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A Study of the Major Novellas of E.T.A. Hoffmann

A Study of the Major Novellas of E.T.A. Hoffmann

Birgit Röder
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 208
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81xf2
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  • Book Info
    A Study of the Major Novellas of E.T.A. Hoffmann
    Book Description:

    The German Romantic writer and composer E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776-1822) -- perhaps best known to the English-speaking world through his 'Nutcracker' and through Jacques Offenbach's opera 'Tales of Hoffmann' -- struggled to convince his predominantly bourgeois public of the merits of art and literature. Not surprisingly, many of his most important novellas are bound up with the dilemmas of art and the challenges faced by the Romantic artist, and it is these 'Künstlernovellen' that are the focus of this study. Birgit Röderargues that Hoffmann's artists are not simply individuals who create works of art, but rather figures through whom the author explores the predicament of those who reject the conventional world of bourgeois reality and seek to assert the claims of the imagination in a world dominated by prosaic rationalism. Contrary to previous scholars however, Röder demonstrates that Hoffmann's novellas clearly warn against a view of art as an autonomous aesthetic realm cut off from the world of reality. This is particularly apparent in Röder's analysis of gender relations in Hoffmann's oeuvre -- especially the relationship between (male) artist and (female) muse -- which underlines the extent to which art, literature, and the imagination are inseparably bound up with the prevailing social reality. The novellas that are given extensive consideration are 'Das Fräulein von Scuderi', 'Der Sandmann', 'Die Jesuiterkirche in G.', 'Die Fermate', 'Der Artushof', 'Don Juan', 'Das Sanctus', and 'Rat Krespel'. Birgit Röder teaches German language and literature at the University of Reading, UK.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-630-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Chronology of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Life and Works
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    Über Hoffmann könnten wir leicht einerlei Meinung sein. Sein Genie kann nur von Genielosen verkannt, von Absprechern geläugnet werden,” wrote Heinrich Voß, the son of the well-known translator of Homer, Johann Heinrich Voß, in his letter of March 1821.¹ Hoffmann, had he learned of this encomium, would surely have been flattered. Nonetheless, it was an opinion shared by few people during his lifetime and even fewer after his death. Hoffmann’s oeuvre, much like Hoffmann’s biography was then — and still is today — the subject of considerable disagreement. Despite harsh criticism, especially from Goethe,² Hoffmann attracted an enthusiastic readership during...

  7. 1: Hoffmann and the Romantic Dilemma
    (pp. 10-36)

    Although we know that Hoffmann read widely and was influenced by diverse aesthetic theories (not all of which are compatible with one another), the fact that there are few detailed references in his diaries and correspondence to the works of his contemporaries makes it difficult to identify which of them had any profound influence on his work. It is particularly hard to ascertain how familiar he was with contemporary theoretical discussions and to what extent he accepted or rejected the ideas of his contemporaries.¹ Nonetheless, we can identify a number of key themes that were of particular interest to him...

  8. I. Madness

    • 2: Das Fräulein von Scuderi
      (pp. 39-56)

      Das Fräulein von Scuderi (1819) is one of Hoffmann’s best known works; it has always attracted an enthusiastic readership, and the large number of critical works written about it continues to grow. Considerable disagreement remains, however, as to how the novella is to be interpreted. Very soon after its publication, two quite distinct readings had emerged. In February 1820, Rahel Varnhagen wrote: “Da blühen die Unwahrscheinlichkeiten und Widersprüche nur so [. . .] Und vive l’auteur! schreit das deutsche Publikum. Nicht zum Verstehen.”¹ In the same year a reviewer writing in the Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung noted: “Der charakteristische Werth dieser...

    • 3: Der Sandmann
      (pp. 57-76)

      Der Sandmann (1816) is Hoffmann’s best known novella for a variety of reasons. Nathanael’s teetering on the edge of madness, Clara’s sober rationality, the terrible secret of Olimpia, and Coppelius’s mysterious machinations have all fascinated readers, critics, and psychologists. It is hardly surprising that the volume of secondary literature on the story has now reached such proportions that it is difficult to present a concise overview of all that has been written. Some critics have even gone so far as to claim that the story resists interpretation altogether:

      Allerdings zeigt bereits eine Dichtergestalt wie Nathanael im Sandmann, wohin ein solcher...

