Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The tone of the story is one of mock seriousness, for although it seems to take place in the real world and involve real people, the events are also described as if they were the events of the fairy tale. Throughout, there is a sense of mocking both the Travelling Enthusiast and Spikher, both for their obsession with Julia/Giuletta and for their taking themselves so seriously. The story draws from the fairy-tale convention of the reflection or shadow as that which divides the ego into truth and dream.

Indeed, this split between what is physically actual and what is an imaginative projection is both the theme and the technique of Hoffmann’s story, for the style of the story itself is calculated to keep the reader off balance, never being quite sure whether he is reading a fiction that follows the conventions of realism or one that follows the conventions of the fairy tale, never being sure whether he is in the world of physical reality or in the world of pure psychological projection. The fact that Giuletta seems to be a character out of a painting by Rembrandt or Callot suggests further that the basis for this story is the realm of art. Nothing comes from external reality here; everything comes from art itself. The stories of Hoffmann mark the beginning of the Romantic insistence that reality is of the imagination only. Moreover, Hoffmann’s combination of psychological realism and fairy-tale conventions is a key factor in the development of the short-story genre in the United States with the works of Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe.