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E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776 - 1822)

(Born Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann, changed third name to Amadeus) German short story writer, novella writer, novelist, and music critic.

Composer, musician, and artist E. T. A. Hoffmann is best known as a writer of bizarre and fantastic fiction. Drawing from English Gothic...

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E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776 - 1822)

(Born Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann, changed third name to Amadeus) German short story writer, novella writer, novelist, and music critic.

Composer, musician, and artist E. T. A. Hoffmann is best known as a writer of bizarre and fantastic fiction. Drawing from English Gothic romance, eighteenth-century Italian comedy, the psychology of the abnormal, and the occult, he created a world in which everyday life is infused with the supernatural. Hoffmann's tales were influential in the nineteenth century throughout Europe and America. Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Heinrich Heine, and George Meredith are among the authors who derived plots, characters, and motifs from Hoffmann.


The child of estranged parents, Hoffmann lived with his uncle, a pragmatic civil servant who did not encourage his nephew's prodigious talents. Hoffmann studied law and accepted a government appointment, but cared for music above all and devoted himself to composing theatrical scores, opera, and ecclesiastical pieces. A public official by day and a composer of romantic music by night, Hoffmann experienced the conflict that became a recurring theme in his fiction: the opposition between artistic endeavors and mundane concerns and the struggle of the artist to create in an unsympathetic, philistine society. In 1806 Hoffmann lost his bureaucratic post and joined the Bamberg theater as musical conductor and stage director. His theatrical experience provided Hoffmann with an understanding of character, dialogue, and dramatic structure that enriched his fiction. Also significant was Hoffmann's passionate attachment to Julia Marc, a gifted voice student whom he idealized in his writings as a representation of music incarnate. In Hoffmann's life, however, as in his fiction, the ideal is inviolable, and his love for Julia remained platonic.


Hoffmann's first published works were reviews of the works of composers such as Ludwig von Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach, Christoph Willibald Gluck, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the last of whom Hoffmann honored by changing his own third name from Wilhelm to Amadeus. Believing that music was the supreme mode of expression, Hoffmann tried to replicate in his fiction what he viewed as music's superior traits, such as its immediacy, emotional power, and supernatural qualities. Hoffmann hoped to transport readers beyond the physical realm by thrusting them into an environment palpably real, yet strangely unfamiliar. Hoffmann's stories range from fairy tales to traditional narratives, but his most characteristic works feature doppelgängers, automata, and mad artists and each has a dark, hallucinatory tone. His most famous story is "Der Sandmann" (1817; "The Sandman"). The tale begins in epistolary form and centers on a young man, Nathanael, who believes a salesman he encounters is a gruesome childhood fairy tale character come to life. As with many of Hoffmann's stories, the line between fantasy and reality is blurred. Nathanael links the Sandman to an associate of his late father's, by whom he was once attacked. The eerie similarities between the Sandman, the father's friend and the salesman inspired Sigmund Freud's celebrated essay "The Uncanny," in which Freud uses Hoffman's story to illustrate his ideas, which eventually led to his theory of the Oedipal castration complex.

Hoffmann himself considered "Der goldene Topf" (1814; "The Golden Pot"), in which the supernatural enters a poet's everyday life, as his best piece of writing. Additional stories in the Gothic tradition include "Die Automate" (1814; "Automata") a two-part tale containing a ghost story and a mystery centering on an automaton or robot, and "Die Abenteuer der Silvester-Nacht" (1814; "A New Year's Eve Adventure") in which two characters in two different settings represent polarities of the same personality. In both stories, Hoffmann underscores his belief that real-life activities can open doors to the supernatural. In "The Golden Pot" the impetus is creative expression while in "A New Year's Eve Adventure" it is alcohol. One of Hoffmann's recurring themes was the descent of the artist into a madness caused by being forced to live in a mundane world. While "The Golden Pot" centers on a poet, "Rat Krespel" (1819; "The Cremona Violin," also translated as "Councillor Krespel") portrays a musician's fall into what E. F. Bleiler describes as "sane insanity," a result of his hypersensitivity to daily occurrences. "Die Bergwerke zu Falun" (1819; "The Mines of Falun") was inspired by the real-life discovery of a preserved body in archaic clothing in a Swedish mining tunnel. Hoffman's miner became a supernatural being with intimate knowledge of nature and creation. Hoffmann also produced one Gothic novel, Die Elixiere des Teufels (1815–16; The Devil's Elixir), a doppelgänger tale in which two characters' identities are so intermeshed that neither can tell where one begins and the other ends.


Hoffmann's potent language and images sometimes shocked and offended his contemporaries. Sir Walter Scott wrote that Hoffmann required "the assistance of medicine rather than of criticism," and an anonymous reviewer in The Literary World insisted his plots and characters stemmed from "a diseased imagination." Many critics, however, still appreciate the grotesque humor, social satire, and extravagant artistry beneath the horrific surface. Commentators have noted Hoffmann's adept placement of the supernatural against the backdrop of the everyday. An anonymous writer for Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine in 1824 called Hoffmann "a man of rare and singular genius" and noted his ability to "mix up the horrible notion of the double-goer, with ordinary human feelings of all kinds." Hoffmann is credited with influencing the work of numerous literary descendants, from Poe and the symbolists to the surrealists and modernists.

Principal Works

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Fantasiestücke in Callot's Manier: Blätter aus dem Tagebuche eines reisenden Enthusiasten. 4 vols. [published anonymously] (short stories) 1814–15
Die Elixiere des Teufels. 2 vols. [published anonymously; The Devil's Elixir] (novel) 1815–16
Nachtstücke, herausgegeben von dem Verfasser der Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier. 2 vols. [published anonymously] (short stories) 1817
Klein Zaches genannt Zinnober: Ein Mährchen herausgegeben von E. T. A. Hoffmann [Little Zack] (novella) 1819
Seltsame Leiden eines Theater-Direktors: Aus mündlicher Tradition mitgeteilt vom Verfasser der Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier [published anonymously] (novella) 1819
Die Serapions-Brüder: Gesammelte Erzälungen und Mährchen. Herausgegeben von E. T. A. Hoffmann. 4 vols. [The Serapion Brethren] (short stories) 1819–21
Lebens-Ansichten des Katers Murr nebst fragmentarischer Biographie des Kapellmeisters Johannes Kreisler in zufälligen Makulaturblättern (unfinished novel) 1820–22
Prinzessin Brambilla: Ein Capriccio nach Jacob Callot [Princess Brambilla] (novella) 1821

Meister Floh: Ein Märchen in seiben Abenteuern zweier Freunde [Master Flea] (novella) 1822
Die letzten Erzählungen von E. T. A. Hoffmann. 2 vols. (short stories) 1825
Hoffmann's Strange Stories (short stories) 1855
Hoffmann's Fairy Tales (short stories and novellas) 1857
Weird Tales. [translated by J. T. Bealby] 2 vols. (short stories) 1885
Tales of Hoffmann [edited and translated by Christopher Lazare] (short stories) 1946
Selected Writings of E. T. A. Hoffmann. 2 vols. [translated by Leonard J. Kent and Elizabeth C. Knight] (short stories, novellas, and novel) 1969

∗ Volume 3 contains the short story "Der goldene Topf: Ein Märchen aus der neuen Zeit" ("The Golden Pot" or "The Golden Flower Pot"), and Volume 4 contains the short story "Die Abenteuer der Silvester-Nacht" ("A New Year's Eve Adventure").

† Volume 1 contains the short story "Der Sandmann" ("The Sandman").

‡ Volume 1 contains the short stories "Rat Krespel" ("The Cremona Violin" or "Councillor Krespel") and "Die Bergwerke zu Falun" ("The Mines of Falun"), and Volume 2 contains "Die Automate" ("Automata").

Primary Sources

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SOURCE: Hoffmann, E. T. A. "The Sand-Man." In The Best Tales of Hoffmann, edited by E. F. Bleiler, pp. 184-214. New York: Dover, 1967.

The following excerpt was originally published in German as "Der Sandmann," in the first volume of Nachtstücke, herausgegeben von dem Verfasser der Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier in 1817.

Nathanael rushed in, impelled by some nameless dread. The Professor was grasping a female figure by the shoulders, the Italian Coppola held her by the feet; and they were pulling and dragging each other backwards and forwards, fighting furiously to get possession of her.

Nathanael recoiled with horror on recognizing that the figure was Olimpia. Boiling with rage, he was about to tear his beloved from the grasp of the madmen, when Coppola by an extraordinary exertion of strength twisted the figure out of the Professor's hands and gave him such a terrible blow with her, that Spalanzani reeled backwards and fell over the table among the phials and retorts, the bottles and glass cylinders, which covered it: all these things were smashed into a thousand pieces. But Coppola threw the figure across his shoulder, and, laughing shrilly and horribly, ran hastily down the stairs, the figure's ugly feet hanging down and banging and rattling like wood against the steps.

Nathanael was stupefied—he had seen only too distinctly that in Olimpia's pallid waxed face there were no eyes, merely black holes in their stead; she was an inanimate puppet. Spalanzani was rolling on the floor; the pieces of glass had cut his head and breast and arm; the blood was escaping from him in streams. But he gathered his strength together by an effort.

"After him—after him! What do you stand staring there for? Coppelius—Coppelius—he's stolen my best automaton—at which I've worked for twenty years—my life work—the clockwork—speech—movement—mine—your eyes—stolen your eyes—damn him—curse him—after him—fetch me back Olimpia—there are the eyes." And now Nathanael saw a pair of bloody eyes lying on the floor staring at him; Spalanzani seized them with his uninjured hand and threw them at him, so that they hit his breast.

Then madness dug her burning talons into Nathanael and swept down into his heart, rending his mind and thoughts to shreds. "Aha! aha! aha! Fire-wheel—fire-wheel! Spin round, fire-wheel! merrily, merrily! Aha! wooden doll! spin round, pretty wooden doll!" and he threw himself upon the Professor, clutching him fast by the throat.

He would certainly have strangled him had not several people, attracted by the noise, rushed in and torn away the madman; and so they saved the Professor, whose wounds were immediately dressed. Siegmund, with all his strength, was not able to subdue the frantic lunatic, who continued to scream in a dreadful way, "Spin round, wooden doll!" and to strike out right and left with his doubled fists. At length the united strength of several succeeded in overpowering him by throwing him on the floor and binding him. His cries passed into a brutish bellow that was awful to hear; and thus raging with the harrowing violence of madness, he was taken away to the madhouse.

Before continuing my narration of what happened further to the unfortunate Nathanael, I will tell you, indulgent reader, in case you take any interest in that skillful mechanician and fabricator of automata, Spalanzani, that he recovered completely from his wounds. He had, however, to leave the university, for Nathanael's fate had created a great sensation; and the opinion was pretty generally expressed that it was an imposture altogether unpardonable to have smuggled a wooden puppet instead of a living person into intelligent tea-circles—for Olimpia had been present at several with success. Lawyers called it a cunning piece of knavery, and all the harder to punish since it was directed against the public; and it had been so craftily contrived that it had escaped unobserved by all except a few preternaturally acute students, although everybody was very wise now and remembered to have thought of several facts which occurred to them as suspicious. But these latter could not succeed in making out any sort of a consistent tale. For was it, for instance, a thing likely to occur to anyone as suspicious that, according to the declaration of an elegant beau of these tea-parties, Olimpia had, contrary to all good manners, sneezed oftener than she had yawned? The former must have been, in the opinion of this elegant gentleman, the winding up of the concealed clockwork; it had always been accompanied by an observable creaking, and so on.

The Professor of Poetry and Eloquence took a pinch of snuff, and, slapping the lid to and clearing his throat, said solemnly, "My most honourable ladies and gentlemen, don't you see then where the rub is? The whole thing is an allegory, a continuous metaphor. You understand me? Sapienti sat."

But several most honourable gentlemen did not rest satisfied with this explanation; the history of this automaton had sunk deeply into their souls, and an absurd mistrust of human figures began to prevail. Several lovers, in order to be fully convinced that they were not paying court to a wooden puppet, required that their mistress should sing and dance a little out of time, should embroider or knit or play with her little pug, & c., when being read to, but above all things else that she should do something more than merely listen—that she should frequently speak in such a way as to really show that her words presupposed as a condition some thinking and feeling. The bonds of love were in many cases drawn closer in consequence, and so of course became more engaging; in other instances they gradually relaxed and fell away. "I cannot really be made responsible for it," was the remark of more than one young gallant.

At the tea-gatherings everybody, in order to ward off suspicion, yawned to an incredible extent and never sneezed. Spalanzani was obliged, as has been said, to leave the place in order to escape a criminal charge of having fraudulently imposed an automaton upon human society. Coppola, too, had also disappeared.

When Nathanael awoke he felt as if he had been oppressed by a terrible nightmare; he opened his eyes and experienced an indescribable sensation of mental comfort, while a soft and most beautiful sensation of warmth pervaded his body. He lay on his own bed in his own room at home; Clara was bending over him, and at a little distance stood his mother and Lothair. "At last, at last, O my darling Nathanael; now we have you again; now you are cured of your grievous illness, now you are mine again." And Clara's words came from the depths of her heart; and she clasped him in her arms. The bright scalding tears streamed from his eyes, he was so overcome with mingled feelings of sorrow and delight; and he gasped forth, "My Clara, my Clara!"

Siegmund, who had staunchly stood by his friend in his hour of need, now came into the room. Nathanael gave him his hand—"My faithful brother, you have not deserted me." Every trace of insanity had left him, and in the tender hands of his mother and his beloved, and his friends, he quickly recovered his strength again. Good fortune had in the meantime visited the house; a niggardly old uncle, from whom they had never expected to get anything, had died, and left Nathanael's mother not only a considerable fortune, but also a small estate, pleasantly situated not far from the town. There they resolved to go and live, Nathanael and his mother, and Clara, to whom he was now to be married, and Lothair. Nathanael had become gentler and more childlike than he had ever been before, and now began really to understand Clara's supremely pure and noble character. None of them ever reminded him, even in the remotest degree, of the past. But when Siegmund took leave of him, Nathanael said, "By heaven, brother! I was in a bad way, but an angel came just at the right moment and led me back upon the path of light. Yes, it was Clara." Siegmund would not let him speak further, fearing lest the painful recollections of the past might arise too vividly and too intensely in his mind.

