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The Novel Anilin. Roman der deutschen Farbenindustrie, by Karl Aloys Schenzinger (1937)

The novel Anilin, by Karl Aloys Schenzinger, starts at the beginning of the nineteenth century in the indigo plantations of India. The author describes the field (serf) labor, performed under European supervision and in a profoundly “orientalized” way, and the exploitation of the native population while the English plantation owners rake in high profits. The plantation owners come off as quite disreputable in comparison with the character of the German Dr. Horn several years later: The latter rids the “natives” of their superstition and provides them with medications. The voyage of discovery moves on to the upstanding German chemist Friedhelm Runge, who sacrifices his private happiness to the study of chemistry and whose basic research finds recognition only years later. The description of the absent-minded professor’s circle of acquaintances, a male society, is illustrative of the Berlin of the 1820s. Schenzinger describes mounted hussars and well-defined social graces.


The remaining stages in the plot of Anilin are set in motion by the chemist August Hofmann, who finally manages, after an internal struggle, to give up his study of law in order to devote himself entirely to chemistry. He studies under Justus von Liebig before better research opportunities lead him to England. In the end, driven by patriotic fervor, he returns to Germany and places his expertise in the service of the Fatherland. The effort of these enthusiastic men contributes to the improvement of conditions in Germany, which little observations portray as desolate, with the German girl, for example, hitherto forced to prostitute herself because only “French domestics”[1] get the decent jobs. The “classical roles” of hostess, patroness of the arts, object of desire, and muse are reserved for women; the examples of the last two die at the moment their men find success.


The success story of the German drive to do research leads to the discovery and manufacture of aniline, synthetic indigo, and pharmaceutical products besides: discoveries that can restore all mankind to health. Always, the great achievement of the German chemists stands out against the background of an adversarial environment—whether it be the English dye industry, the unfavorable natural conditions in India, or a climate of supersition. The victory of chemistry in the person of Dr. Horn the physician culminates, in the novel’s last chapter, in the blessings of the antimalarial drug Atebrine, which Germany can give to the world and which now vanquishes the English in the humanitarian field as well. In accord with the logic of personal sacrifice as a tradeoff for the well-being of mankind, the doctor can overcome supersition and save thousands of human lives, though in return he loses an arm in the line of duty. He goes back to Germany, back to the “review of relentlessly questing fighters, a council of spitfires,”[2] where great tasks await him, including research on synthetic rubber: “It appears that Buna rubber is better than natural rubber. Buna rubber is more resistant. Buna rubber withstands heat. Buna rubber does not decompose in the air […] Its utilization is only a question of technique.”[3] The last sentence of Anilin, “Horn opened the door and entered, moving toward the new task that awaited him, too, here,”[4] is bursting with confidence in the future.


Stylistically, the novel is characterized by a lively narrative with numerous questions and declarative statements, catchphrases, and a simple sentence structure. Anilin unashamedly celebrates German chemists (the foundings of the companies BASF and BAYER are primarily understood as an expression of the spirit of research, practiced jointly), who rendered nothing but positive services to humanity. The history of great men and their mission remains unclouded by the social and health-related consequences of tough competition and the often dangerous working conditions that manufacturing entailed for the workers (be they in India or in Ludwigshafen). The significance and effect of chemical warfare agents is not mentioned in this novel, aimed at inspiring youthful readers. Anilin—whose author became known primarily for his propaganda novel Hitlerjunge Quex [Hitler Youth Quex]—was, with 3 million copies sold, the largest-selling book in the Third Reich.

(SP; transl. KL)


Schenzinger, Karl Aloys: Anilin. Roman der deutschen Farbenindustrie. Berlin: Zeitgeschichte-Verlag, 1937.

[1] Karl Aloys Schenzinger: Anilin. Roman der deutschen Farbenindustrie [Aniline. A Novel of the German Dye Industry] (Berlin: Zeitgeschichte-Verlag, 1937), p. 66. (Translated by KL)

[2] Schenzinger: Anilin, p. 367.

[3] Schenzinger: Anilin, p. 368.

[4] Schenzinger: Anilin, p. 368.