Karl Georg Büchner (17 October 1813 – 19 February 1837) was a German dramatist and writer of prose. He was the brother of physician and philosopher Ludwig Büchner. Many people think that he might have become as important as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller if he had lived longer. He was the son of a doctor and born in Goddelau near Darmstadt, Hesse-Darmstadt. Büchner went to a secondary school that focused on Latin, Greek and on modern languages (including French, Italian and English). But he was mainly interested in science and when he went to university he studied medicine in Strasbourg.
In 1828 he became interested in politics and joined a group which later on probably became the Gießen and Darmstadt section of the "Gesellschaft für Menschenrechte" (Society for Human Rights). In Strasbourg, he studied not only medicine but French literature and political thought as well.
While Büchner continued his studies in Gießen he started a secret society which wanted revolutionary change. With the help of the Protestant theologian Friedrich Ludwig Weidig he published the leaflet Der Hessische Landbote, a revolutionary text that criticized social problems in the Grand Duchy of Hesse. The authorities charged them with treason and issued a warrant of apprehension. While Weidig was arrested, tortured and died imprisoned in Darmstadt, Büchner fled across the border to Strasbourg where he wrote most of his literary work and translated two plays by Victor Hugo, Lucrèce Borgia and Marie Tudor. Two years later, his dissertation, "Mémoire sur le Système Nerveux du Barbeaux (Cyprinus barbus L.)" was published in Paris and Strasbourg. The ideas of François-Noël Babeuf and Claude Henri de Saint-Simon had an important influence on his work. In October 1836 he got a job at the University of Zürich as a lecturer in anatomy and went back to Zürich where he spent his final months writing and teaching until he died of typhus at the age of twenty-three.
In 1835, his first play, Dantons Tod (Danton's Death), about the French revolution, was published, followed by Lenz. It is a novella based on the life of the Sturm und Drang poet Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz. In 1836 his second play, Leonce and Lena he describes the nobility. His unfinished and most famous play, Woyzeck, was the first literary work in German whose main characters were members of the working class. Published after Büchner's death, it became the basis for Alban Berg's opera Wozzeck which was first performed in 1925.
By the 1870s, Büchner was nearly forgotten in Germany when Karl Emil Franzos edited his works; these later became a major influence on naturalism and expressionism. Arnold Zweig described Lenz, Büchner's only work of prose, as the "beginning of modern European prose".
- Georg Büchner, Complete Plays and Prose, trans. Carl Richard Mueller (Hill and Wang, 1963)
- Georg Büchner, The Complete Plays: Danton's Death; Leonce and Lena; Woyzeck; Lenz; the Hessian Messenger; on Cranial Nerves; Selected Letters trans. John Reddick (Penguin Classics, 1993) ISBN 0-14-044586-2.
- Georg Büchner, Danton's Death, Leonce and Lena and Woyzeck, trans. Victor Price, (Oxford World's Classics, 1998). ISBN 0-19-283650-1.
There are many translations of the individual plays.