The time came for the four happy people to move to their little property. At noon they were going through the streets. After making several purchases they found that the lofty tower of the town hall was throwing its giant shadows across the market place. "Come," said Clara, "let us go up to the top once more and have a look at the distant hills." No sooner said than done. Both of them, Nathanael and Clara, went up the tower; their mother, however, went on with the servant-girl to her new home, and Lothair, not feeling inclined to climb up all the many steps, waited below. There the two lovers stood arm in arm on the topmost gallery of the tower, and gazed out into the sweet-scented wooded landscape, beyond which the blue hills rose up like a giant's city.

"Oh! do look at that strange little gray bush, it looks as if it were actually walking towards us," said Clara. Mechanically he put his hand into his side pocket; he found Coppola's perspective and looked for the bush; Clara stood in front of the glass.

Then a convulsive thrill shot through his pulse and veins; pale as a corpse, he fixed his staring eyes upon her; but soon they began to roll, and a fiery current flashed and sparkled in them, and he yelled fearfully, like a hunted animal. Leaping up high in the air and laughing horribly at the same time, he began to shout in a piercing voice, "Spin round, wooden doll! Spin round, wooden doll!" With the strength of a giant he laid hold upon Clara and tried to hurl her over, but in an agony of despair she clutched fast hold of the railing that went round the gallery.

Lothair heard the madman raging and Clara's scream of terror: a fearful presentiment flashed across his mind. He ran up the steps; the door of the second flight was locked. Clara's scream for help rang out more loudly. Mad with rage and fear, he threw himself against the door, which at length gave way. Clara's cries were growing fainter and fainter—"Help! save me! save me!" and her voice died away in the air. "She is killed—murdered by that madman," shouted Lothair. The door to the gallery was also locked.

Despair gave him the strength of a giant; he burst the door off its hinges. Good God! there was Clara in the grasp of the madman Nathanael, hanging over the gallery in the air, holding on to the iron bar with only one hand. Quick as lightning, Lothair seized his sister and pulled her back, at the same time dealing the madman a blow in the face with his doubled fist, which sent him reeling backwards, forcing him to let go his victim.

Lothair ran down with his insensible sister in his arms. She was saved. But Nathanael ran round and round the gallery, leaping up in the air and shouting, "Spin round, fire-wheel! Spin round, fire-wheel!" The people heard the wild shouting, and a crowd began to gather. In the midst of them towered the lawyer Coppelius, like a giant; he had only just arrived in the town, and had gone straight to the market place.

Some were for going up to overpower and take the madman, but Coppelius laughed and said, "Ha! ha! wait a bit; he'll come down of his own accord;" and he stood gazing up along with the rest.

All at once Nathanael stopped as if spellbound; he bent down over the railing and perceived Coppelius. With a piercing scream, "Eh! Fine eyes-a, fine eyes-a!" he leaped over the railing.

When Nathanael lay on the stone pavement with a shattered head, Coppelius had disappeared in the crush and confusion.

Several years afterwards it was reported that, outside the door of a pretty country house in a remote district, Clara had been seen sitting hand in hand with a pleasant gentleman, while two bright boys were playing at her feet. From this it may be concluded that she eventually found that quiet domestic happiness which her cheerful, blithesome character required, and which Nathanael, with his tempest-tossed soul, could never have been able to give her.

Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (Review Date July 1824)

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SOURCE: A review of The Devil's Elixir, by E. T. A. Hoffmann. Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine 16, no. 90 (July 1824): 55-67.

In the following excerpt, the critic provides a laudatory assessment of The Devil's Elixir, noting especially Hoffmann's skillful handling of the device of the doppelgänger, or double.

The Devil's Elixir is, we think, upon the whole, our chief favourite among the numerous works of [E. T. A. Hoffman,] a man of rare and singular genius. It contains in itself the germ of many of his other performances; and one particular idea, in which, more than any other, he, as a romancer, delighted, has been repeated by him in many various shapes, but never with half the power and effect in which it has been elaborated here….

[This idea is] what he calls, in his own language, a doppelgänger…. [In some works using the doppelgänger,] the idea is turned to a half-ludicrous use—and very successfully too—but by far the best are those romances in which it has been handled quite seriously—and of all these, the best is [The Devil's Elixir]….

The superior excellence of the Devil's Elixir lies in the skill with which its author has contrived to mix up the horrible notion of the double-goer, with ordinary human feelings of all kinds. He has linked it with scenes of great and simple pathos—with delineations of the human mind under the influences of not one, but many of its passions—ambition—love—revenge—remorse. He has even dared to mix scenes and characters exquisitely ludicrous with those in which his haunted hero appears and acts; and all this he has been able to do without in the smallest degree weakening the horrors which are throughout his corps de reserve. On the contrary, we attribute the unrivalled effect which this work, as a whole, produces on the imagination, to nothing so much as the admirable art with which the author has married dreams to realities, the air of truth which his wildest fantasies draw from the neighbourhood of things which we all feel to be simply and intensely human and true. Banquo's ghost is tenfold horrible, because it appears at a regal banquet—and the horrors of the Monk Medardus affect our sympathies in a similar ratio, because this victim of everything that is fearful in the caprices of an insane imagination, is depicted to us as living and moving among men, women, and scenes, in all of which we cannot help recognizing a certain aspect of life and nature, and occasionally even of homeliness.

Literary World (Review Date 4 April 1885)

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SOURCE: "Hoffmann's Weird Tales." Literary World 16, no. 7 (4 April 1885): 111-12.

In the following excerpt from a review of Serapionsbrüder (The Serapion Brethren), the critic maintains that Hoffmann's collection is without literary merit and is worthwhile only as an object of morbid curiosity.

Hoffmann is one of the idols of literature whose powers are spoken of with traditional reverence, but whose works few take the trouble to read. How much we heard in our younger days of the fearful joys to be snatched from the pages of this uncanny romancer, and how little did the result appear in the full measure of breathless expectation! And now, after an interlude of Trollope, and Daudet, and Howells, we find it more difficult than ever to awaken a sympathetic thrill over the antiquated psychological horrors of the Serapionsbrüder [The Serapion Brethren]. Clever the tales undoubtedly are, but their fantastic episodes and characters are the fruit of a diseased imagination, rather than of poetical genius. Hoffmann's mental traits were akin to those of Poe (the comparison is general) but the German lacked Poe's marvelous faculty of concentration. His representations of character, as such, have no value, for they are devoid of coherency, they are marionettes, and are wholly at the mercy of the grotesque whims of their creator.

Where, then, lies the secret of Hoffmann's fascination? It is in the consummate art with which he conveys passing impressions, and the unflagging fertility of invention which is constantly bringing forth new and startling episodes.

Master Martin, as was his wont, threw his head back into his neck, played with his fingers upon his capacious belly, and, opening his eyes wide and thrusting forward his under-lip with an air of superior astuteness, let his eyes sweep round the assembly.

Later on, you may get a wholly different portrait, but here, for the time being, is Master Martin, as if reflected from the author's mind into a mirror. This wonderful gift of expression lends a seemingly vivid realism to the most improbable of Hoffman's productions…. And yet, a careful perusal of Hoffmann's tales brings no feeling of gratification. The mind is perturbed with all this fantastic imagery; the satire is acrid and leaves unpleasant traces; the passion is too much like brute instinct; the magic wand of the enchanter is thrust too often or our notice; the grim, unyielding doctrine of fatalism, which the author takes occasion to profess so often, stimulates an instinct of revolt. Hoffmann's tales are to be read, if read at all, as one would take hasheesh or opium—to note the effects upon the mind and cull therefrom an interesting experience. Of no other series of romances can it be said so absolutely that the effects vary with the temperament of the reader. Only an abnormal intellect could find in them genuine and habitual enjoyment.

E. F. Bleiler (Essay Date 1967)

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SOURCE: Bleiler, E. F. Introduction to The Best Tales of Hoffmann, pp. v-xxxiii. New York: Dover, 1967.

In the following excerpt, Bleiler surveys some of Hoffmann's works of short fiction.


Most critics agree that "The Golden Flower Pot" ("Der goldne Topf") is Hoffmann's best story. Hoffmann himself considered it such, and while working on it, he wrote, "God grant me to finish the story as I have begun it. I have never done anything better; everything else is still and lifeless compared to it." Nowhere else has Hoffmann been so successful in blending the real and the fantastic as in this story, in which the powers of the supernatural world run rampant through Dresden.

"The Golden Flower Pot" first appeared in 1814 in Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier, Hoffmann's first collection of stories, and was revised slightly in 1819 for the second edition of the book. It is his first major literary work, and it marks his unheralded emergence as an author of world stature after he had written only a few critical essays and semifictional musical critiques.

It is a many-leveled story, and as might be expected, a great amount of time has been spent in trying to interpret Hoffmann's intentions. Two opposing general interpretations have been the most favored: (1) that it is an optimistic story about the emergence of a poet, and (2) that it is a basically pessimistic story in which the sad problems of the poet are treated with irony. The proponents of optimism claim that this story mirrors Hoffmann's excitement and joy at his decision to turn to literature instead of to music for his livelihood. According to the pessimists, however, Hoffmann states that a poet must abandon the life of this world, marry a dream girl of his own projection, neglect all worldly advantages—and where shall he go? To Atlantis, the mythical kingdom that does not exist and never did exist. At present the pessimistic interpretation seems the stronger, especially since the text incorporates a letter which Hoffmann first wrote to accompany the story. In this letter he stated his discouragement at the turn that events had taken.

A modern reader, perhaps more than Hoffmann's contemporaries, is likely to find difficulty in isolating and evaluating the various levels of interpretation that lie within "The Golden Flower Pot." On the most superficial level, it can be read simply as a fantastic thriller, in which the supernatural emerges and invades the world of everyday life, just as supernaturalism within a pseudohistorical setting did in the Gothic novels that Hoffmann delighted in reading. Some of Hoffmann's minor fiction, indeed, is written on this level, but it is very unlikely that "The Golden Flower Pot" is to be taken this way.

Beyond the external events of magic in Dresden and the emergence of the elemental world of the Renaissance Rosicrucians, for example, there lie several themes that appear in much of Hoffmann's other work: that loss of faith or denial of revelation can be destructive; that there is a connection between madness and the suffering world; and that art and life do not mingle, but must be separated.

Individuation, in the modern psychological sense, offers one of the most plausible symbolic interpretations of "The Golden Flower Pot." This amounts to a statement (in fantastic terms) of character growth. It is thus the story of the awakening of poetic sensibility in Anselmus, and of the upheaval which the new developments cause in Anselmus's personality. According to this interpretation the incidents in the story are simply fictionalized metaphors. The old apple woman, Liese, is simply fear, and Anselmus's hesitation before the doorknocker which assumes her shape is simply a metaphoric way of saying that Anselmus became frightened and did not enter. Serpentina would stand for Poesy; the strange experiences in the boat and around the punchbowl are simply ironic ways of stating that all parties had had too much to drink and that alcohol evoked the demonic forces within each. The enclosure of Anselmus in a glass bottle simply describes the paralysis which occurs when faith and hope have been lost. According to this interpretation the entire story of "The Golden Flower Pot" is the projection of Anselmus's mind. His emergent sense of ecstasy colors and transforms everything he beholds, and the daily life of a staid, bourgeois early 19th-century city is seen as a mad scramble of occult powers, half-insane super-humans, strange perils and remarkable benisons as Anselmus becomes a poet.

Yet beyond this there are other possible levels of interpretation. It has been noticed that the characters and ideas of "The Golden Flower Pot" are arranged in two series, each with one pole in the world of reality and another in the world of fantasy. Indeed, there is even a sort of identity between the two forms: Serpentina with Veronica, Anselmus with the Registrator Heerbrand, Archivarius Lindhorst with Conrector Paulmann, and so on. According to this interpretation, Anselmus is simply a projection of the Registrator which disappears in the world of fantasy, while the Registrator, giving up his dreams, marries Veronica. She, in turn, recognizes that she cannot possess the Anselmus complex but must be content with the Registrator-turned-Geheimrat.

Both of these interpretations may seem to be far-fetched interpretation for its own sake, but the fact remains that some justification exists for them or comparable unriddlings. Hoffmann's work is permeated with the concept of personality fragments coming to separate identity and acting as characters. To quote one example which is beyond dispute, in Hoffmann's remarkable novel The Devil's Elixir (Die Elixiere des Teufels) the identities of two of the characters, the Monk Medardus and the Graf Viktorin, are so merged and interchanged that the characters themselves do not know where one begins and the other ends.

The heart of "The Golden Flower Pot" is the märchen, or literary myth, that the Archivarius begins in the tavern; it is concluded by a strange glossologia from an Oriental manuscript that Anselmus is copying. The archphilistine of the story calls this märchen "Oriental bombast," but as the Archivarius replies, it is not only true but important. It recapitulates the central thought of "The Golden Flower Pot" sub specie aeternitatis, stripped of the accidentals of time, space, and personality.

The central idea of this märchen is the birth of poetry, expressed in terms of cosmic symbols drawn from the Naturphilosophie. It tells of the divine spark (phosphorus was the chemical symbol for the nervous fluid or intelligence in some of the systems of the day) which awakens and fertilizes a vegetative life. This in terms of mounting triads (a concept borrowed from the philosophical systems of the day) must die to give birth to a higher principle.

Lindhorst's märchen is thus a combination of several elements: a pseudobiblical creation statement; an allegory in which details have special meaning, although it is not always clear now what each point means; a fanciful statement of the human situation; and perhaps an ironic spoofing of some of the philosophical systems of the day. Hoffmann, although he was greatly interested in the outgrowths of Schelling's philosophy and accepted much of it, could be expected to retain a pawky incredulity at certain aspects of it. But perhaps analysis should not be pushed too far; it may be enough to say that this is a numinous statement of life, in which both profound and trivial concepts are fused.

