Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann (HAWF-mahn) assumed his pen name, E. T. A. Hoffmann, in which the A stands for Amadeus, out of admiration for the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Hoffmann was at one time probably the most influential German author both in his own country and elsewhere; Heinrich Heine, Gottfried Keller, Theodor Storm, Théophile Gautier, Honoré de Balzac, Alfred de Musset, and Edgar Allan Poe were all indebted to him, and Jacques Offenbach wrote an opera based on his tales. An instigator of the Romantic movement, Hoffmann led the way toward an incorporation of fantasy as an ingredient of everyday life, by introducing not only supernatural events but also abnormal states of mind into otherwise realistic depictions.
Hoffmann, a diligent government official in the Prussian judiciary for most of his life, turned his artistic attention first to becoming a theater director and composer; the opera Undine survives as his most important musical work. Also a successful illustrator and caricaturist, he did not fully embark on a literary career until after the appearance in 1814 of the first tales that would make up Fantasy Pieces in Callot’s Manner, when he was already thirty-eight years old. These stories were followed by a story of temptation and sin, The Devil’s Elixirs, in 1815-1816. In The Serapion Brethren, he collected previously published tales and framed them with commentary by members of a literary club such as the one he had formed in Berlin. The Life and Opinions of Kater Murr was a veiled self-depiction cast in the form of a double novel about a romantic composer and a literary tomcat. In his most effective stories Hoffmann wrote of the region between fact and belief, using ghosts, clairvoyants, hypnotism, and psychological abnormality to turn the plot. He continues to be regarded as a foremost master of the fantastic tale.