Friedrich de laMotte Fouqué Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Baron Friedrich Heinrich Karl de la Motte Fouqué (few-kay) followed his grandfather, a distinguished general under Frederick the Great, in serving in the Prussian Guards. He fought in the campaign of 1794 as well as in the War of Liberation in 1813. But the pen attracted him more than the sword.{$S[A]La Motte-Fouqué, Friedrich de[LaMotte Fouque, Friedrich de];Fouqué, Friedrich de la Motte}{$S[A]Motte Fouqué, Friedrich de la;Fouqué, Friedrich de la Motte}{$S[A]Pellegrin;Fouqué, Friedrich de la Motte}

The critic August Wilhelm Schlegel encouraged Fouqué by publishing his first book in 1804; from then on this fertile writer turned out a variety of works, including criticisms and discussions of Romanticism, then coming into vogue. As a poet, he wrote deft lyrics, ringing epics, and poetic modernizations of well-known medieval poems. In 1808 he published Sigurd der Schlangentödter, the first German dramatization of the Nibelungen saga.

Turning to the short tale, Fouqué wrote Undine, based on a fourteenth century legend; the work inaugurated a never-ending series of mermaid stories. Heinrich Heine said of it, “The fragrance of roses and the songs of the nightingale were put into words by Fouqué, and he called it Undine.” The author made an opera libretto of it, with music composed by E. T. A. Hoffmann. The opera was given its premiere on August 3, 1816, the birthday of King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia, and it enjoyed repeat performances until the following summer, when the Royal Theater burned.

Undine has the virtues of Romanticism, with its vividness and sentiment, but critics note the author’s exaggerations and inaccuracies, as he drew on his imagination, rather than on research, for the details of feudal and chivalric life. Although Fouqué continued writing until his death, he never again equaled this work for popularity.