Achim von Arnim Essay - Critical Essays

Arnim, Achim von


Achim von Arnim 1781-1831

(Full name Ludwig Joachim von Arnim) German novella and short story writer, poet, novelist, dramatist, essayist, editor, and critic.

An influential figure in the German Romantic movement, Arnim inspired among his contemporaries a renewed interest in their national literature and culture. His unfinished novel, Die Kronenwächter, was Germany's first historical novel, and is considered important to the development of that genre in German literature. He is also known for his collection of folktales and lyrics, Des Knaben Wunderhorn, which he compiled with Clemens Brentano, and which prompted a significant revival of interest in German folklore. He is best remembered, however, for his numerous novellas, including Isabella von Ägypten, Der tolle Invalide auf dem Fort Ratonneau, and Die Majoratsherren. In these works Arnim blended folkloric motifs with Romantic sensibility, seeking to reveal a higher historical truth and to invigorate the German national spirit.

Biographical Information

A descendant of Prussian nobility, Arnim was born in Berlin and raised there by his maternal grandmother. He attended the university of Halle, where he pursued studies in the sciences, particularly experimental physics. While attending Halle, Arnim published several articles in scientific journals. In 1800 he entered the University of Göttingen, where he met Brentano, his later collaborator and lifelong friend. Brentano encouraged Arnim to abandon his scientific studies and concentrate his talents on writing. While travelling through western Europe and England between 1801 and 1804, Arnim published his first novel, Hollins Liebeleben. Modeled closely on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, the novel received little critical attention. Arnim eventually settled in Heidelberg, where he organized and became a leader of the Heidelberg Romantics. There he published Des Knaben Wunderhorn, which brought him the recognition he sought. Goethe, especially, encouraged his literary efforts, and Arnim looked to him as a mentor. Although Goethe approved of Arnim's style, he could not support the younger man's preoccupation with German medievalism, and the relationship deteriorated. Arnim's literary concerns were shared, however, by such figures as Brentano, the brothers Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, and Joseph Görres, and together this group edited the short-lived journal Zeitschrift für Einsiedler, which encouraged the study of German folklore. It was discontinued after five months but was published in book form as Tröst-Einsamkeit, Stirred by the wars of liberation against Napoleon, the Heidelberg Romantics then concentrated on more realistic and historical depictions of Germany, composing patriotic war songs and producing nationalist propaganda. In 1809 Arnim returned to Prussia, where he developed the mature writing style characteristic of his later work, particularly his novellas. In 1811 he married Brentano's sister, Bettina, and the following year he published his best-known novella collection (commonly known as Novellensammlung 1812). Arnim returned to his family estate in Wiepersdorf, forty miles south of Berlin, in 1814, and he remained there until his death of a stroke in 1831.

Major Works of Short Fiction

The novellas Isabella von Ägypten, Der tolle Invalide auf dem Fort Ratonneau, and Die Majoratsherren are regarded as three of Arnim's finest efforts, and they were quite popular in nineteenth-century Germany. In these works, Arnim successfully blends a historical picture of Germany with elements of the fantastic and grotesque. Isabella von Ägypten pairs the historical Holy Roman Emperor Charles V with such fictional and mythic figures as the gypsy princess Isabella, a golem, and a mandrake root that becomes the dwarf Cornelius. Arnim employs these figures in an historical allegory depicting the fall of the Hapsburg dynasty. In Die Majoratsherren religious figures, such as Adam, Eve, and the Angel of Death, are featured in a critique of French decadence prior to the Revolution. Der tolle Invalide is considered by many to be his most accomplished work. In addition to skillfully combining the realistic and the fantastic in this story of a man's madness, Arnim also conveys a psychological awareness and moral insight not found in any of his other compositions.

Critical Reception

Although Arnim is generally given a minor position in the German Romantic movement, he is recognized for his part in inspiring a renewed interest in German folklore. Despite the initial popularity of Arnim's works, critics long censured them as confusing and poorly organized conglomerations of history and myth, elevated themes and grotesque imagery, and Romantic aesthetics and political commentary. Recent commentators, however, have found unifying patterns of imagery unifying Arnim's novellas, and they have observed consistent and coherent applications of the author's aesthetic, moral, and political views in the works. Increasingly, they have come to regard Arnim's novellas as his most successful creative works. In this shorter form, critics agree, Arnim overcame his predilection for extraneous detail and his tendency toward diffuseness which mar his longer works. Vickie L. Ziegler's comments on the collection Der Wintergarten can be applied to many of Arnim's novellas: "Wintergarten was not simply a futile literary exercise from a man who read too much; it was Arnim's attempt to advance his own deeply held beliefs about the interdependent role of literature, political action, and religious belief."

