Education for Death? The glorification of self-sacrificial heroism in Prussian cadet-school literature

Presented at the Life-Cycles Seminar, Institute of Historical Research, University of London, 25 February 2014.

Stories and novellas based upon the experiences of pupils at the Royal Prussian Cadet-Schools (Königlich Preußische Kadettenanstalten), which trained boys from the age of ten to take up a career in the Prussian Officer-Corps, were a publishing phenomenon in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Germany. Largely written by former cadets, these works, such as Paul von Szczepanski’s Spartanerjünglinge (Spartan Youths) and Johannes van Dewall’s Kadettengeschichten (Cadet-Tales), were serialised, published in multiple editions, and even hailed in the Reichstag, the German parliament, as ‘famous novellas’ and ‘best-beloved treatments of cadet-school life’.

This paper explores the ways in which patriotic feeling and the prospect of a martial career are glorified and justified in these volumes, suggesting that they may have contributed in some measure to boys’ commitment to militarism and self-sacrifice prior to and during both World Wars.

An essay based on this talk, entitled Kadettengeschichten: Exploring the Prussian cadet-school story’, has now been published in Books for Boys: Nation, Literacy and the First World War, ed. Simon James, Durham 2014, pp. 20-25.