Biofiction as Cultural Intervention: The Tragic Failure of Lion Feuchtwanger’s Jud Süß

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As a literary form, biofiction started to dominate in the 1990s, and over the last ten years, biofiction studies has surged dramatically. While scholars acknowledge that there were some important biofictions in the nineteenth century, the form first started to catch fire in the early twentieth century, especially among German writers who emigrated to the United States during the Nazi era. Klaus Mann, Heinrich Mann, Thomas Mann, Hermann Broch, Franz Werfel, Bruno Frank, and Bertolt Brecht are only a few who published noteworthy biofictions, but it was Lion Feuchtwanger who had perhaps the biggest impact, with the 1925 publication of Jud Süß, a biographical novel about the famous court Jew. This novel was a best-seller, which, in part, contributed to the massive surge in the publication of biofictions during the 1930s. But there are some serious concerns revolving around the work, which became most obvious after the release of Veit Harlan’s 1940 film Jud Süß. By analyzing the novel and film in relation to the Nazis‘ anti-Semitic political agenda, I clarify why Feuchtwanger’s novel not only failed tragically to accomplish what it set out to do, but also contributed significantly to an agenda that it sought to resist and debunk. This essay focuses primarily on Feuchtwanger’s novel in order to clarify what biofiction is, how it uniquely functions and signifies, and some of the potential problems with the genre.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)109-135
Number of pages27
Journala/b: Auto/Biography Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I would like to thank the University of Minnesota for the generous funding that has made this project possible. I would like to thank Yair Mintzker for reading an early draft of this paper and giving me valuable suggestions for clarifying and strengthening my arguments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Autobiography Society.


  • Biofiction
  • Jud Süß
  • Lion Feuchtwanger
  • Nazis


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