Principal Works

Short Fiction

Der Wintergarten: Novellen (novella collection) 1809 *Isabella von Aegypten, Kaiser Karl des Fünften erste Jugenliebe: Eine Erzälung; Melück Maria Balinville, die Hausprophetin aus Arabien: Eine Anekdote; Die drei liebreichen Schwestern und der glückliche Färber: Ein Sittengemälde; Angelika, die Genueserin, und Cornus, der Seilspringer: Eine Novelle (novella collection) 1812

Die Majoratsherren (novella) 1820

Landhausleben (miscellaneous short fiction) 1826

Sechs Erzälungen: Nachlass von L. Achim von Arnim (novella collection) 1835

Other Major Works

Hollins Liebeleben: Roman (novel) 1802

Des Knaben Wunderhorn. 3 vols. [with Clemens Brentano] (folktales and lyrics) 1806-08

Armuth, Reichthum, Schuld und Buss der Gräfin Dolores: Eine wahre Geshichte zur lehrreichen Unterhaltung armer Fräulein aufgeschrieben (novel) 1810

Halle und Jerusalem: Studentspiel und Pilgerabenteuer (drama) 1811

Die Kronenwächter (unfinished novel) 1817

Ludwig Achim von Arnim's sämmtliche Werke. 22 vols. (collected works) 1839-57

* This collection is often referred to as Novellensammlung 1812.

†This posthumous publication includes Frau von Saverne; Die Einquartierung im Pfarrhause; Die Weihnachts-Austellung; Juvenis; Fürst Ganzgott und Sänger Halbgott; and Der tolle Invalide auf dem Fort Ratonneau.


Lawrence M. Washington and Ida H. Washington (essay date 1964)

SOURCE: "The Several Aspects of Fire in Achim von Arnim's Der tolle Invalide" in German Quarterly, Vol. XXXVII, No. 4, November, 1964, pp. 498-505.

[In the following essay, the Washingtons trace the fire imagery in Der tolle Invalide, noting that Arnim presents both [n]atural and supernatural aspects of fire" in the novella.]

In reading Achim von Arnim's Novelle, Der tolle Invalide, one is soon aware of the frequent occurrence of the word "Feuer" and related expressions. This seems at first to be merely clever word play, but a closer inspection shows that the various aspects of fire are so intimately connected with the events and characters of the story that they reflect the basic structure of the Novelle.

Fire is an unusually complex motif because it is so rich in connotative associations. From the earliest mention in primitive mythology, man has endowed fire with both natural and supernatural significance. He has sought it for its positive creative potentialities and has, at the same time, feared its destructive powers. Fire has thus come to represent symbolically things as various as home, love, heavenly grace, and on the other hand, war, hatred, and eternal damnation.

Arnim's awareness of the basic complexity of his motif is evident in the opening scene of the narrative. Count Dürande, the elderly commander of disabled veterans at Marseilles, is shown complaining of two kinds of coldness. The penetrating dampness of the October air makes him shiver physically, while the thoughtless gaiety of people in the street on their way to a ball chills him psychologically with a sense of being left out of social affairs ("einsam frierend"). To overcome his physical discomfort, the old commander shoves fuel onto the fire on his hearth, using his wooden leg as a poker. In addition to its warming effect, the fire also inspires his imagination by calling to mind his favorite hobby, fireworks. Dürande becomes so absorbed in daydreams that he forgets the danger inherent in the flames and fails to notice when his wooden leg catches fire: "In der Freude des Gelingens, wie er schon alles strahlen, sausen, prasseln, dann wieder alles in stiller Grösse leuchten sah, hatte er . . . nicht bemerkt, dass sein hölzernes Bein Feuer gefangen hatte und schon um ein Dritteil abgebrannt war."

At this point, a young woman who has been waiting to speak to Dürande rushes forward and tries to smother his flaming leg with her apron, but this also ignites. The commander's shouts bring help, and the fires are quickly put out with a bucket of water.