German literature at the end of the 18th century frequently made use of märchen, or literary myths. These often appeared as symbolic kernels or germs within the larger context of a story, offering in a frankly poetic and mythical form the point offered more or less realistically in the full story. The märchen was thus a microcosm within a macrocosm.

This form and its use were not Hoffmann's invention. Goethe had written an independent allegorical story called "Das Märchen," which aroused a great deal of criticism among the Romantics, and Wackenroder had incorporated the fairytale of the Naked Saint in his Her zensergiessungen eines kunstliebenden Klosterbruders. Novalis, who represents the high point of the Early Romantic School in Germany, had incorporated two such märchen in his unfinished novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen. Novalis characterized the märchen as being "like a dream vision … beyond logic … an assembly of wonderful things and happenings … a [pregnant] chaos." This description fits his own work and Hoffmann's when it is remembered that chaos to the Romantics did not mean an empty waste as it usually does for us, but an infinitely rich, undifferentiated, undiversified "plasma," out of which universes could be formed.

All in all, it seems unlikely that there ever will be complete agreement about all the details of "The Golden Flower Pot." Perhaps Hoffmann himself was not entirely clear about his intentions. It would lie more within the realm of the Romantic movement to leave things in a tantalizing mist than to strip them of illusion. The symbol should be permitted to unroll and expand as it will. In any case, the modern reader can exercise his own judgment in deciding what really happened to Anselmus.

"Automata" ("Die Automate") first appeared as a whole in the Zeitung für die elegante Welt in 1814, although it was written between parts of "The Golden Flower Pot." It falls into two parts: the untitled Ghost Story in the foreword, and secondly, the experiences of Ferdinand with an automaton called the Talking Turk. There are also other elements in the story, notably an essay on the mechanical creation of music, new musical instruments and man's relation to music; Hoffmann is said to have included this material so that he could sell the story to a music journal.

The Ghost Story is built on two supernatural motives, one of which has had considerable importance in the history of the supernatural story. This is the motive of the White Lady, in which someone impersonates a ghost and receives supernatural punishment for his rashness. M. G. Lewis based his narrative of the Bleeding Nun in The Monk on this idea; it is the subject of one of the Ingoldsby Legends; and in more recent times Ambrose Bierce, E. F. Benson, W. W. Jacobs, H. Russell Wakefield and others have made effective use of it. In most instances, however, the story has been developed beyond Hoffmann's narrative, which remains at best sketchy. The second element in the Ghost Story is an attempt to defeat fate by distorting the time sense. It is related to an important literary form of the day, the so-called Fate Novel, the central idea of which was an attempt (usually unsuccessful) to dodge an inevitable fate.

In the second part of "Automata" much space is devoted to one of Hoffmann's idées fixes, the automaton or robot. The story reveals Hoffmann's own strong feelings when he describes the horror he feels at the possibility of mistaking an automaton for a human being. (This concept later became even more important in the episode of the dancing doll in "The Sand-Man.") For us much of the emotional power of Hoffmann's story may be lost since the late 18th-century and early 19th-century automata are now mostly destroyed or inoperative. We can have no real idea of their remarkable performances nor can we regain their emotional impact, since robots and mechanized intelligence have become part of our daily life. During Hoffmann's lifetime, however, Maelzel's chess player (which was a fraud) aroused a sensation in Europe, while Vaucanson's mechanical duck (a remarkable mechanism that would grace any era) and his speaking head and similar marvels of mechanics were held to be almost miraculous. The historical works of Chapuis and Droz can hint to the modern reader something of the wonder which these figures inspired. In Hoffmann they aroused a multiple reaction: admiration for their skill, horror at their inhumanness, and perhaps fear.

"Automata" remains a mystery story in the narrower acceptance of the form, for no convincing explanation can be given for the mysterious events that befall Ferdinand. Hoffmann's "explanation" of the functioning of the Turk involves clairvoyance, which is awakened through the mechanical medium of the Turk. This strange theory, which Hoffmann does not propound in the clearest way, is not his own, but was advanced by several early 19th-century psychologists to account for paranormal phenomena. It is connected with theories of animal magnetism derived ultimately from F. A. Mesmer on one side and from philosophical mysticism on the other. Even beyond the phenomena of the Talking Turk, however, are Ferdinand's adventures in Poland, which simply cannot be explained rationally.

"A New Year's Eve Adventure" ("Die Abenteuer der Silvester-Nacht") was written late in 1814 and was published in 1816 in Hoffmann's first collection of stories, Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier. It demonstrates a literary device that is very common in Hoffmann's work: the narration of two or more stories, which at first seem different, but upon closer examination prove to be the same story told on different levels. The two levels usually consist of the level of daily life and the level of fantasy, which are so intermingled that the reader sometimes is not sure of boundaries.

Just as the student Anselmus in "The Golden Flower Pot" lives two lives (one in the realm of poetry and the other around the Biedermeier establishment of Conrector Paulmann), the Travelling Enthusiast or Roving Romanticist of "A New Year's Eve Adventure" and Erasmus Spikher are polarities of the same personality and situation. One is set in humdrum Berlin, the other in the counter-pole of Italy, which often appears in Hoffmann's work as a synonym for luxury and decadence. Whether Hoffmann was completely successful in telling his story in this way is open to dispute; at worst he tells two repetitive stories, at best his method offers a strange parallelism and fusion of experience. The mundane narrator confines the fantasy of Spikher and is in turn enriched by it.

Personal elements from Hoffmann's life are evident in this story. It was not too long after his unhappy association with Julia Marc in Bamberg that Hoffmann wrote "A New Year's Eve Adventure," and when he read it to his circle of friends in Berlin, as was his custom with new work, they must have recognized the reflection of Hoffmann's personal affairs in the story. Hoffmann pictures Julia in two facets, on the one hand a cold opportunist who did not even have vision enough to recognize the quality of her admirer and on the other hand as a witch of Satan.

Another element of Hoffmann's personal life appears here in the presence of the famous Peter Schlemihl, the character created by his close friend Adelbert von Chamisso. The story of Peter Schlemihl, who sold his shadow to the Devil, was one of the most famous and most popular stories of the day, and Hoffmann obviously admired it greatly. Many of the details of the episode in the Bierkeller acquire new depth if the reader is acquainted with Chamisso's story. Just what Peter Schlemihl lost, however, is no clearer in Hoffmann's story than it was in Chamisso's. For Chamisso, interpretations of Schlemihl's plight have ranged from poverty to statelessness, from loss of virility to the inability to form human associations. What Hoffmann considered the "shadow" is also mysterious; indeed, he evaded the question. Erasmus Spikher's lost reflection, on the other hand, is rather clearly identified with an alter ego, a dream-self, the ability to dream, a personality focus that is associated with dreams and passions. This story would then be another statement about the separateness of art and life.

The mechanisms that evoke the world of fantasy in "A New Year's Eve Adventure" are quite different from those in "The Golden Flower Pot." While it was the poetic impulse that awakened the ecstatic experience in Anselmus, in the Travelling Enthusiast/Spikher the impulse was alcohol. For Hoffmann there were several such doors to the supramundane world, and the type of door could condition the transcendent experience which was attained. In this theory Hoffmann simply stated in fictional terms what several of the psychologists and natural philosophers of the day said in more or less technical terminology. For such theorists the human autonomous nervous system, to which they assigned a center in the solar plexus, was an organ of experience which far transcended the sense organs of the conscious mind. This nervous system was the seat of a secondary, unconscious personality, which by its very essence was in intimate contact with all Nature. Normally, this Dream Self was silent, submerged by the clatter of the conscious mind, but in sleep, in religious ecstasy, in drug states, and in insanity it sent its energy up to the cortex, where it could be perceived. If this energy were controlled by the higher spiritual faculties of man, the result could be a great aesthetic impulse, or prophecy; if it were uncontrolled, it could be the distorted mumblings of the clairvoyant, or the unhappy visions of the addict. It is the lesser voice which inspires Spikher.

In the fall of 1816 Hoffmann finished "Nutcracker and the King of Mice" ("Nussknacker und Mausekönig"), which first appeared in a Christmas collection of children's stories entitled Kindermärchen von C.W. Contessa, Friedrich Baron de la Motte Fouqué und E. T. A. Hoffmann. The story was based in part on his own life situation: the family among whom the adventure takes place were modelled after the Hitzigs, friends of Hoffmann's Polish and early Berlin days. The two children in the story, Fritz and Marie, represent Hitzig's children. Hoffmann himself served as a prototype for Grandfather Drosselmeier, for he had built a cardboard castle for the Hitzig children the previous year, just as Drosselmeier does in the story. It might be noted that the same combinations of whimsy, aberration, ineffectuality, insight and ecstasy enter the character of Drosselmeier as enter the other masks of Hoffmann.

In "Nutcracker and the King of Mice" a märchen or literary fairytale serves as the "unconscious focus" of the story. It indicates the inner relationships in the ideal world that created the present story situation, together with possibilities for future resolution. In this case, however, the märchen is not a literary myth, as in "The Golden Flower Pot" or The Master Flea. It is basically a children's story, in which medieval Nuremberg receives one of its first glorifications. The concept linking this myth with the relationships Drosselmeier-Hoffmann and Stahlbaum-Hitzig is that a child is closer to the primal innocence (as in Wordsworth's "trailing clouds of glory") than an adult, and can enter and savor realms of experience or beyond-experience that even an adult with insight cannot enter. Dreams can become real only for children.

Hoffmann himself did not regard "Nutcracker and the King of Mice" as an entirely successful story, and apparently his friends agreed with this opinion. In the critical parts of Die Serapionsbrüder two of Hoffmann's characters, Lothar (a sceptic, modelled in part on Fouqué) and Ottmar (perhaps modelled on Hitzig), discuss the story. They conclude that the mixture of children's elements with elements that only an adult would appreciate is not completely acceptable. Hoffmann would have been better advised, it is stated, to have written either a children's story or a symbolic narrative for adults, not both. In a later story, "The Stranger Child" ("Das fremde Kind"), which was written for the Christmas annual of the following year, Hoffmann adhered more closely to a children's level. Despite this formal improvement the story itself lacks the vitality of "Nutcracker and the King of Mice," which has long been a favorite, both in itself and in its various musical and dramatic adaptations.

"The Sand-Man" ("Der Sandmann"), which appeared in Nachtstücke, Volume 1 (1816–1817), is one of Hoffmann's most bewildering stories. His contemporaries were inclined to read many personal references into it, and Hoffmann's friend Fouqué considered himself reflected in the personality of Nathanael.

There are many problems involved in "The Sand-Man." The first and greatest, of course, is the meaning of the story. Are Nathanael's adventures to be taken literally or symbolically? Is Hoffmann again using his old device of treating mental projections as personalities? Do the characters in the story exist, or are they fragments of personalities, or are both conditions true?

Psychiatrically oriented readers have considered Nathanael to be mad, and have dismissed the story of Coppelius/Coppola as a projection, as the influence of a traumatic childhood experience on an unstable young man. The story is thus interpreted as a figurative statement of growing mental illness, in other words, the emergence of insanity. Everything that Nathanael sees is distorted by this peculiar defect of his "vision," and his life is a succession of wild misinterpretations.

Other readers, however, have taken the position that Hoffmann intended the story to be primarily a fate drama, in which the central idea is that man is powerless against an external fate that moves in on him. According to this interpretation Nathanael was saved from death once by his father, once by Clara and her brother, but must succumb on the third occasion. Nathanael may go mad at the end, but his previous experiences are objective. Coppelius/Coppola really exists; he is the Enemy.

It would be pointless to select one of these interpretations and reject the other, since Hoffmann offered clues to support both. In all probability he had both interpretations in mind when he wrote the story, and was deliberately creating a mystery. A unifying factor can possibly be found in the saying, "Things are as we see them."

Many strange threads run through this story. One is the motive of the eye. Over and over Hoffmann brings the physical organ and its function (or malfunction) into the story: the eyes that appear during the experiment that Nathanael watches, Coppelius's threat to destroy Nathanael's eyes, the distorted vision of Nathanael when he assigns life to Olimpia, the destruction of the dancing doll's eyes, and the manifestations at the end of the story when Nathanael goes mad. Indeed, even the names Coppola and Clara are important: "coppola" means eye-socket in Italian, while the significance of Clara is obvious. Allied to the motive of eyes is the nature of the "experiments" performed by Coppelius and Nathanael's father. They are usually interpreted as alchemy or perhaps magic, but we cannot be sure of this. To Hoffmann's contemporaries this incident may simply have been a fanciful way of suggesting coining. Certainly the furnaces and cauldrons are all to be connected with casting.

"Rath Krespel" first appeared as an untitled story in the Frauentaschenbuch für das Jahr 1818, where it was prefaced by a long letter of dedication to Fouqué. It was revised a little when it was included in Die Serapionsbrüder.

One source of the story was Johann Bernhard Crespel (1747–1815), an eccentric German official who was a friend of the Goethe family and is mentioned in a letter from Goethe's mother to the poet. Crespel apparently designed his own clothing to fit his moods, and at one time designed and built a house in the same way as Hoffmann's Rath Krespel. How Hoffmann learned about Crespel is not known, although it has been speculated by H. W. Hewett-Thayer in his excellent Hoffmann, Author of the Tales that Hoffmann may have heard of him through Brentano. This, however, is only part of the personality of Krespel. It is generally conceded that an element of Hoffmann's own personality has been added to that of the historical Crespel. Hoffmann's Krespel is not really mad, but is very much like Hoffmann himself. He is really a man without a skin—as, indeed, Hoffmann describes him. Krespel's sensitivity is so great that daily life would be impossible for him if he could not take refuge in semi-madness to abreact his unconscious processes. Ultimately, he is really horribly sane.

