Biography of Frank Wedekind

Frank Wedekind was born in Hanover, Germany, but grew up in Switzerland, in a castle purchased by his father. Wedekind's father was a doctor, and his mother was an actress in the German Theatre in San Francisco prior to her marriage. Wedekind was the second eldest of six children. He had a secondary school education, and worked as a freelance journalist, in advertising, and as the private secretary of an art dealer before he began to make his living through the theatrical arts.

With the art dealer, Wedekind traveled through France and England. Upon his return in 1888, Wedekind began to write and seek work as an actor, primarily in Munich. Wedekind took up writing at a time when Germany was experiencing a new flowering in the dramatic arts, but Wedekind did not belong to any one particular school. Wedekind said that he wrote Spring Awakening between 1890 and 1891, but it was not produced until 1906. Before he was able to get his own plays produced, Wedekind continued to seek out other writing and acting jobs. At one point he planned to start a traveling literary cabaret, but it is unclear whether this idea ever got past the planning stage.

During this time, Wedekind also worked for the satirical journal Simplicissimus. In 1898, during his visit to Palestine, Wilhelm II objected to an article and cartoon that appeared in the publication. The article had been written by Frank Wedekind. The issue was confiscated, and a lawsuit was brought against Wedekind, the publisher, and the cartoonist. The publisher fled and remained in exile for five years. Wedekind and the cartoonist were sentenced to six and seven months in prison, respectively, for their attack on the German monarchy. Wedekind's time in prison, however, did not seem to play a major role in his life, a fact partially explained by Wedekind's low socioeconomic status at the time. It is possible that the six months he spent in prison, with bed and board secured, were extremely beneficial to Wedekind's writing career.

In 1906, Wedekind married the actress Tilly Newes. That same year, Wedekind's repertory company premiered Spring Awakening. Wedekind did not receive more than personal recognition for his work until much later in life. He finally became famous in Germany for his play Earth Spirit, the uncensored version of which was not published until 1962. Other works include Gesammelte Werke (1920), Such is Life (1930), Earth Spirit (1914), Pandora's Box (1918), and Tragedies of Sex (1923). In modern times, Wedekind may be better known for the projects his work has inspired (Alban's Berg opera, Lulu, and G.W. Pabst's film version of Pandora's Box) than for his original works.

Wedekind is considered one of the fathers of expressionism, but at the time that he wrote he did not fit into any particular school. His uniqueness may be at least a partial cause of his continued obscurity, despite critical views that "he may perhaps be given credit for being the first writer in any language to identify another obsessive feature of twentieth-century urban society: the part played in the consciousness of that society by sex and sexuality" (Translator's Preface, Wedekind, Diary of an Erotic Life).

Wedekind died from acute appendicitis in 1918.


Study Guides on Works by Frank Wedekind

Spring Awakening was Frank Wedekind's first play. He had it published at his own expense in 1891, but it was not performed until Wedekind started his own repertory company in 1906. The first production in the United States took place in 1912, but...