Though fire has played a multiple role in this first incident, its activity has been concentrated on a natural plane. It has shown itself a physical and psychological comforter, but at the same time dangerous as a seductive fascinator and potential destroyer when out of control. Fire in its physical manifestation is opposed by a natural enemy, water, which extinguishes it.

A further significance of fire is suggested in Arnim's charming description of olive leaves burning like love-sick hearts in the hearth: "Die knisternde Flamme ist mit dem grünen Laube wie durchflochten, halb brennend, halb grünend erscheinen die Blätter wie verliebte Herzen." This is the inner fire of love and has a dual potentiality: it is either life-giving ("grünend") or destructive ("brennend"). The twofold significance of love is reiterated in the young woman's story. Rosalie opens her plea for understanding of her wounded husband Francoeur by stating that her love is the cause of all his trouble: "Meine Liebe trägt die Schuld von allem dem Unglück, -ich habe meinen Mann unglücklich gemacht und nicht jene Wunde; meine Liebe hat den Teufel in ihn gebracht und plagt ihn und verwirrt seine Sinne." By linking her love with the devil's influence, Arnim extends the scope of fire into the realm of the supernatural.

It is a characteristic of supernatural realities that they can be perceived in the realm of ordinary experience only by their outward and visible effects. Fire and light are such visible signs for Arnim, who uses them to show the presence of the invisible forces of evil and good.

Fire is used to indicate supernatural evil where Rosalie describes her meeting with Francoeur and her mother's subsequent discovery of their affection. Her mother curses them and appears to emit flame with her words: "als ob eine Flamme aus ihrem Halse brenne." When Rosalie laughs hysterically, her mother exults: "Hörst du, der Teufel lacht schon aus dir!" The devil, the man of fire and personification of evil, takes possession of Rosalie and her life at this time. When Francoeur and Rosalie are married, the priest exhorts him to share the burden of her troubles, even her mother's curse, and Rosalie notices that the effect of the curse is then half lost. Shortly thereafter, Francoeur begins to experience an aversion to the church and to all religious matters and reports an inexplicable compulsion to curse them, "einen so heftigen Zorn und Wilder-willen gegen Geistliche, Kirchen und heilige Bilder dass er ihnen fluchen müsse, und wisse nicht, warum." He seeks to dispel his blasphemous thoughts through wild activity, but his pranks and conflict with authority only emphasize more clearly the abnormal condition of his mind and spirit. This continues even after Rosalie is freed from the devil's influence through the birth of her child. She becomes the constant opponent of evil, meeting wild behavior with calmness, hatred and jealousy with love and constancy.

Though Rosalie has grown up in the midst of immorality, she is untouched by her sordid surroundings, and she seems to Francoeur in the hospital to be wearing a halo, "Heiligenschein," about her head. When she tries to explain this as the effect of her bonnet, he responds that the halo comes from her eyes.

The term "Teufel" has quite different significance for Rosalie and Count Dürande. For her, the devil is a real being whose power over her husband is responsible for his wildness and her misery. The count, however, is sure that Rosalie, as a German girl, could not possibly understand a Frenchman, for the French are all by nature somewhat devilish: "Die Frau liebt ihn, aber sie ist eine Deutsche und versteht keinen Franzosen; ein Franzose hat immer den Teufel im Leibe!" Thus, for Count Dürande, "Teufel" may be essentially synonymous with rascal, a person of extraordinary mischief and inventiveness; "Ein Teufelskerl" is his exclamation on first hearing of Francoeur's attack on the retreating general. The two interpretations lead to basically different ways of dealing with Francoeur's aberrations in behavior. While Rosalie shudders at each new deed of her husband, the count is delighted with his daring and entrusts him with responsibility for explosives and dangerous weapons. Dürande doubts his interpretation of Francoeur's behavior only for an instant, when he asks him: "Aber Euch plagt doch nicht der Teufel, und Ihr...

(The entire section is 2896 words.)

Hermann F. Weiss (essay date 1969)

SOURCE: "The Use of the Leitmotif in Achim von Arnim's Stories," in German Quarterly, Vol. XLII, No. 3, May, 1969, pp. 343-51.

[In the essay below, Weiss argues that recurring motifs serve to unify a number of Arnim's seemingly loosely constructed stories and novellas.]