Hoffmann's musical life is also reflected in this story, particularly in the clash of the Italian and German musical cultures of the day. Such a clash of musics is often described in Hoffmann's work. "The Interrupted Cadence" ("Die Fermate"), for example, describes a tempestuous affair between an Italian soprano and a German composer, who discover that there is no real possibility of understanding between them. Hoffmann himself shared such a tension between his admiration for the German tradition of Bach and Mozart on one hand, and his delight in Italian opera. It may be significant to Hoffmann's point of view that in "Rath Krespel" the ideal combination of power and beauty, Antonia, cannot survive; she bears within herself germs of destruction.

"Rath Krespel" is one of the most tragic of Hoffmann's stories, since it involves not only death, but the destruction of an art and the misery of sane insanity. Equally sinister is the equation of Antonia and the strange violin, and the life-bond between them. It would be curious to know if the name Antonia had any special significance for Hoffmann, what with Antonio Stradivari.

"Tobias Martin, Master Cooper and His Men" ("Meister Martin der Küfner und seine Gesellen") first appeared in the Taschenbuch zum geselligen Vergnügen auf das Jahr 1819, and was reprinted with some alterations in the second volume of Die Serapionsbrüder (1819). Like another of Hoffmann's stories, "Doge und Dogaressa," it is essentially a program piece written to explain a painting by a now nearly forgotten Romantic artist, Karl Wilhelm Kolbe. "Tobias Martin" was suggested by a very large oil entitled "Die Böttcherwerkstatt," which shows a group of coopers in antique costume working in an open shed. Hoffmann's story creates the background against which this picture situation arose, and also carries the situation through to a resolution. Hoffmann thereby transmuted an academic painting into one of the most entertaining stories in early 19th-century German literature.

The source for Hoffmann's information about medieval Nuremberg and the meistersingers and early guilds was Johann Christoph Wagenseil's De sacri romani imperii libera civitate Noribergensi Commentatio, or Chronicle of Nuremberg, which later became more famous as the source for Wagner's Die Meistersinger. This same book also served as the source for Hoffmann's well-known story about a homicidal maniac motivated by aesthetic impulses, "Das Fräulein von Scuderi," which has been variously translated under the titles "Mademoiselle de Scuderi," "Cardillac the Jeweller," "Cardillac," and so forth.

In "Tobias Martin, Master Cooper," as in most of his historical nouvelles, Hoffmann used a straight-line mode of narration which contrasts greatly with the involved avant-garde development of his fantasies, what with their double narratives, symbolic cores and fragmentations of personality. Yet even here there are unusual features. Another author might have told the story more strongly from the point of view of Friedrich, and might have pushed Meister Martin, the title figure, more into the background. Another artist might have treated Martin's "growth" and his interpretation of the mysterious prophecy a little less ambiguously. At times it almost seems as if the story cannot be permitted to end until all of the major characters have learned that they must be honest with themselves.

"Meister Martin" has long been a favorite, and around the turn of the present century it was usually regarded as Hoffmann's best story. It has since fallen in esteem, while the fantasies have risen. To me it seems unfortunate that Hoffmann confined himself to writing "program fiction" simply to elucidate a mediocre painting. If the story had been independently written, it might be stronger in central situation and less sentimental. Nevertheless, the basic personalities of the story emerge with charm and clarity, and Hoffmann evokes the personality of Nuremberg so attractively that the story has served as the suggestion for much other work, chief of which is Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger.

"The Mines of Falun" ("Die Bergwerke zu Falun") first appeared in 1819 in Die Serapionsbrüder. In a critical afterword to the story one of Hoffmann's spokesmen tells where the idea came from: an anecdote in G. H. Schubert's Ansichten von der Nachtseite der Naturwissenschaften, one of the most influential books of the day. According to Schubert, when miners opened a new tunnel in the great Swedish mine complex at Falun, they found the perfectly preserved body of a man dressed in archaic garments. Hoffmann was one of many writers who seized upon this incident as the kernel for a story, and the basic idea became as important for the early 19th century as the motive of the Frozen Pirate was at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Hoffmann's story is written against a background that is strikingly romantic in its concepts and associations. Starting with Novalis (Count Friedrich von Hardenberg), prophet of German Romanticism, the miner as such took on a peculiar significance in German literature. He was not considered to be an exploited toiler or a laborer in a particularly dirty and dangerous mode of work. He became a quasisupernatural being who knew the intimate secrets of nature, of creation, and of the fructifying force that was believed to create the minerals. His knowledge passed beyond that of ordinary men, and he had a touch of the divine or demonic about him. Novalis in his Heinrich von Ofterdingen says of miners and mining, "Possessors of a much-envied happiness in learning nature's hidden mysteries, and communing in solitude with the rocks, her mighty sons…. It is enough for the miner to know the hiding places of the metallic powers and to bring them forth to light; but their brilliance does not raise thoughts of covetousness in his pure heart. Untouched by this dangerous madness, he delights more in their marvellous formations, the strangeness of their origin, and the nooks in which they are hidden…. His business cuts him off from the usual life of man, and prevents his sinking into dull indifference as to the deep supernatural tie which binds man to heaven. He keeps his native simplicity, and sees in all around its inherent beauty and marvel…. In these obscure depths there grows the deepest faith in his heavenly Father, whose hand guides and preserves him in countless dangers…. He must have been a godlike man who first taught the noble craft of mining, and traced in the rocks so striking an image of life." Novelis's comments are not simply a literary device; there are also elements here of the ancient magic associated with metals and minerals (as Mircea Eliade has discussed them in his Forge and the Crucible) which persisted strongly up through the Renaissance.

For Hoffmann, the miner owes allegiance to a supernatural power personified as the Metal Queen. The heart of the story is Elis's rejection of the metal revelation. Once again the artist (as in many other stories by Hoffmann) must choose between loss of his supernatural aims and the death of the domestic man. The agent of Elis's death, the demonic Torbern, is really a creature out of Germanic literary folklore. Many of the Numbernip (Rübezahl) stories by Fouqué, for example, discuss folkloristic demons as erratically malevolent beings who are associated with the chthonic powers and serve both to lead and mislead man.

"Signor Formica," or "Salvator Rosa," first appeared in late 1819 in the Taschenbuch zum geselligen Vergnügen auf das Jahr 1820, and was reprinted with minor changes in the fourth volume of Die Serapionsbrüder. It was subtitled a "novella," and probably was written with the work of the Italian Renaissance novelists in mind. One of the critics in Die Serapionsbrüder, however, criticized it as resembling Boccaccio more in the beatings its characters received than in much else. Another facet of Hoffmann defended the story mildly by pointing out that both Cervantes and Boccaccio did not hesitate to propel their stories by physical violence.

For "Signor Formica," which in many ways is one of Hoffmann's most interesting stories, Hoffmann drew upon the life of the great 17th-century Italian painter Salvator Rosa. At the time that Hoffmann wrote, Rosa stood high critically. The early Romantic revival of the late 18th century found him congenial. His well-known terribilità; his devastating energy; his highly felt painting technique and subject matter, in which the forces of nature seemed to be the real subjects, with but a few scattered humans as symbolic punctuation; and his general evocation of untamable, dynamic violence—all aroused enthusiasm. Rosa's life was reasonably well known in Hoffmann's day, and Hoffmann made a thorough study of French, Italian, and German sources. To get local color and to create the atmosphere of Italy, Hoffmann read extensively in travel accounts, particularly the reminiscences of Karl Philipp Moritz, an 18th-century German traveller. Hoffmann also collected Italian prints and maps, which he hung on the walls of his rooms, for inspiration, just as his character Peregrinus Tyss in Meister Floh does for China. Hoffmann, of course, was saturated in Italian musical life, and for this needed no special sources.

Basically "Signor Formica" is accurate—with occasional liberties—although the personality of Antonio Scacciati and the incidents of his courtship are fictitious. Salvator Rosa did leave Naples a few steps ahead of the police because of his share in Masaniello's insurrection; he did act as a member of a commedia dell' arte group in Rome; and he did later found an accademia in Florence. Like Hoffmann himself the historical Rosa was a virtuoso in many media: painting, literature, music, and the stage. Today, however, he is a nearly forgotten member of a branch of Baroque painting.

One of the most curious aspects of "Signor Formica" lies in its use of the double or doppelgänger. Originally, the doppelgänger was an element of Germanic folklore. It amounted to seeing one's own ghost, an exact double of oneself: this meeting was usually an omen of death. (In origin this idea would seem to go back to the primitive idea of multiple souls and soul-loss as a cause of death.) Around the end of the 18th century the doppelgänger became an important element in German fiction. The sinister elements were often suppressed and in their place came an intellectual interest in seeing oneself. The most curious incident involving a doppelgänger came from the life of Goethe: the great poet believed that on several occasions he had seen his own doppelgänger.

For Hoffmann the doppelgänger had a special significance. It was not simply a mysterious, supernatural double; instead it was associated with the strange phenomena of the mind, with personality fragments, with multiple personalities (a phenomenon which interested early 19th-century psychologists) and with emergence of an unconscious mind. In story technique this meant that a personality complex could assume spontaneous, autonomous life and become a character itself. From a converse point of view, two persons who were physically nearly identical might fuse, to form a single personality, or to create an impermanent, rotating personality which shifts from pole to pole of identity. This is the case in The Devil's Elixir where two persons in a doppelgänger relationship to one another contaminate each other. At times this concept of the doppelgänger (as in Jean Paul's Doppelgänger and Goethe's Wahlverwandschaft) can become attenuated enough to drop the idea of likeness or identity, and to indicate inner relationships, like "elective affinities" in the chemistry of the day. This results in a horizontal concept of kinship as opposed to a vertical one. The strongest bonds of relationship are between persons who are similar rather than those of vertical blood descent. Persons in a doppelgänger relationship are sympathetic (in the derivational sense of the word) to one another's experiences. A later stage of this idea, familiar to us from Dumas' novel, is the motive of the "Corsican brothers"—identical twins, perhaps separated Siamese twins, who both feel pain if one is injured, no matter how far apart they may be.

In "Salvator Rosa" Hoffmann makes use of the doppelgänger motive in a novel way. The idea is now completely secularized and stripped of its supernatural associations, and as stage imposture it serves to resolve the story. The confrontation of a lecherous old miser with his double twice dissolves the frame of difficulties that beset Antonio and Salvator Rosa.

All in all, Hoffmann's story is successful in evoking the atmosphere of baroque Italy, with its violence, egotism, saturation in the pictorial arts, and devotion to music. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that in this respect "Salvator Rosa" is the most successful historical novel that had yet appeared in Europe. Where Hoffmann may have lagged somewhat in literary technique (as compared with, say, Goethe), he was ahead in the intuitive apprehension of alien times and places which was so characteristic of the German Romantics from Herder on. As a result, his picture of 17th-century Italy carries conviction. In other respects, however, the novel suffers a little from Gothic survivals. The concept of the hero as one "der nie als Held des Stückes, sondern nur als Vermittler" forces Antonio Scacciati to have a passive role, while Salvator Rosa, the demonic activist, initiates and creates. The point would seem to be that the artist can succeed in his work and his love-life only with the assistance of a daimon. To a modern reader, this peculiar plot device may make the story seem less a true nouvelle than a narrative, but the fact that "Salvator Rosa" is written to an unfamiliar aesthetic need not impair our pleasure in reading it.

"The King's Betrothed" ("Die Königsbraut") was written especially for the last volume of Die Serapionsbrüder (1821). Each volume of the collection ends with a fantastic story, and "The King's Betrothed" concludes Volume IV and the set on a note of fantasy. It is very heavily ironic in tone, and it satirizes several contemporary phenomena: bad poets, particularly the sickly senti-mental poets of a school parallel to the English Della Cruscans; ineffectual, ivory-tower mystical philosophers and philosophy; and stories describing erotic relationships between mortals and supernatural beings. Of such stories Fouqué's Undine is the most famous.

The subject matter of "The King's Betrothed" has been taken from Renaissance and Enlightenment books on occultism and magic, an area in which Hoffmann was well-read. The doctrine of Paracelsus and others in this tradition was that the natural forces were the product of ideal substances, which were personified as supernatural beings, usually called elementals because of their relationship to the Aristotelian elements: salamanders as the spirits or essence of fire; undines for water; sylphs for the air; and gnomes for the earth. Slightly variant classifications may be found in the several sources. Hoffmann found the precise origins of his system and many of the ludicrous historical details about human-elemental relationships in one of the early books associated with the Renaissance Rosicrucian movement, Le Comte de Gabalis, an eccentric novel by the Abbé Montfaucon de Villars. Yet beyond this occult background is Hoffmann's probable intention of showing a personality (Aennchen) who has submerged herself in the vegetative life so deeply that it emerges separately and tries to swallow her.

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 15141

"Der Sandmann" ("The Sandman")


SOURCE: Prawer, S. S. "Hoffmann's Uncanny Guest: A Reading of 'Der Sandmann.'" German Life and Letters 18 (1965): 297-308.

In the following essay, Prawer analyzes the psychological issues addressed through Hoffmann's use of various narrative patterns in "Der Sandmann" ("The Sandman").

Why should we interest ourselves in such grossly improbable tales as E. T. A. Hoffmann's "Der Sandmann"? That is the question raised forcibly—and justly—by Sir Walter Scott, in a critique which Goethe endorsed but which is far too often dismissed, nowadays, as an explosion of jealousy at Hoffmann's success with a foreign as well as a German public. 'It is impossible', Scott maintains in his essay On the Supernatural in Fictitious Compositions,

to subject tales of this nature to criticism. They are not the visions of a poetical mind, they have scarcely even the seeming authenticity which the hallucinations of lunacy convey to the patient; they are the feverish dreams of a lightheaded patient, to which, though they may sometimes excite by their peculiarity, or surprise by their oddity, we never seem disposed to yield more than momentary attention. In fact, the inspirations of Hoffmann so often resemble the ideas produced by the immoderate use of opium, that we cannot help considering his case as one requiring the assistance of medicine rather than of criticism.

