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Spann, Meno, 1903-1991



  • Existence: 1903-1991


Shortly after his birth in Coblenz, Germany, on Marćh 23, 1903, Meno Spann was baptized as Meno Hans Dagobert Rafael. His Hungarian-born, actress-mother Vilma Rafael fled Coblenz soon afterwards with his half-brother, abandoning Meno to foster care. Later Adolf and Clara (nee Erich) Spann, theater colleagues of Vilma Rafael, took over Meno's care, adopting him on February 19, 1913. The Spanns leased a home in Hannover in 1916, and Meno was educated at the Kaiser Wilhelm Gymnasium in Hannover until 1922. After study at Göttingen University (1922-1924) and at the University of Berlin (1925), Spann attended the University of Marburg, where he earned a doctorate in 1928 with a published dissertation, Der Exotismus in Ferdinand Freiligraths Gedichten. He immigrated to the United States in 1928, teaching at Cornell University (1928-1930), the University of Oregon (1930-1931), and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1931-1935) as an instructor, and at the University of Maryland (1935-1936) and the University of Iowa (1936-1943) as an assistant professor of German, before accepting a position as visiting lecturer in German at Northwestern University in 1943. He became a U.S. citizen on June 2, 1936. As Spann learned after World War II, his father died in a Hannover nursing home in December 1943; Clara Spann died in the late 1940s.

Spann was to continue his association with Northwestern until his death in 1991. He remained a visiting lecturer until 1947, served as Assistant Professor of German, 1947-1955, and was promoted to Associate Professor in 1955 and to Professor in 1965. After he retired as Emeritus Professor in 1971, he returned to teach briefly in 1977.

Best known at Northwestern as a dynamic and popular teacher, Spann's research interests emphasized the work of late nineteenth and early-twentieth century novelist and short-story writer Franz Kafka, about whom he published several articles and a biography (1976). From the late 1950s until the 1970s Spann also wrote reviews of Kafka scholarship and served as a peer-reviewer for journals considering articles on Kafka's writings. He was an early and active member of the Kafka society (founded 1977), and his correspondence includes brief letters from most of the prominent American Kafka scholars of his generation. Spann also authored a short book about the early nineteenth-century German lyric poet Heinrich Heine (1966) and an article on Goethe's Werther for a semi-popular collection of essays on European writers. He collaborated on more than a dozen textbooks and readers for use in American language courses in German, including most importantly Deutsche Denker and Forscher, and also including a work on military German (1942).

Something of a thespian–he acted in productions of Dracula and the Czech play R. U. R.- -Spann decided early in his teaching career that puppet shows emulating the performance of Marlowe's Dr. Faustus which had inspired Goethe could aid in teaching and popularizing German and German literature. By the time he came to Northwestern, he and his handmade puppets had given over twenty-four performances of Dr. Faustus in German or English, and the play would be a staple at Northwestern, as well as being featured at a special meeting of the Caxton Club in 1953 and at other academic gatherings. Spann later added The Robber Jaromir, a second puppet-play, to his repertoire, and he produced Dr. Faustus at least twice after his retirement (in 1976 and 1978).

Spann married five times. Work separated him from his first wife, Elisabeth Delorme, only a year after their July 14, 1929, wedding, when Spann moved to Eugene, Oregon, and Delorme to Meadville, Pennsylvania, Delorme's petition for divorce was granted in Bad-Harzburg, Germany, in September, 1935. His second wife, Marjorie, bore Spann's only child, Philip Owen Spann, before he divorced her in Iowa, February 25, 1943. Spann married Betty Suydam in Chicago July 1, 1945, and she divorced him June 6, 1950. Patricia Spurlock, married to Spann June 24, 1955, served him with divorce papers on May 22, 1963. Spann was survived by his fifth wife, Brigitte, his son Philip, and a granddaughter when he died November 19, 1991.

Throughout his life Spann retained an interest in and pride in physical fitness.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Meno Spann (1903-1991) Papers

Identifier: 11/3/15/4
Abstract Meno Spann was a dynamic and popular teacher of German at Northwestern University from 1943 until his retirement in 1971, returning to teach briefly in 1977. His research interests emphasized the work of late nineteenth and early-twentieth century novelist and short-story writer Franz Kafka. He used puppet shows emulating the performance of Marlowe's Dr. Faustusto aid in teaching and popularizing German and German literature. The Meno Spann Papers are organized into seven...
Dates: 1903-1991