In the lectures on aesthetics that he delivered in 1963-64 at the University of Frankfurt, Heinrich Böll enunciated a precept that is too often forgotten, or at least ignored, by literary scholars and critics. “The content of a prose work, after all, is its presupposition, a gift; and you shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth.” Böll does not mean, of course, that content is irrelevant; but he suggests that criticism often neglects to concern itself with that aspect of the literary work that is specifically aesthetic: its form. “Recapitulation of plot without analysis of form makes possible all kinds of fraud,” he warns. Let us keep that caveat in mind as we turn to our consideration of Group Portrait with Lady. We will take for granted the reiteration here of its content: the anarchic-Christian humanism that has informed Böll's works from the beginning, that he has repeatedly articulated in his own essays, and that has been analyzed at depressing length by critics who regard literature as propaganda. We shall focus instead on the form that the familiar message assumes.



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