And Scott breaks off his attempt to retell the plot of "Der Sandmann" with the words: 'But we should be mad ourselves were we to trace these ravings any farther.'1

What Sir Walter seems to have missed is that the questions he quite properly raised were very much in Hoffmann's own mind, and that his indictment is in fact anticipated in "Der Sandmann" itself. Nathanael, the hero of the tale, reads a horrific poem to Clara in order to excite her, 'wiewohl er nicht deutlich dachte, wozu denn Clara entzündet und wozu es denn nun eigentlich führen solle, sie mit grauenvollen Bildern zu ängstigen.' Clara's reactions to this poem are clear enough, and should have won Scott's approval: 'Wirf das tolle—unsinnige—wahnsinnige Märchen ins Feuer.'2 When Hoffmann's narrator, however, comes to speak of his own motives in setting down Nathanael's history, he suggests another line of approach. No-one, he declares, had asked him for his story:

Du weisst ja aber wohl, dass ich zu dem wunderlichen Geschlechte der Autoren gehöre, denen, tragen sie etwas so in sich, wie ich es vorhin beschrieben, so zumute wird, als frage jeder, der in ihre Nähe kommt, und nebenher auch wohl noch die ganze Welt: 'Was ist es denn? Erzählen Sie, Liebster!'—So trieb es mich denn gar gewaltig, von Nathanaels verhängnisvollem Leben zu dir zu sprechen.

He then discusses the difficulty he had in giving his tale a suitable literary form (affording Hoffmann an opportunity to indulge in some delightful self-parody) and continues:

Vielleicht wirst du, o mein Leser! dann glauben, dass nichts wunderlicher und toller sei als das wirkliche Leben und dass dieses der Dichter doch nur wie in eines mattgeschliffnen Spiegels dunklem Widerschein auffassen könne.3

That is one possible answer to Scott's objections: a story like "Der Sandmann" is true, it gives literary shape to insights which cannot be conveyed in any way that is less grotesque, absurd and uncanny. The narrator sees himself as an Ancient Mariner driven to speak of what he has seen, driven to compel the attention of his auditors through every possible rhetorical device. One remembers that Cyprian, in Die Serapionsbrüder, rejects 'Grauen ohne Not, ohne Beziehung' as forcibly as Scott himself.4

In the opening paragraph of "Der Sandmann" two worlds confront each other; and this confrontation determines the structure of the whole story that is to follow. We need only list the adjectives of this paragraph: 'Hold', 'süss', 'hold' again, 'freundlich', 'hell'—all attributes of Clara who represents (as her very name tells us) a realm of light, clarity and simplicity that stands in dialectical relationship to another realm of which the following adjectives speak: 'zerrissen', 'dunkel', 'grässlich', 'drohend', 'schwarz' and—a little further on—'feindlich', 'tödlich'.5 These two realms belong together, and it is only because we are given so plain a vision of the first that the second has such power to terrify. This is what Dostoevsky hinted at when he contrasted the 'poetic' fantasy of Hoffmann with the 'materialistic' fantasy of Edgar Allan Poe.

Hoffmann is immeasurably greater than Poe as a poet. With Hoffmann there is an ideal, not always explicit perhaps, but in this ideal there is purity, real beauty…. If there is fantasy in Poe, it is a kind of materialistic fantasy, if one may speak of such a thing. It is obvious that he is wholly American even in his most fantastic tales.6

The 'ideal' of which Dostoevsky speaks in this passage is quite different from that presented in "Der goldne Topf," for Clara belongs firmly to the world we all know—she is Veronica raised to the status of a 'holdes Engelsbild';7 but it is an ideal nevertheless, and it says much for Hoffmann's psychological penetration that he makes his Nathanael send to Clara (by what we would now call a Freudian error) the letter addressed to Lothar in which he speaks of his encounter with Coppola. The world of the 'Sandmann' and that of Clara belong together—the tension between them constitutes the ultimate theme of this as of so many other of Hoffmann's tales.

That is one important pattern of which the opening of the story makes us aware; but there are others that are no less important. The first paragraph rises to a climax of apprehension ('Dunkle Ahnungen eines grässlichen … Geschicks') and seems suddenly to swoop down, bathetically, into the banal everyday. 'Kurz und gut, das Entsetzliche, was mir geschah, dessen tödlichen Eindruck zu vermeiden ich mich vergeblich bemühe' (now it comes, we think, now we are to be given a good look at the object of terror that has been so consistently hinted at) 'besteht in nichts anderm, als dass vor einigen Tagen, nämlich am 30. Oktober mittags um 12 Uhr, ein Wetterglashändler in meine Stube trat und mir seine Ware anbot. Ich kaufte nichts und drohte, ihn die Treppe herabzuwerfen, worauf er aber von selbst fortging.'8 But this is not really an anticlimax at all, for Hoffmann's subject is precisely the terror that lurks in the most apparently ordinary and everyday. Almost immediately he repeats the pattern just described, in Nathanael's childhood reminiscence of lying in wait for the dreadful, the fascinating Sandman. 'Der Sandmann, der fürchterliche Sandmann'—again tension is built up with the characteristic, often over-insistent Hoffmann rhetoric—'ist der alte Advokat Coppelius, der manchmal bei uns zu Mittage isst!' 'Aber', Nathaniel continues, in terms that make the intention crystal-clear, 'die grässlichste Gestalt hätte mir nicht tieferes Entsetzen erregen können, als eben dieser Coppelius.'9 Here we have an exact reversal of the structural pattern of, say, Mrs Radcliffe's novels, in which 'supernatural' events are given a 'natural' explanation at the end. Hoffmann's explanations explain nothing at all: they point, instead, to the real mystery, to the connexion between the familiar and the uncanny; they suggest the working of unknown powers in a world in which we feel at home.

Yet a third important pattern may be observed in the opening paragraphs of "Der Sandmann." We are taken into a comfortable family circle—all the members of the family are disposed about a round table at which the father smokes his pipe, drinks his glass of beer and tells the children fantastic stories. Into this circle breaks the terrifying figure of the Sandman, at first in the nurse's tale, then in the shape of the lawyer Coppelius; there is a climax of terror, until, it seems, the Sandman is cast out and the family circle closes again protectively about the child. 'Ein sanfter warmer Hauch glitt über mein Gesicht, ich erwachte wie aus dem Todesschlaf, die Mutter hatte sich über mich hingebeugt. "Ist der Sandmann noch da?" stammelte ich. "Nein, mein liebes Kind, der ist lange, lange fort, der tut dir keinen Schaden!"—So sprach die Mutter und küsste und herzte den wiedergewonnenen Liebling.'10 But this is nothing but a reculer pour mieux sauter, for soon afterwards all 'Gemütlichkeit' is dispelled and the family group shattered by the father's death.—The pattern of Nathanael's childhood reminiscence is repeated exactly in the second part of the story, where we find the idyllic love of Nathanael and Clara disturbed by the appearance of Coppola and Olimpia; instead of the swoon of the earlier episode we now have a fit of madness, until the protective circle closes, or seems to close, again. Nathanael 'erwachte wie aus schwerem, fürchterlichem Traum, er schlug die Augen auf und fühlte wie ein unbeschreibliches Wonnegefühl mit sanfter himmlischer Wärme ihn durchströmte …'11 But this too proves to be nothing but the calm before the real storm, before the last appearance of Coppelius and Nathanael's incurable madness and death.

What appears in "Der Sandmann" as a structural principle is made explicit when Cyprian, in Die Serapionsbrüder, comments on a story significantly entitled "Der unheimliche Gast."

In einen stillen gemütlichen Familienkreis trat, als eben allerlei Gespenstergeschichten aufgetischt wurden, plötzlich ein Fremder, der allen unheimlich und grauenhaft erschien, seiner scheinbaren Flachheit und Alltäglichkeit unerachtet. Dieser Fremde verstörte aber durch sein Erscheinen nicht nur den frohen Abend, sondern das Glück, die Ruhe der ganzen Familie auf lange Zeit.12

A stranger, an 'uncanny guest', who appears at first banal and undistinguished, destroys the family idyll. The very form of the sentence which introduces him, however, shows that he really belongs to this family idyll—that he is witness to a realm with which the family was seeking contact at the very moment of his irruption: '… trat, als eben allerlei Gespenstergeschichten aufgetischt wurden, plötzlich ein Fremder …' The stranger is 'unheimlich' not only in the sense that after his appearance men no longer feel 'at home' in their world, but also in that deeper sense of which Schelling spoke when he defined the word 'unheimlich' as 'Alles, was im Geheimnis, im Verborgnen, in der Latenz bleiben sollte und hervorgetreten ist';13 or Freud, when he endorsed Schelling's definition and added: 'Das Unheimliche ist … das ehemals Heimische, Altvertraute. Die Vorsilbe un an diesem Worte ist aber die Marke der Verdrängung.'14

In the essay from which the sentence just quoted comes, Freud discusses "Der Sandmann" as a notable example of the Uncanny in literature. He lays particular stress, not so much on the motif of the mechanical doll (which had attracted Offenbach, Délibes and many others) as that of 'fear for the loss of one's eyes'. The Sandman threatens the boy's eyes in the nurse's tale and in the scene in which Coppelius and Nathanael's father are observed at their alchemistic experiments; and he later comes between Nathanael and the consummation of his love. Freud sees in Coppelius-Coppola, Spalanzani and Nathanael's father parts of a single image, a 'split type figure' like the two fathers of Hamlet; fear for the loss of one's eyes is a disguise assumed by fear of castration; and Olimpia, the mechanical doll, is an objectified complex of Nathanael's, a sign that his father-fixation has made him incapable of normal love. Freud concludes:

Wir haben das Recht, diese Liebe [zu Olimpia] eine narzissistische zu heissen, und verstehen, dass der ihr Verfallene sich dem realen Liebesobjekt entfremdet. Wie psychologisch richtig es aber ist, dass der durch den Kastrationskomplex an den Vater fixierte Jüngling der Liebe zum Weibe unfähig wird, zeigen zahlreiche Krankenanalysen, deren Inhalt zwar weniger phantastisch, aber kaum minder traurig ist als die Geschchte des Studenten Nathaniel [sic].15

But as with Scott so with Freud—we find once again that Hoffmann has himself anticipated his interpreter's point of view. 'Gerade heraus', writes Clara in the letter whose rationalizing Nathanael finds so distasteful, 'will ich es Dir nur gestehen, dass, wie ich meine, alles Entsetzliche und Schreckliche, wovon Du sprichst, nur in Deinem Innern vorging, die wahre, wirkliche Aussenwelt aber daran wohl wenig Teil hatte.'16 The possibility that everything in the story which transcends ordinary experience may be taken as Nathanael's delusion is an important part of the effect of "Der Sandmann."17 This does not mean, however, that the story has only private significance. In Die Serapionsbrüder, Lothar defends the fascination that insanity has for him by speculating 'dass die Natur gerade beim Abnormen Blicke vergönne in ihre schauerliche Tiefe';18 and Kreisler is shown, in Kater Murr and elsewhere, to see more deeply into the heart of things than his more obviously 'sane' contemporaries. In "Der Sandmann" Clara puts it as follows:

Gibt es eine dunkle Macht, die so recht feindlich und verräterisch einen Faden in unser Inneres legt, woran sie uns dann festpackt und fortzieht auf einem gefahrvollen, verderblichen Wege, den wir sonst nicht betreten haben würden—gibt es eine solche Macht, so muss sie in uns sich wie wir selbst gestalten, ja unser Selbst werden….19

The 'dark powers', 'uncanny powers', 'inimical principles' of which Hoffmann likes to speak work through men's minds, but are not necessarily identical with men's minds, are not necessarily merely signs of our personal unconscious. There is something devilish, something motivelessly malign in Coppelius-Coppola, something which connects him with that more than natural realm of evil which is hinted at in the nurse's story.

Freud is undeniably right when he maintains that a story like "Der Sandmann" taps deeper regions than that of our normal waking consciousness; and it is interesting to find Hoffmann himself, through the mouth of Belcampo-Schönfeld in Die Elixiere des Teufels, anticipating Freud's image of a 'censor' of the mind whose activities must be circumvented. Hoffmann's image is that of a customs-official:

Ei, ehrwürdiger Herr!… Was haben Sie denn nun davon! Ich meine von der besonderen Geistesfunktion, die man Bewusstsein nennt, und die nichts anders ist, als die verfluchte Tätigkeit eines verdammten Toreinnehmers—Acciseofficianten—Oberkontrollassistenten, der sein heilloses Comptoir im Oberstübchen aufgeschlagen hat und zu aller Ware, die hinauswill, sagt: 'Hei … hei … die Ausfuhr ist verboten … im Lande, im Lande bleibt's.' Die schönsten Juwelen werden wie schnöde Saatkörner in die Erde gesteckt und was emporschiesst, sind höchstens Runkelrüben … Und doch sollte jene Ausfuhr einen Handelsverkehr begründen mit der herrlichen Gottesstadt da droben, wo alles stolz und herrlich ist.20

The last sentence of Belcampo's speech, like the extract from Clara's letter quoted above, suggests that Hoffmann's sympathies would have been with Jung rather than Freud—as is indeed only natural when we consider that there is a direct line between Jung's mode of thinking and that of writers like Schelling, Baader, Reil and G. H. Schubert, whom Hoffmann read with great avidity. For Hoffmann the personal unconscious is a means of gaining contact with something larger and deeper, something to which Belcampo gives the Augustinian name 'die herrliche Gottesstadt' but which we may equate, without serious distortion, with Jung's 'Collective Unconscious'. We already have an illuminating exegesis of "Der goldne Topf" by Jung's closest associate;21 but "Der Sandmann" too—which may be regarded as the reversal or 'Zurücknahme' of "Der goldne Topf"—has many elements that would seem to demand a Jungian analysis. Coppelius-Coppola may be seen as the hero's 'Shadow'; Lothar and Siegmund give us (rather colourlessly, it must be admitted) the archetype of the 'Seelenfreund'; Clara and Olimpia clearly represent two opposing aspects of the Anima; and the 'circle of fire', which plays so prominent a part in Nathanael's visions and poems, may be seen as a perverted Mandala.22

The important point, here and elsewhere, is that "Der Sandmann" must not be regarded—as Scott clearly tried to do—as a mere capriccio or arabesque; that it reproduces through its figures, incidents and structure, the logic of the unconscious. And this leads us back to a motif which we have already seen to be of central importance: the irruption of an 'uncanny guest' into a cosy family-circle to which he seems, somehow, to belong. We may now interpret this as the irruption of dark images from below the threshold of consciousness, images that push past the 'censor' or 'Acciseofficiant' of the conscious mind. This may lead to disaster, as in "Der Sandmann"; but it may also lead to healing and salvation as in "Der goldne Topf." No wonder that we owe a close analysis of the former story to Freud, while an analysis of the latter has been inspired by Jung.

