Gotthelf and Ramuz

by Thomas Kadelbach

Thomas Kadelbach, né en 1979. Après des études d'histoire et littérature française à Angers, Fribourg et Madrid, il collabore au projet de recherche FNS Les relations culturelles internationales de la Suisse, 1945-1990. Thèse de doctorat sur Pro Helvetia et l'image de la Suisse à l'étranger. Actuellement collaborateur scientifique à l'Université de Neuchâtel.
, Thomas Kadelbach, born in 1979. Studied history and French literature in Angers, Fribourg and Madrid. Research assistant in the SNSF research project Switzerland's International Cultural Relations, 1945-1990. PhD thesis on Pro Helvetia and the image of Switzerland abroad. Currently scientific collaborator at the University of Neuchâtel.

spiritual defense

Until the 1960s, Pro Helvetia rarely considered contemporary literature in its international activities. Its policy singled out writers like Jeremias Gotthelf and Charles Ferdinand Ramuz, whom they considered representative of the national spirit. The emphasis on Gotthelf reflects this novelists’ privileged position within the literary panorama of the Spiritual defence. In December 1938, the Federal Council, in its message on cultural policy to the National Council explicitly stated: “Someone like Jeremias Gotthelf is so quintessentially Swiss that his name alone would suffice to support our perception of the distinct qualities of the Swiss mentality.”

The official recognition of this 19th century writer, who in his time had been among the most implacable enemies of the federal state of 1848, illustrates the conservative and anti-modernist outlook of Swiss cultural policy before World War II. Already In the interwar period the crisis of modernity acted as a catalyst for the ambitions to base cultural renewal on the idea of the nation. Based on fierce rejection of the modern world, cities and cosmopolitan internationalism,Conservative movements of the time, based on fierce rejection of the modern world and the international orientation of cities, opted for a return to a rural Switzerland of villages, which then turned into the sole reference of national identity.In this context, Gotthelf’s books, tinged with anti-socialist and anti-communist sentiment were soon regarded as the epitome of sound national literature.

Like Gotthelf, also the writer Charles Ferdinand Ramuz from the canton of Vaud, was also enlisted for the Spiritual defence. He was paraded as a prominent representative of peasant literature and the ideal spokesperson for the people’s soul. In a political context, Ramuz’ work is readily quoted to invoke the danger of Bolshevist industrialisation and collectivisation

After World War II, the same concepts resurfaced in the cultural foreign policy. Pro Helvetia’s first literary translations included Gotthelf’s novels, relatively unknown abroad, but considered to represent national identity. By the early 1950s, the Foundation’s press office publicised Gotthelf’s work by handing out articles to the foreign press.

In 1958, Pro Helvetia subsidised an English translation of Die schwarze Spinne and, in 1960, a Japanese translation. During the same time, Ramuz also became a cherished export item for Pro Helvetia. Many of the lecturers sent abroad addressed the work of the novelist from the canton of Vaud, and the Foundation’s press department sent his biography to foreign newspapers. In the 1950s, the Foundation subsidised the “Charles Ferdinand Ramuz professorship” at the University of Nice.

The emphasis placed on Gotthelf and Ramuz was characteristic of Pro Helvetia’s general policy Up to the 1950s, information on Swiss cultural life favoured a few thinkers, writers, and representative artists, whilst contemporary art was neglected. (tk)

Pro Helvetia, procès-verbaux groupe I

Jost, Hans Ulrich : « Politique culturelle de la Confédération et valeurs nationales », in : Crettaz, Bernard ; Jost, Hans Ulrich ; Pithon, Rémy : Peuples inanimés, avez-vous donc une âme ? Histoire et société contemporaines, Lausanne 1987, pp. 19-38
Jost, Hans Ulrich : « De l’anticommunisme chez Gotthelf à l’antisocialisme helvétique », in : Caillat, Michel ; Cerutti, Mauro ; Fayet, Jean-François ; Roulin, Stéphanie (éd.) : Histoire(s) de l’anticommunisme en Suisse, Zurich, Chronos 2009, pp. 29-45


The Spiritual defence

On December 9, 1938, the Federal Council publishes its statement concerning Swiss cultural policy, which is characterised by the Spiritual defence of the country. The Council recommends the creation of the cultural foundation Pro Helvetia in order to strengthen national coherence. Jeremias Gotthelf is showcased as a typical representant of the Swiss spirit.

Bundesblatt 1938, Vol. II

Charles Ferdinand Ramuz

Swiss cultural propaganda of the post-war period portrays Charles Ramuz as embodiment of the crucial rural element defining the the national identity. After a short time in Paris, Ramuz returns to the canton of Vaud, where he develops his inimitable style.

Portrait of the artist, shortwave broadcasting service, SRG, 1949

Swissinfo Archives in collaboration with Memoriav

Gotthelf in England, 1953

In 1953, Pro Helvetia finances the publication of a paper on Jeremias Gotthelf in English, written by Herbert Waidson, a scholar of German studies. Waidson is an important mediator between Switzerland and England. He translates several of Gotthelf‘s novellas.

Swiss National Library

Gotthelf in England, 1953

The first pages of Herbert Waidson’s paper on Gotthelf.

Swiss National Library

"The Black Spider"

The English translation of the novella Die schwarze Spinne is published in 1958.

Swiss National Library

Gotthelf in Japan

In 1960, Pro Helvetia finances the translation of the novella Die schwarze Spinne to Japanese.

Swiss National Library


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