"Adventure of the German Student" by Washington Irving tells the story about a young student called Wolfgang Gottfried who moves from his home in Germany to Paris to recover from his "melancholic temperament." His increasingly reclusive behavior has isolated him from his friends and family and put him into his own dark world.
He took up a notion, I do not know from what cause, that there was an evil influence hanging over him; an evil genius or spirit seeking to ensnare him and ensure his perdition.
Paris initially proves his savior. He enjoys the philosophical discussion and the exciting atmosphere created by the French Revolution. Unfortunately, everything changes when the revolutionaries begin executing their enemies during the Reign of Terror.
but the scenes of blood which followed shocked his sensitive nature; disgusted him with society and the world, and made him more than ever a recluse.
Alone in his student quarters, he begins to fantasize and dream about a woman "of a female face of transcendent beauty." The dream comes true when he sees her lying on the scaffold of the guillotine on the Place de Grève dressed in black.
Wolfgang takes her home, where he declares his love.
“Why should we separate?” said he: “our hearts are united; in the eye of reason and honour we are as one. What need is there of sordid forms to bind high souls together?” The stranger listened with emotion: she had evidently received illumination at the same school. “You have no home nor family,” continued he; “let me be every thing to you, or rather let us be every thing to one another. If form is necessary, form shall be observed—there is my hand. I pledge myself to you for ever.” “For ever?” said the stranger, solemnly. “For ever!” repeated Wolfgang. The stranger clasped the hand extended to her: “Then I am yours,” murmured she, and sank upon his bosom.
In the morning, however, Wolfgang finds her dead and calls the police. Seeing her, the policeman is shocked; he says he had seen the same woman guillotined only the day before. He takes off her black collar and the woman's head rolls onto the floor.
The story finishes by introducing the story's narrator who is telling his friend that the story is in fact true and that he saw Wolfgang in a mental asylum.
This story, one of a number of tales and sketches collected in Tales of a Traveller (1824), is narrated by an old man to a group of listeners. The story concerns a young student from the German university town of Gottingen. The student, Gottfried Wolfgang, is described as a man of good family but also as one given to intense speculation on the dark, mystical side of existence. Indeed, he is shown to have dedicated himself to these studies to such an extent that both his physical health and his imagination have become “diseased.” As the narrator tells his audience, “He took up a notion, I do not know from what cause, that there was an evil influence hanging over him; an evil genius or spirit seeking to ensnare him and ensure his perdition.”
To combat Wolfgang’s melancholy and morbid obsessions, his friends and family send him off to France to continue his studies at the Sorbonne. They hope that, removed from the gloomy German environment, he will be more happily influenced by the new surroundings of the school and by the “splendors and gayeties of Paris.” Unfortunately, Wolfgang arrives in Paris at the beginning of the Reign of Terror, and the scenes of butchery and cruelty that follow cause him to withdraw even more into his own private, dark world of the imagination. Again, in the words of the narrator, “Sometimes he spent hours together in the great libraries of Paris, those catacombs of departed authors, rummaging among their hoards of dusty and obsolete works in quest of food for his unhealthy appetite. He was, in a manner, a literary ghoul . . .”
In addition to his constant musings on the metaphysical and demonic, the student is also sexually obsessed. Although...
(The entire section is 1,146 words.)