(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Titan recounts, in four volumes, and with numerous shifts backward and forward in time, the rearing of Albano, the Prince of Hohenfliess, from childhood to his coming into his rightful inheritance as a man. The recounting, however, is far from clear or plausible, even in summary. The reader first meets him when, following his education in absentia, during which he has been forbidden to return to his native city of Pestitz, he has just been summoned to join his supposed father, Don Gaspard, whom he has never seen. He has been reared by Wehrfritz, an elderly landscape architect, who has given him free rein to pursue his own interests; this has been encouraged by Schoppe, an Italian vagabond, who has been appointed Albano’s tutor by Don Gaspard. Schoppe’s zany and somewhat cynical preference for small, concrete satisfactions over grandiose ideals has helped to temper Albano’s tendency toward dreamy extravagance. Nevertheless, Albano has become an extremely romantic, oversensitive, intensely passionate young man.

An episode early in the novel discloses both this condition and Jean Paul’s thematic strategy. Albano and his friends travel by boat to Isola Bella in Lago Maggiore, a site of incredible natural beauty. Albano lies in the boat with his eyes closed while his friends describe the splendor that he is missing. A gradual approach is not for him. He suspends the experience until he can open his eyes at the moment of peak intensity, so that he can be flooded with total ecstasy. At this point, he is a magnet of passionate longing for union with being, in part because he has been deprived of a father.

Albano’s long-awaited reunion with his father takes place under mysterious circumstances. Don Gaspard is remote and aloof; he has come to escort Albano back to Pestitz, but he sheds no light on the motives behind his exile or of his reasons for ending it so abruptly. (Albano later learns that the old Prince of Hohenfliess and his wife—Albano’s real father and mother—have just died.) Moreover, a series of apparitions, illusions, and disembodied voices begin to surround Albano’s life, all apparently directing him to prepare for a fateful encounter with the lover he has long sought in his dreams. These culminate in the apparition of her head (a wax bust, in reality) emerging from the waters of Lago Maggiore, during which an invisible voice intones, “Love the ever fair one; I will help you find her.” Albano suspects that someone is staging these illusions to manipulate him, but he has no idea why.

At any rate, the apparent hallucinations remind him of his dream love, a girl on whom he has never set eyes, Liane von Froulay, the daughter of the prime minister of Hohenfliess. He is similarly infatuated with Roquairol, Liane’s brother, with whom at an early age he shared a fencing and dancing master. This master praised the brother and sister so extravagantly that Albano feels that they are engraved in his...

(The entire section is 1210 words.)