After Midnight Background

After Midnight Background

Irmgard Keun's novel, After Midnight, takes place in a Germany that is already darkened under the shadow of Adolf Hitler, but not yet as dark as it will become as war approaches. Because of this, many of the characters in the book are on a precipice between what life used to be like, and the fact that life is never going to be the same again, but they are oblivious to this, and believe, naively, that their current situation is about as bad as things are ever going to get. This explains the strange optimism that seems to run through the central characters even as their lives collapse around them, and the free society they have known all their lives evaporates before their eyes.

Keun based the novel's protagonist, Sanna, on herself as a young woman, although she actually has more in common with Sanna's brother, a writer whose books are no longer published because of their contrarian politics. Throughout the early 1930s, Keun published small but explosive novels about Nazi Germany, and the way in which German citizens either did not notice the insidious removal of their freedom, or chose to look the other way as Hitler and his cohorts implemented a system of simply making any opponents "disappear". Keun bravely published anti-Nazi writing long after it had become dangerous to do so. Because her publications runs were so small, she managed to avoid falling foul of authorities until 1938, a year after After Midnight was published, and a time of book burnings, censorship and political blacklisting.

Keun's boldness eventually caught up with her. Coming under scrutiny from the government, she had no choice but to flee Germany, which she did by faking her own suicide. When she did eventually return, she did so with a new identity and false papers. The Nazis still had enough support after the war to make her life extremely difficult.

Although often considered a political writer, Keun considered herself to be the portrayer of women as sexual beings in their own right. She was born into an affluent family where free thought and personal self-development were encouraged. This ability to self-guide was not as well received by the Fascist German government as it had been by her parents and her teachers, and for most of her life, her novels were banned in Germany, only gaining reissue after her death in the 1980s.

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