There is great danger, however, in Freud's approach to "Der Sandmann"—the danger of treating literary figures and episodes as mere disguises, as mere analogies to psychic processes. This does violence to the complexity and concreteness of the work. Take the 'eye'-motif, for instance, whose importance in "Der Sandmann" Freud quite properly stressed. It is undeniable that 'eyes' often seem to suggest something else in this story: when we see Spalanzani take up Olimpia's bleeding eyeballs and throw them at Nathanael, exclaiming that they had been stolen from the very Nathanael who is watching all this—then we may be forgiven for believing, with Freud, that organs of generation rather than organs of sight are here in question. But elsewhere in the story, 'eyes' are clearly something with which one sees, something whose loss is particularly dreadful to an artist who must view the world he uses as material for his art. In "Der Sandmann," eyes are mirrors at once of the soul and of the universe; painters compare Clara's eyes with Ruisdael's lakes that mirror a whole landscape, while musicians exclaim: 'Was See—was Spiegel!—Können wir denn das Mädchen anschauen, ohne dass uns aus ihrem Blick wunderbare himmlische Gesänge und Klänge entgegenstrahlen, die in unser Innerstes dringen, dass da alles wach und rege wird?'23 Then there are the eyes of the hypnotist, the 'stechende Augen' of Coppelius and Spalanzani, means of subduing the will, of imposing one man's dominance on another: this too is a motif that does not fit easily into the scheme Freud suggested. In the same way, one may agree with Freud in seeing the doll Olimpia as a sign of Nathanael's narcissism—especially since Hoffmann makes Nathanael call Clara a 'lebloses, verdammtes Automat' when she fails to admire his literary compositions. But Olimpia is surely more than this. She embodies the fascination—half terror, half delight—that Hoffmann felt, ever since his early studies of Wiegleb's 'Natural Magic', in the face of magical tricks. She is also, quite consciously, made into a symbol of all that is soulless in art and in society: a certain kind of bel canto singing, in which the human voice is reduced to the level of a mechanical instrument; a purely passive and receptive attitude to art, which enervates the artist and harms him more than the most destructive criticism; the state of mind of those who attended the 'aesthetic teaparties' which were so prominent a feature of German social life in the early nineteenth century. Fouqué once maintained that Hoffmann conceived Olimpia after meeting a lady who provoked comment because of 'das streng Gemessene in ihrem Benehmen … wie auch das allzu Taktmässige ihres Gesanges.'24 Moreover: we may see Spalanzani as part of a split father-image, as Freud would have us do—but he is also Cagliostro, the swindler whose tricks are an earnest of real wonders and miracles; he is also the scientist and mechanician, who was already beginning, in Hoffmann's time, to usurp the functions of God and the Devil and whom Hoffmann was to pillory again in Klein Zaches.

Last but not least, there is the grotesque figure of Coppelius, the 'Sandmann' of the title. On his delineation Hoffmann has expended more care than on anything else in the story—almost all the alterations he made between the first draft and the final printing have to do with Coppelius. He strikes out, for instance, a passage in which the lawyer, dressed all in white, is seen as a walking snowman whose face has been painted red; he removes the episode in which Coppelius lays his hands on the eyes of Nathanael's little sister, who thereupon falls into a sickness that first blinds and then kills her; he remodels the end of the story, in which Coppelius was originally made to challenge Nathanael to throw himself down from the tower he has climbed with Clara; and he cancels sentences which make Coppelius appear, even before the death of Nathanael's father, as a social outcast:

Mit wüthendem Blick fuhr er auf mich loss ich schrie Hülfe—Hülfe, des Nachbars Brauers Knecht sprang in die Thür, Hey hey—hey—der tolle Advokat—der tolle Coppelius—macht euch über ihn her—macht euch über ihn her—so rief es und stürmte von allen Seiten auf ihn ein—er floh gehetzt über die Strasse….25

Coppelius remains eccentric and sinister—but in the later version he is more integrated into the small-town world in which he and Nathanael live. He is not only a childhood bogey-man, not only part of a threatening father-image; as lawyer and secret alchemist he is also an embodiment of greedy Philistinism as Hoffmann saw it (in Die Serapionsbrüder, it will be remembered, Lothar talks at one point of 'tiefer, gespenstischer Philistrismus'26). The small provincial town, and the university-town too, with its professors who live only for their science and who see in man (like the doctor in Woyzeck) no more than a guinea-pig for their psychological or physiological or mechanical experiments—these places have become uncanny, they are no longer a home for a sensitive child or an artistic adult. Coppelius and Spalanzani objectify feelings of alienation that we meet again and again in the literature of the last century and a half: the alienation of man from the world he has created; the alienation of man from parts of his own personality that have been repressed only to return as spectral 'doubles' to hound and torment him. Here Hoffmann must be seen together with Poe, with Dickens, with Dostoevsky; with all those writers who have depicted the city as the home of uncanny presences that haunted, in earlier times, the castles of the Gothic novel and of de Sade, or the mountains and woods of Tieck's first 'Märchen'. Once again we are confronted by the image of the 'uncanny guest'. Coppola seems an outsider, an itinerant Italian in the world of the small German town: but is he not identical with the lawyer Coppelius, who belonged to that world and whom Nathanael's father venerated above all his fellow-citizens? The neurotic constitution that makes Nathanael appear predestined to madness, gives him at the same time a clear insight into social realities; and his 'Zerrissenheit' makes him into a drastic paradigm for the fate of a sensitive, artistically gifted man in the world of cities.

In a letter to Nathanael from which I have quoted several times already, Clara speaks of a 'dunkle, psychische Macht'27 that draws the strange shapes of the outer world into ourselves. 'Es ist das Phantom unseres eigenen Ichs', she concludes, 'dessen innige Verwandtschaft und dessen tiefe Einwirkung auf unser Gemüt uns in die Hölle wirft oder in den Himmel verzückt.'28 Once again we have that opposition of two worlds, one of darkness and one of light, which we noted at the beginning; but this time they are termed 'Hölle' and 'Himmel', and on other pages we meet again and again words like 'Engel' and 'Teufel', or 'ewiges Verderben', which seem to take us into familiar theological regions. In Die Elixiere des Teufels Hoffmann tried his hand at integrating such elements into a traditional, Christian scheme; but in works like "Der Sandmann" they seem to be floating loose, torn from their moorings by secularization. This contributes to the uncanny effect of such stories: transcendence breaks, literally as an 'Ammenmärchen', into a world that has no generally accepted theological scheme to accommodate it; the demonic breaks into a world in which thoughts of the devil tempt to laughter as well as atavistic terror.

Mag der ehrliche alte Hafftitz [Lothar tells his fellow-'Serapionsbrüder' at one point] Anlass gehabt haben, jenes seltsame Ereignis, wie der Teufel in Berlin ein bürgerliches Leben geführt, anzumerken, welchen er will, genug, die Sache bleibt für uns rein fantastisch, und selbst das unheimlich Spukhafte, das sonst dem 'furchtbar verneinenden Prinzip der Schöpfung' beiwohnt, kann, durch den komischen Kontrast in dem es erscheint, nur jenes seltsame Gefühl hervorbringen, das, eine eigentümliche Mischung des Grauenhaften und Ironischen, uns auf gar nicht unangenehme Weise spannt.29

Once again the image of the 'uncanny guest' obtrudes itself. Once again something dark breaks into a circle of light—the 'Diesseitigkeit' of Hoffmann's world (attested by the strong realistic elements of his art) is invaded by mysterious and threatening messengers from beyond.

In reading "Der Sandmann" and other, similar, stories one has the impression that the wondrous, the transcendent, the demonic are playing a game of hide-and-seek—or, more accurately, of cat-and-mouse—with the characters; and this game seems to have materially determined the structure of such stories too. Everywhere in "Der Sandmann" we meet on the one hand motifs of dressing up and disguising, of keeping secret and mystifying; and on the other motifs of peeping from a hiding-place, peering out from cupboards and curtains, peering across into strange houses with the aid of telescopes. (This 'Peeping Tom' motif is of course connected with the 'eye' images whose prominence has already been noted). The cat-and-mouse game, however, determines not only what Hoffmann tells but also his manner of telling it. The author retreats behind a fictitious narrator, an imagined friend of Nathanael's engaged in piecing his story together. This narrator, in his turn, sometimes identifies himself with his readers' tastes, sometimes ironically distances himself from them, ascribing Philistine imperceptiveness to his 'dear reader'; sometimes he seeks to draw the reader into his spell by every possible rhetorical device, then again he retreats in a cloud of witticisms à la Jean Paul. The somewhat bizarre construction of the tale—hovering between epistolary and third person narrative, between flashback and straightforward time-sequence interrupted, again and again, by an ironic excursus—this too is part of the pervading cat-and-mouse game. Zigzagging narrative hides an action that is logical and symmetrical: twice Nathanael's life moves from idyll to a crescendo of terror; this is followed, on each occasion, by a fit of swooning or of madness, after which the idyll is reestablished; and only after this false reassurance does fate show its hand completely, bringing death at first to Nathanael's father and then to Nathanael himself.30

The shifts in tone imposed by the 'game' that has just been noticed affect the structure of Hoffmann's sentences, too; paratactic, breathless sentences alternate startlingly with hypotactic, long-winded, encapsulated ones:

Siegmund, so stark er war, vermochte nicht den Rasenden zu bändigen; der schrie mit fürchterlicher Stimme immerfort: 'Holzpüppchen, dreh' dich" und schlug um sich mit geballten Fäusten. Endlich gelang es der vereinten Kraft mehrerer, ihn zu überwältigen, indem sie ihn zu Boden warfen und banden. Seine Worte gingen unter in entsetzlichem tierischen Gebrüll. So in grässlicher Raserei tobend wurde er nach dem Tollhause gebracht.

Ehe ich, günstiger Leser! dir zu erzählen fortfahre, was sich weiter mit dem unglücklichen Nathanael zugetragen, kann ich dir, solltest du einigen Anteil an dem geschickten Mechanikus und AutomatFabrikanten Spalanzani nehmen, versichern, dass er von seinen Wunden völlig geheilt wurde….31

These are Hoffmann's two voices, which stand in the same relationship to one another as the worlds of Clara and Coppelius, or the fantastic and realistic elements of the tale: the voice of the visionary who wants to draw the reader into his spell by fair means or foul, and the voice of the ironic artist who knows how to distance himself from his creation. It is the co-presence in him of visionary and coolly weighing craftsman which makes Hoffmann find such exact expression for the physiology as well as the psychology of fear; makes him experiment so successfully with grotesquely distorted language and gradations of sound; enables him to blend so perfectly exactly observed vignettes of German small-town life with terrifying fantasy. Only occasionally he writes too quickly and takes the easy way out—then he produces passages (like his description of the abortive duel between Nathanael and Lothar) that read like parodies of Spiess, Benedicte Neubert or even Clauren.

For all their occasional lapses of taste, Hoffmann's tales of terror have not lost their fascination for us today. It is not their plot that draws us (for that is often melodramatic) nor is it the characters Hoffmann presents (for these are often either colourless or grotesquely incredible). We read them for the complicated and tortured personality that shows itself behind and within plot and characters, revealing itself in rhetoric of terror, in play of irony, in complex narrative structures. We read them for the strange and haunting visions that are evoked as precisely as the familiar setting into which they break. We read them because they exemplify perfectly what Hoffmann called the 'Serapiontic principle': the ability to mould the materials of the outer world (men, landscapes, events, literary reminiscences) into images for an exactly apprehended inner world. In one sense such visions are private—they are clearly connected with Hoffmann's experiences in the broken home of his youth, his life with the 'Oh-Weh-Onkel', his affairs with Julia Marc and Cora Hatt, and all those sufferings and annoyances which he depicted so faithfully in his books about Kreisler. But they also have representative force: they constitute powerful symbols of the experience of artists in a world of cities, of Germans in the early nineteenth century, of men in a world which they have themselves made but which now confronts them in strange, hostile, terrifying shapes. Sir Walter Scott preferred "Das Majorat" to "Der Sandmann," because the old 'Justitiarius' in the former story corresponded more exactly than any figure in the latter with Sir Walter's image of a German (that 'upright honesty and firm integrity which is to be met with in all classes which come from the ancient Teutonic stock'); and also because the 'Justitiarius' showed himself able 'as well to overcome the malevolent attacks of evil beings from the other world as to stop and control the course of moral evil in that we inhabit'.32 Twentieth-century readers may well feel more sceptical, not only about the innate virtuousness of the 'ancient Teutonic stock', but also about man's ability to control moral and metaphysical evil; they have learnt to see the grotesque and absurd in art as more than just 'feverish dreams of a light-headed patient'; they are able to sense the experienced truth behind Hoffmann's luminous fantasies; they feel a shudder of intimate recognition when they are shown, again and again and in ever new ways, the irruption of an 'uncanny guest' into a homely, familiar and interpreted world.33 Sir Walter Scott, we may feel, asked the right question—but most modern readers will give an answer that differs fundamentally from his.


1. Essays on Chivalry, Romance and the Drama, London n.d. (The Chandos Classics), pp. 467-8.

2. E. T. A. Hoffmanns Sämtliche Werke. Historisch-kritische Ausgabe, ed. C. G. v. Maassen, München und Leipzig 1908–1928, III, 24, 25. This edition is henceforward cited as S.W.

3. S.W., III, 18-19.

4. E. T. A. Hoffmann's Sämtliche Werke, ed. E. Grisebach, Leipzig n.d., VI, 102. This edition is henceforward cited as Grisebach.