Achim von Arnim's tales have repeatedly been censured for lack of structural unity and only a few, for instance Der tolle Invalide and Frau von Saverne, have escaped such criticism. However, attempts have been made recently to reevaluate Arnim's narrative art. In his penetrating study on Die Majoratsherren Heinrich Henel has demonstrated the surprisingly...

(The entire section is 3450 words.)

J. Edward W. Mornin (essay date 1971)

SOURCE: "National Subjects in the Works of Achim von Arnim," in German Life and Letters, Vol. 24, No. 4, July, 1971, pp. 316-27.

[In the excerpt below, Mornin examines the use of old German stories in the pieces in Der Wintergarten and in the novella Isabella von Ägypten. The critic argues that Arnim used these materials in order to "purify and morally regenerate the Germans" through his works.]

Achim von Arnim's political activities in the years 1806-13, his publication of German folk-songs in Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1806-8), and his literary exploitation of German historical subjects and of old German traditions, legends and literature have...

(The entire section is 2794 words.)

Paul F. Casey (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: "Images of Birds in Arnim's Majoratsherren" in German Life and Letters, Vol. XXXIII, No. 3, April, 1980, pp. 190-98.

[In the essay below, Casey argues that Arnim's novella "exhibits a detailed and extended avian imagery which lends an intricate coherence to the story. "]

About the genesis of Ludwig Achim von Arnim's novella Die Majoratsherren we are certain only that it first appeared in the Taschenbuch zum geselligen Vergnügen auf das Jahr 1820 and was later, in 1839, included in the second volume of Wilhelm Grimm's edition of Arnim's collected works. Walther Migge, the editor of the most authoritative edition of Arnim's work,...

(The entire section is 3349 words.)

Kari E. Lokke (essay date 1983)

SOURCE: "Achim von Arnim and the Romantic Grotesque," in The Germanic Review, Vol. LVIII, No. 1, Winter, 1983, pp. 21-32.

[In the following excerpt, Lokke contends that Arnim's use of the grostesque in Isabella von Ägypten "represents an attack upon early nineteenth-century aesthetic expectations, rational thought and social norms through its intermingling of incongruous elements and its juxtaposition and fusion of opposites."]

A side from André Breton's assertion [in his introduction to Contes Bizarres, 1933] that Achim von Arnim's contes bizarres are the finest works of prose fiction produced by either the eighteenth or the nineteenth century,...

(The entire section is 9634 words.)

Vickie L. Ziegler (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: "Achim von Arnim's Der Wintergarten: Introduction," in Bending the Frame in the German Cyclical Narrative: Achim von Arnim's Der Wintergarten & E. T. A. Hoffmann's Die Serapionsbrüder, The Catholic University of America Press, 1991, pp. 9-24.

[In the following excerpt, Ziegler presents a broad overview of Der Wintergarten, discussing the work's connections to Arnim's aesthetic philosophy, to German folklore, and to the social and political events of the author's time. Ziegler also examines the relation of the frame narrative to the individual tales in the work.]

Es müsste sonderbar in ihren Winter hinein blühen,...

(The entire section is 5129 words.)

Sheila Dickson (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: "Preconceived and Fixed Ideas: Self-Fulfilling Prophesies in Der tolle Invalide auf dem Fort Ratonneau" in Neophilologus, Vol. 78, No. 1, January, 1994, pp. 109-18.

[In the following essay, Dickson analyzes not only Francoeur's madness but the behavior of various other characters in Der tolle Invalide in terms of the psychological theories of Arnim's day.]

Achim von Arnim's generation witnessed an expansion of scientific and pseudo-scientific interest in unconscious and pathological states of mind, which came to be regarded as providing the deepest insights into the psyche. Looking inwards at the processes of the mind led concomitantly to an...

(The entire section is 4544 words.)

Further Reading

Bonfiglio, Thomas Paul. "Electric Affinities: Arnim and Schelling's Naturphilosophie." Euphorion 81, No. 3 (1987): 217-39.

Examines Isabella von Ägypten for evidence of the "fundamental electromagnetic cosmology" that informs Arnim's work.

——. Achim von Arnim's Novellensammlung 1812: Balance and Mediation. New York: Peter Lang, 1987, 225 p.

Analysis that contends Arnim's 1812 collection of novellas "is indeed a coherent opus that diagnoses a socio-historical problem, describes its genesis, and offers a prognosis together with an ideal program for its solution." Bonfiglio finds...

(The entire section is 494 words.)