann Professor Unrat Max Frisch Montauk
Hermann Hesse Unterm Rad Thomas Bernhard Holzfällen


180 Novellas, short Stories, Parables, Fairy Tales, Legends, and Kalendergeschichte.


The series of "essays" gave Reich-Ranicki much "grief." Even the choice of the title "essays" was hotly debated. Reich-Ranicki included not just essays in a classic sense, but also a wide variety of critical works including criticism of film, literature, music reviews, theater reviews, essays, speeches, diaries, letters, ephemera, and aphorisms, spanning both fictional and nonfictional literature. The term "essayistic" was coined for this purpose.

The "essay" canon contains 255 articles from 166 authors covering a wide variety of subject matter. It is divided into five parts:

  • from Martin Luther to Arthur Schopenhauer
  • from Leopold von Ranke to Rosa Luxemburg
  • from Heinrich Mann to Joseph Roth
  • from Bertold Brecht to Golo Mann
  • from Max Frisch to Durs Grünbein


In 2015, the author Hannes Bajohr published his "novel" Durchschnitt (Average) based on Reich-Ranicki's novel canon. For his book, he analyzed the texts of the twenty volume novel-box of the series, calculated their average sentence length (18 words), and, with the help of a computer script, generated a book that only contained these average sentences. He then sorted them alphabetically in chapters according to the letters of the alphabet.[3]


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