5. S.W., III, 3.

6. Quoted in C. E. Passage, Dostoevski the Adapter. A Study of Dostoevski's Use of the Tales of Hoffmann, Chapel Hill, 1954, pp. 191-2.

7. S.W., III, 3.

8. S.W., III, 3-4.

9. S.W., III, 7.

10. S.W., III, 10.

11. S.W., III, 40.

12. S.W., VII, 158.

13. F. W. J. v. Schelling, Sämtliche Werke, Stuttgart and Augsburg 1857, 2. Abt., II, 649.

14. Sigmund Freud, Das Unheimliche. Aufsätze zur Literatur, Frankfurt 1963, p. 75.

15. Ibid., pp. 60-1.

16. S.W., III, 13.

17. Cf. E. F. Hoffmann, 'Zu E. T. A. Hoffmanns 'Sandmann", Monatshefte für deutschen Unterricht, deutsche Sprache und Literatur, Wisconsin, LIV (1962), pp. 244 ff.

18. Grisebach, VI, 28.

19. S.W., III, 14-15.

20. S.W., II, 263.

21. A. Jaffé, Bilder und Symbole aus E. T. A. Hoffmanns Märchen 'Der goldne Topf', in: C. G. Jung, Gestaltungen des Unbewussten, Zürich 1950, pp. 240 ff.

22. An interesting account of the connexion between Jung and the 'natural philosophers' of German Romanticism will be found in K. Ochsner, E. T. A. Hoffmann als Dichter des Unbewussten, Frauenfeld und Leipzig 1936, pp. 133 ff.

23. S.W., III, 20.

24. S.W., III, ix-x.

25. S.W., III, 359.

26. Grisebach, VI, 16.

27. 'Physisch' (in all editions) is probably a misprint for 'psychisch'. cf. Hoffmann's MS version, S.W., III, 363: 'die unheimliche psychische Gewalt'.

28. S.W., III, 15.

29. S.W., VII, 17.

30. Cf. M. Kuttner, Die Gestaltung des Individualitätsproblems bei E. T. A. Hoffmann, Düsseldorf 1936, p. 40.

31. S.W., III, 38.

32. Scott, op. cit., pp. 452, 462.

33. Hoffmann does not dismiss his readers without another glimpse of that world of light which he had opposed, from the beginning, to that of Coppelius. "Der Sandmann" ends with a vision—a dim one, hedged around by suggestions of hear-say and inference—of the kind of idyllic contentment from which Nathanael is excluded but which Peregrinus Tyss is allowed to achieve in the 'Märchen' world of Meister Floh.


SOURCE: Frisch, Shelley L. "Poetics of the Uncanny: E. T. A. Hoffmann's 'Sandman.'" In The Scope of the Fantastic: Theory, Technique, Major Authors, edited by Robert A. Collins and Howard D. Pearce, pp. 49-55. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1985.

In the following essay, Frisch asserts that the reader provides a crucial component in the creation of the uncanny elements in "The Sandman."

The tale's narrators continually force an identification of their narratees with the unnerving events of Nathanael's life, so that the narratees adopt their own anxieties and fear of the uncanny.

Sigmund Freud defined the "uncanny" as "that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar."1 He illustrated this conception of the uncanny by analyzing E. T. A. Hoffmann's "Sandman," which comprises the first of Hoffmann's "Night Pieces," written in 1816.2 Hoffmann's "Sandman" explores the increasingly schizophrenic world of a young man, Nathanael, who cannot shake his obsession with a childhood fairy tale, and who reacts hysterically to a salesman who seems to be the Sandman come to life. Readers share Nathanael's mounting distress and find themselves, like Nathanael, ultimately incapable of distinguishing between the fantasy of fairy tales and the reality stressed by other characters in the story.

The story begins in epistolary format. In a letter from Nathanael to his friend Lothar, Nathanael reflects on his recent encounter with a barometer salesman/optician, whom he identifies with the Sandman. From a flashback we learn that when Nathanael was a boy, his father had associated with a dreadful alchemist named Coppelius, and during the experiments the two conducted together, Nathanael's father died. On the evenings that Coppelius came to visit, Nathanael was always sent to bed early, with the warning that the Sandman was coming. Upon questioning his nurse Nathanael discovered that the Sandman plucks out the eyes of children who do not obey their parents' orders to go to bed; he then transports the eyes to the "half-moon" to feed his children. Curious to see the dreaded Sandman for himself, Nathanael hides in the closet of his father's study one night and is discovered by Coppelius, who attempts to harm the boy: but Nathanael is saved by the intervention of his father.

We then return to the present and to Nathanael's encounter with an Italian optician named Giuseppe Coppola, who exclaims in faulty German that he has eyes to sell. Nathanael draws back in terror, both at the similarity of the optician's name to the alchemist Coppelius's and to the mention of eyes as the product for sale. Memories of the Sandman come flooding back, and Nathanael reels in panic until he realizes that Coppola is selling spectacles and telescopes, not eyes. Still, he is struck by these uncanny similarities and remains haunted by the possibility of their identity.

Nathanael buys a telescope from Coppola and with its aid discovers a neighbor of whom he was hitherto unaware, a beautiful but strangely immobile woman named Olimpia. He pursues her, only to discover that she is an automaton, whose eyes have been implanted in her by Coppola. At this discovery Nathanael goes mad and falls into a long illness, during which he produces eerie, fantastic poetry. Upon recovering he returns to the "rational" world of his correspondent Lothar and his girlfriend Klara, who, he now believes, are right in dismissing the extraordinary events he has experienced. Nathanael is disappointed that they reject his poetic ventures but agrees that they are irrational. Finally, though, he spies Coppola/Coppelius once again, through his telescope, and jumps to his death from a tower.

This short summary provides the essentials of the material from which Freud drew in his essay to explain how events become uncanny. Freud noted that Nathanael's fear of losing his eyes represents a castration complex, akin to Oedipus' self-blinding when he discovers that he has killed his father and slept with his mother. Nathanael may harbor a secret wish to kill his father, Freud explained, and finds his wish fulfilled in the figure of the Sandman/Coppelius, the instrument of his father's death. Because he then wishes to repress that fulfilled wish, Nathanael buries the memory of the Sandman. When he encounters the optician Coppola and notices in him two uncanny resemblances (similarity of name and business of selling "eyes"), Nathanael succumbs to a temporary madness. The "un-" prefix of uncanny, Freud explained, denotes a confrontation with that which is familiar but until that moment success-fully repressed. Repeated encounters with Coppola/Coppelius, in which the motif of eyes continues to play an important role, reinforce the feeling of the uncanny, in which repetition constitutes an important factor.

Freud isolated the Sandman as the focal point of interest in the story, thereby countering the view of other critics who attributed the presence of the uncanny to the mechanical doll Olimpia. Freud considered it irrelevant to debate the humanity of Olimpia, because establishing whether she is in fact living or a mere automaton does not address the effect of the uncanny on Nathanael. It is through his perceptions of the uncanny, maintained Freud, that we can best understand the meaning of the story. Freud concentrated in part on the biographical background of E. T. A. Hoffmann himself, whose father abandoned the family when Hoffmann was young, and on Freud's own case studies; both of these factors are said to bear out the verisimilitude of Nathanael's experiences.

Freud's dissection of Nathanael's psychoses illuminates the character of Nathanael and the relationship of Hoffmann to his main character. Freud followed Nathanael's increasing madness with a shrewd explication of how Nathanael's feelings of the uncanny escalate. He accurately noted the central role of the Sandman and the subsidiary role of Olimpia in unleashing long-repressed anxieties, which may be connected to an ambivalent feeling of Nathanael (and perhaps of Hoffmann) toward an inattentive father. Most important, Freud stressed that the uncanny involves something long familiar and yet unfamiliar, which by its reappearance at unexpected moments disconcerts an unwary victim.

Overall, however, Freud's interpretation of "The Sandman" fails as a literary interpretation of the fantastic. Freud admitted that the uncanny in literature differs from the uncanny in life; yet he treated the confusion of Nathanael, in which fantasy and reality intermingle, more as a case study of schizophrenia than as a work of literature. Freud even underscored the psychological "truth" of Nathanael's visions by describing similar personality disorders among his own patients. Freud once remarked to a friend that he was not fond of reading and commented: "I invented psychoanalysis because it had no literature."3 He viewed the story through the perspective of the protagonist's neuroses and constantly judged its truth value. Freud thereby committed the error that Jonathan Culler called "premature foreclosure—the unseemly rush from word to world."4

It is within the German Romantic circle itself that we discover a more pertinent analysis of the literary creation of the uncanny. Ludwig Tieck's "Shakespeares Behandlung des Wunderbaren" of 1796 lays a theoretical foundation for the manner in which the illusion of the supernatural is created in the comedies and tragedies of Shakespeare.5 Tieck's discussion of comedies treats the Wunderbare ("marvelous") in much the same manner as Tzvetan Todorov's recent Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre: the supernatural events described provoke no definitive reaction of anxiety in either the characters or in the implicit reader.6 According to Tieck the supernatural world is moved so close to the reader (or viewer) that it becomes accepted as part of the fictional premise.7 His examination of tragedies demonstrates how fear and anxiety can be induced in the reading or viewing audience by the use of particular fictional techniques.

The characteristics of the tragedies that compel the viewer both to accept and to be repelled by the supernatural are three, according to Tieck. First, the world of the supernatural is presented as distant and incomprehensible and is always subordinated to the "real" world; consequently, the passions and events concerning the major characters attract the attention of the viewer and are of more interest than the ghosts themselves. Thus we yearn to understand Hamlet's dilemma but care little for his father's apparition. Second, the supernatural must be prepared in some way. If the appearance of Hamlet's father's ghost were to open the play, Tieck explained, we would not have developed a necessary fear of him; instead, we would simply accept the ghost as part of the fictional frame work. We must be convinced that it is both possible and frightening for him to appear, so as to share the characters' dismay when we must formally face him. Therefore, Hamlet opens not with the ghost himself but with the frightened sentries who ponder his reality. Third, a natural explanation of the supernatural increases our intellectual uncertainty and thus augments our suspense. In the case of Hamlet we can attribute his vision of the ghost in part to Hamlet's proclivity to melancholy and superstition.

All three of these characteristics accurately describe the evocation of the supernatural in Hoffmann's "Sandman." First, the "real" character Nathanael commands our attention far more than the Sandman Coppelius or the automaton Olimpia. The fantastic characters remain abstractions for us, but Nathanael's raptures and fears seem close and comprehensible. Second, the Sandman does not appear in the story until the reader has heard of the evil he can perpetrate and how great Nathanael's fear of him is, and so we are prepared to experience with the sympathetic character Nathanael the uncanny similarity he draws to the optician Coppola who sells "eyes." Finally, although we identify with Nathanael we have just enough reason to doubt the reliability of his perceptions that we cannot shake a nagging doubt about the actuality of the Sandman throughout much of the story.

Recent "reader-response" criticism has called for a renewed interest in this type of poetics. Like Tieck reader-response critics examine the means by which readers' reactions are encoded into texts. However, their analyses go further than those of Tieck by showing that the reader is addressed directly and indirectly within the text. Walker Gibson spoke of the "mock reader" in texts, Stanley Fish of the "informed reader," Gerald Prince of the "narratee," Walter J. Ong of the "fictionalized audience," Wolfgang Iser of the "implied reader," and Christine Brooke-Rose of the "encoded reader."8 None of these "readers" is identical to the "real" reader who peruses a book in his living room. These narratees (to use Prince's apt term) are the fictional counterparts of "narrators": they exist within the fictional framework itself. Although the critical literature on Hoffmann has nowhere recognized the role that the narratee plays in his works, I will demonstrate that this role is crucial in creating the uncanny effects of "The Sandman."9

The story opens with a letter from Nathanael to his friend Lothar, which he begins by exclaiming: "You certainly must be disturbed" (Hoffmann, "The Sandman," p. 93). The exclamation sets the narrative tone for the tale as a whole. Second-person narration, addressed to a sympathetic narratee, appears not only in the introductory letters but in the subsequent interpretation of them by an additional narrator whose reliability is even more questionable than Nathanael's. The second narratee is told by this narrator that he has experienced similar encounters with the fantastic: "Have you, gentle reader, ever experienced anything that possessed your heart, your thoughts, and your senses to the exclusion of all else? Everything seethed and roiled within you; heated blood surged through your veins and inflamed your cheeks. Your gaze was peculiar, as if seeking forms in empty space invisible to other eyes, and speech dissolved into gloomy sighs" (p. 104). We, the "real" readers, are thus allied with the anxieties of Nathanael, with an equally nervous narrator who continually apologizes to us for needing to set down Nathanael's experiences in a story, and with two narratees in whom Nathanael and the narrator explicitly attempt to instill feelings of the uncanny. Our uncomfortable intimacy with all of these figures forces us to confront the fantastic along with them and heightens our personal horror of each appearance of the dreaded Sandman.

The narrator overtly states his intention to make his narratee, whom he calls the "gentle reader" and the "sympathetic reader," receptive to the supernatural occurrences of the story (pp. 104-5): "my dear reader, it was essential at the beginning to dispose you favorably towards the fantastic—which is no mean matter" (p. 105). He expresses the hope that his narratee will picture the characters as vividly as if he had seen them with his own eyes. Nathanael pleads for understanding and acceptance of the supernatural from his narratee Lothar.

The "real" reader is left with the question of whether he ought to accept the role assigned to both of these narratees and thereby declare its events uncanny. Christine Brooke-Rose's article "The Readerhood of Man" suggests that a text with an apparent overencoding of the reader gives rise to the truly ambiguous text:

The clearest type is the truly ambiguous text…. [It] seems to overdetermine one code, usually the hermeneutic, and even to overencode the reader, but in fact the overdetermination consists of repetitions and variations that give us little or no further information. The overdetermination functions, paradoxically, as underdetermination.10

Hoffmann's "Sandman" provides us with two narratees after whom we may model our own interpretation of events. The "real" reader thus becomes an overencoded reader, who is told repeatedly that he ought to accept the uncanny. That this text remains nonetheless fundamentally underdetermined is attested to in the ample critical literature on "The Sandman," which debates and redebates the question of the relative reliability of the narratees and the story's other characters.