  9. II. Love

    • 4: Die Jesuiterkirche in G.
      (pp. 79-93)

      Although Die Jesuiterkirche in G. (1816) is often referred to in the secondary literature on Hoffmann, no one critic has thought it worthwhile to offer an all-embracing interpretation of this fascinating Künstlernovelle. Although a number of critics — mostly French — have turned their attention to the novella, they have done little more than compare it to other stories by Hoffmann.¹ Lack of critical attention may be due to the fact that the story’s plot and meaning appear, at first sight, to be straightforward. Nonetheless, the story offers the reader a number of insights into the problems confronting the Romantic...

    • 5: Die Fermate
      (pp. 94-104)

      In his novella, Die Fermate (1816), Hoffmann offers a number of important insights into his views on art and the artist. The narration is shot through with ironic asides not unlike those in Der Artushof. Theodor, who presents the story to the circle of “Serapionsbrüder” in the form of a first-person narrative, begins with a plea for a tolerant attitude from his listeners, since, as he puts it, “mein Werklein nur auf die Bedingnisse eines leichten, luftigen, scherzhaften Gebildes basiert ist und keine höheren Ansprüche macht als für den Moment zu belustigen” (SW III, 57). We would, however, be wrong...

    • 6: Der Artushof
      (pp. 105-126)

      Of all Hoffmann’s novellas that focus on the artist figure, Der Artushof (1816) is perhaps the most neglected. Critics, if they do not ignore it altogether, usually dismiss it as a peripheral work. Its apparent simplicity, together with what appears to be a conventional happy ending, may make it appear untypical of Hoffmann’s oeuvre. The fact is, however, that Der Artushof raises many of the same fundamental aesthetic questions to be found in the other novellas: the motivation of the artist, his relationship to a metaphysical realm of transcendent ideas, and his role in society.

      In the mid-1950s Joachim Rosteutscher...

  10. III. Death

    • 7: Don Juan
      (pp. 129-141)

      Hoffmann’s novella Don Juan (1813) draws on a well-known tradition, and one to which Tirso de Molina, Molière, Mozart, and Byron — to name but a few — have made important contributions. Hoffmann’s version, however, stands out from these other treatments of the legend in that the novella itself is embedded in the overall narrative structure of Die Serapionsbrüder (the narrator is recounting his experiences to Theodor) and is played out on a number of different levels of reality, not all of which are clearly distinguishable from one another.

      In the secondary literature, literary critics have approached the text from...

    • 8: Das Sanctus
      (pp. 142-152)

      In the studies dealing with Das Sanctus (1817), it is particularly striking that the role of the Kapellmeister has received little attention, a fact that is perhaps all the more remarkable when we consider the critical attention paid to similar figures in Hoffmann’s oeuvre generally because of their relation to the author’s life and the frequency with which they appear in his work: Johannes Kreisler in the “Kreisleriana,” the composer Gluck in Ritter Gluck, or the figure of the Komponist in Der Dichter und der Komponist, to name but three. Franz Loquai, Friedhelm Auhuber, and Ulrich Schönherr hardly refer to...

    • 9: Rat Krespel
      (pp. 153-168)

      Hoffmann’s Rat Krespel (1818) provoked considerable controversy when it was first published, and even today critics are divided over how to view the central character. By and large, these disagreements relate to the reliability of Krespel’s account of Antonie’s mysterious death. Critics of a psychoanalytical persuasion take a skeptical view, dismissing it as either a lie or, at best, a distortion of the truth, and the explanation they seek goes well beyond that suggested by the councilor himself.¹ Other critics are more concerned with the question of whether Krespel should be regarded as an individual suffering from existential guilt.² The...

  11. Conclusions
    (pp. 169-174)

    In the novellas that I have analyzed here, there are a wide range of complex dilemmas arising out of the interaction between the artist, the work of art, and the recipient of that work of art. Since Hoffmann believes that art is inextricably bound up with society, we are presented with an additional set of complex relationships that spring from the tension between aesthetic and social considerations, many of which are closely bound up with questions of gender. It is clear that if a genuine synthesis of artist, audience, and work of art is to be brought about, then both...

  12. Works Consulted
    (pp. 175-188)
  13. Index
    (pp. 189-193)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 194-194)