Author: Riitta Pohjola-Skarp

The final scene that Büchner never wrote

Issue 1/1989 | Archives online, Authors, Drama

‘Fierce, stubborn sympathy for a weak, doomed person can be seen everywhere in Georg Büchner’s writing. It was the Leitmotiv of all his literary activity, just as the defense of freedom and justice was the motive for his political action.’ So wrote the poet Eeva-Liisa Manner in her essay, ‘The dramatic and historical Woyzeck’, published in the literary periodical Parnasso in 1962. Her first translation of Büchner’s famous play was published in the same issue. Ever since then, this unfinished last play by Georg Büchner has refused to leave Manner in peace. Altogether she has published three different Finnish translations of the work, most recently in 1987. But she was not content to leave it at that, for she also wrote a conclusion to the incomplete play, providing her own interpretation of Woyzeck’s final scene.

Georg Büchner’s contemporaries felt that his life, too, had been left unfinished. He was only twenty-three years old when he died in 1837 – ‘Ein unvollendet Lied’ (‘an unfinished song’), as Georg Herwegh wrote in a memorial poem dedicated to Büchner in 1841. In the eyes of his contemporaries, Büchner was a dramatist who, with his first play, Danton’s Death, had shown great promise which his early death prevented him from fulfilling. At the time, no one could imagine that the ‘almost finished play’ found among the writer’s posthumous works would provide the stimulus for naturalistic, expressionistic, and epic theatre, or that it would serve as the basis for one of the most important operas of the following century. More…