In the end the "real" reader must dismiss as inconsequential any attempt to distinguish between "actual" supernatural events and "mere" products of Nathanael's and the narrator's imaginations. The production of uncanny effects in literary texts rests precisely on the intellectual uncertainty built into the text. Freud's study of the uncanny concentrates on removing stories from the literary sphere and ascertaining their degree of psychological truth. Tieck directed his attention to the manner in which responses to the supernatural events are incorporated structurally into a text and thereby addressed the specifically literary conventions that separate fact from fiction. In applying reader-response critical theory to Hoffmann's "Sandman," I hope to have demonstrated that the tale's narrators continually force an identification of their narratees with the unnerving events of Nathanael's life, so that the narratees adopt their own anxieties and fear of the uncanny. Remarks addressed in the second person to these narratees necessarily draw in the "real" reader as well. We become the "gentle" and "sympathetic" reader about whom the narrator exclaims: "Everything seethed and roiled within you" (Hoffmann, "The Sandman," p. 104).


1. Sigmund Freud, "The Uncanny," in The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. and ed. James Strachey et al. (London: The Hogarth Press, 1955), 17: 220.

2. E. T. A. Hoffmann, "The Sandman," in Tales of E. T. A. Hoffmann, trans. and ed. Leonard J. Kent and Elizabeth C. Knight (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1969), 93-125. Further references appear in parentheses in the text.

3. Quoted in Neil Hertz, "Freud and the Sandman," in Textual Strategies: Perspectives in Post-Structuralist Criticism, ed. Josue Harari (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1979), 318.

4. Jonathan Culler, Structuralist Poetics (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1975), 130.

5. Ludwig Tieck, "Shakespeares Behandlung des Wunderbaren," in German Essays, ed. Max Dufner and Valentine C. Hubbs (New York: Macmillan, 1964), 4: 61-101.

6. Tzvetan Todorov, The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre (Cleveland: Case Western Reserve Press, 1973), 53-57.

7. Tieck, "Shakespeares Behandlung des Wunderbaren," 65. Recent research on the fairy tale has led to similar conclusions about the presentation and reception of the supernatural in that genre. See especially Max Luthi, Es War einmal, 4th ed. (Gottingen and Zurich: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1973).

8. Walker Gibson, "Authors, Speakers, Readers, and Mock Readers," College English 11 (1950): 265-69; Stanley Fish, "Literature in the Reader: Affective Stylistics," New Literary History 2 (1970): 123-62; Gerald Prince, "Introduction to the Study of the Narratee," in Reader-Response Criticism, ed. Jane P. Tompkins (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), 7-25; Walter J. Ong, "The Writer's Audience Is Always a Fiction," PMLA 90 (1975): 9-21; Wolfgang Iser, The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974); idem, The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978); Christine Brooke-Rose, "The Readerhood of Man," in The Reader in the Text, ed. Susan R. Suleiman and Inge Crosman (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980), 120-48.

9. Most of the recent literature on the "Sandman" can be grouped according to the following six goals. 1. Analyzing the psyche of the main character Nathanael, generally with reference to Freud's "Uncanny" essay: Ilse Aichinger, "E. T. A. Hoffmann's Novelle 'Der Sandmann' und die Interpretation Sigmund Freuds," Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie 95 (1976): 113-32; Hélène Cixous, "Fiction and Its Phantoms: A Reading of Freud's Das Unheimliche," New Literary History 7 (1976): 525-48; and Hertz, "Freud and the Sandman." 2. Describing the roles of peripheral characters in evoking the suspense of the tale: S. S. Prawer, "Hoffmann's Uncanny Guest: A Reading of Der Sandmann," German Life and Letters 18 (1965): 297-308; Allan J. McIntyre, "Romantic Transcendence and the Robot in Heinrich von Kleist and E. T. A. Hoffmann," German Review 54 (1979): 29-34. 3. Uncovering implicit and explicit social criticism: Lienhard Wawrzyn, Der Automaten-Mensch: E. T. A. Hoffmanns Erzahlung von Sandmann (Berlin: Klaus Wagenback, 1977); Herbert Kraft, "E. T. A. Hoffmann: Geschichtlichkeit und Illusion," Romantik: Ein literaturwissenschaftliches Studienbuch, ed. Ernst Ribbat (Konigstein: Athenaum, 1979), 138-62. 4. Fixing the role of the narrator: Maria Tatar, "E. T. A. Hoffmann's 'Der Sandmann': Reflection and Romantic Irony," MLN 95 (1980): 585-608. 5. Ascertaining Hoffmann's attitudes toward the writing process as reenacted by the story's characters: Raimund Belgardt, "Der Kunstler und die Puppe: Zur Interpretation von Hoffmanns Der Sandmann," German Quarterly 42 (1969): 686-700; Ursula Mahlendorf, "E. T. A. Hoffmann's The Sandman: The Fictional Psycho-Biography of a Romantic Poet," American Imago 32 (1975): 217-39; Jean Delabroy, "L'Ombre de la theorie (A propos de L'Homme au sable de Hoffmann)," Romantisme 24 (1979): 29-41. 6. Exploring the natural or supernatural basis of the events related: Ernst Fedor Hoffmann, "Zu E. T. A. Hoffmanns 'Sandmann,'" Monatshefte 54 (1962): 244-52.

10. Brooke-Rose, "Readerhood of Man," 135.


SOURCE: Andriano, Joseph. "'Uncanny Drives': The Depth Psychology of E. T. A. Hoffmann." In Our Ladies of Darkness: Feminine Daemonology in Male Gothic Fiction, pp. 47-67. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993.

In the following excerpt, Andriano views "The Sandman" as an example of "The Ambiguous Gothic" tradition, and illustrates how Hoffmann treats issues of identity crisis in the story.

The first glimmerings of a sophisticated "literary psychology" in the Gothic were in The Monk, for Lewis seemed intuitively aware of mental entities to which Freud and Jung would later give a habitation and a name. But it was, appropriately, the German Romantics who first fully realized the psychological implications of the supernatural, not only in the fairy tale, which they raised to high art (Kunstmärchen), but also in the lowly genre of the Schauerroman. The masters of psycho-logical horror in Germany were Schiller, Tieck, and especially E. T. A. Hoffmann.1

Hoffmann was profoundly interested in the philosophers who were forebears of Jungian thought—Kant, Schelling, and G. H. von Schubert, to name the most important.2 He was, for example, intrigued by Schelling's conception of the world soul (Weltseele), and Schubert's idea that the Unconscious provided a bridge between the world soul and the individual (Taylor, 78; Ellenberger, 729). Like Schelling and Schubert, Hoffmann believed that the unconscious was a person's link to cosmic forces, if only he or she could understand its language.3

Unlike Cazotte and Lewis, who had much less control over their material, Hoffmann deliberately makes his supernatural beings into numinous symbols of the Weltseele or the Geisterreich. The green snake Serpentina in "The Golden Pot," for example, is clearly both a Nature figure and an image of feminine forces within Anselmus.4 AJungian reading of Hoffmann, then, should reveal how thoroughly and how profoundly this "literary psychologist" anticipated Jungian ideas about the archetypal feminine and its relation to men.5 A post-Jungian reading should avoid the Platonism of Geisterreich and Weltseele as forerunners of the Collective Unconscious. Instead, I will examine specific texts for signs of archetypes.

Whether Hoffmann was psychoanalyzing himself in these works I will not conjecture;6 my focus remains on the universal, on what the texts reveal—albeit parabolically—about the problems of growing up a male human being. The Ambiguous Gothic, which Hoffmann learned from Cazotte, Tieck, and Schiller,7 is an excellent vehicle for psychological parables, especially fables of identity crisis, since (as has been seen) the genre tends to break down boundaries between self and other, male and female.8

Hoffmann's two stories "The Sandman" (1815) and "The Mines of Falun" (1818) are perfect examples of this Ambiguous Gothic. They mingle the moral with the macabre, the humorous with the grotesque, the horrific with the absurd. Both may be read as cautionary stories of sensitive young men who go mad. Though merely absurd and anomalous to some early critics,9 these tales have more recently found readers and rereaders (e.g., Hertz and Fass) who have created brilliantly coherent texts out of Hoffmann's ambiguities. Below are two post-Jungian attempts to create coherence out of the seemingly anomalous numinous figures haunting Hoffmann's protagonists.

"The Sandman": The Failure of Vision

Dramatized in Offenbach's opera Tales of Hoffmann and analyzed by Freud in his famous essay "The Uncanny," the much anthologized "Der Sandmann" is perhaps the most familiar of Hoffmann's tales. The close reading offered below, to some extent an elaboration on Freud's, involves a study of the language of archetypes; that is, how they attempt to communicate to the protagonist, who misinterprets their message.

The tale opens with a letter from the student protagonist, Nathanael, to his friend Lothar, the brother of his fiancée, Klara. Worried that his friend, fiancée, and mother are disturbed and angry with him, Nathanael is writing to convince them that he is not "a crazy visionary" ("einen aberwitzigen Geisterseher") (K, 137; W, 7).10 As the story will ironically reveal, however, Nathanael's problem is that he is not a visionary and that he is a ghost-seer.

Archetypal implications begin with Nathanael's description of Klara, his "pretty angel-image, so deeply imprinted in heart and mind" ("holdes Engelsbild, so tief mir in Herz und Sinn eingeprägt") (K, 137; W, 7). Immediately, Hoffmann reveals that the young man perceives the beloved as a divine figure within him. She seems his guardian angel. She even accepts the role (K, 146), but for her it is only a figure of speech, while for Nathanael it is a literal reality. Unfortunately for him, however, she cannot live up to the role he has projected onto her from his own Idea of Woman. Klara is a fairly complex character in her own right, refusing to be inflated to the archetypal or reduced to the stereotypical angel.

In his letter to Lothar, Nathanael attempts to explain his apparent paranoia by going back to his early childhood, when he formed an obsession with that goblin of the nursery, the Sandman, whom he identifies with a friend of his father, Coppelius. Freud has shown that Coppelius is really the boy's image of his father (Vater Imago), who seems to have made a diabolic alliance with this ominous figure of horror.11 But why does Nathanael come to view his father as the ally of the evil one? At first, before he knows about Coppelius, Nathanael describes the father in nostalgic terms. When he was little (he writes to Lothar) he enjoyed the "marvelous stories" his father told the children while he smoked his pipe, which Nathanael loved to light for him (K, 138; W, 8). But "mother was very sad on such evenings, and hardly had the clock struck nine when she would say: 'Now children, off to bed with you! The Sandman is coming, I can already hear him'" (K, 138; emphasis added). And Nathanael would hear someone clumping up the stairs. The child perceives a conflict here between the parents. His mother does not seem to share his enthusiasm for the father's marvelous tales. She is sad and nervous. At such a young age (he is still in the nursery), he remains very attached to his mother (K, 142), whom he perceives as angelic. Unconsciously, then, the father's smoke is seen as issuing not from a genial pipe but from hellfire.

Nathanael does not yet realize the reason for his mother's sadness: the lawyer Coppelius is coming over to continue on some mysterious alchemical work with Nathanael's father. She tells her son that in fact there is no Sandman—"it only means that you are sleepy, that your eyes feel as though someone had sprinkled sand in them" (K, 139; emphasis added). But he does not believe her; he is already frightened, traumatized by the first rift he has ever seen between his parents. He knows that it has something to do with the Sandman. Asking the nurse, he discovers that the Sandman is "a wicked man who comes to children when they refuse to go to bed and throws handfuls of sand in their eyes till they bleed and pop out of their heads." (K, 139; emphasis added).

Here the possibility arises that Nathanael is an unreliable narrator—anticipating Poe's insane narrators. There may actually be no nurse; she could be a hag projection of the mother—an image of Nathanael's interpretation of his mother's words, which were supposed to comfort him. A figure of speech, a simile, becomes a literal horror, magnified in the lens of the child's soul, which is troubled by a disharmony between his parents. The simile "feeling as though" sand is in the eyes transforms into literal sand thrown in the eyes by an ogre, who is really a father: "Then he throws the eyes into a sack and takes them to the halfmoon as food for his children" (K, 139). The halfmoon ("Halbmond"—W, 9) could also be a sign of partition, the splitting of the parental image. The boy's fantasy, in any case, attempts to assert that the father is an Other father, one who may steal his eyes. Freud considered this anxiety to be that of castration, an idea that remains controversial among critics.12 Eyes are complex symbols; as "windows of the soul," they are more than mere sexual symbols. They are metonymies for vision. "The Sandman" is about the failure of vision, what Hoffmann calls "faulty vision" (K, 142; "Augen Blödigkeit"—W, 13). Nathanael fails to see the real Coppelius, who is indeed a wicked man, but a man only. The youth has magnified the lack of harmony between his parents into an arche-typal conflict between the maternal feminine—which he knows to be angelic—and the paternal masculine, which must therefore be diabolic. When Nathanael realizes that the clumping footfalls belong to Coppelius, and that Coppelius is the source of the parental rift, he jumps to the only conclusion that makes sense—Coppelius, not father, is the diabolical sandman.

But "his intimacy with my father occupied my imagination more and more" (K, 139). Try as he might, he cannot separate the father from the Sandman. The boy consciously likes his father, however. The tales he tells stimulate Nathanael's imagination and probably help develop his later aspiration to be a writer. But the conflicts struggling just below consciousness create ambivalence; "I liked nothing better than to hear or read horrible tales about goblins, witches, dwarfs [Kobolten, Hexen, Daumlingen] and such; but at the head of them all was the Sandman, of whom I was always drawing hideous pictures" (K, 141-42; W, 9). He likes what he fears; he is compelled to draw pictures of his nightmare, and the pictures give him pleasure. When he concludes, however, that the Sandman is not just a "hobgoblin of the nurse's tale," but is actually a creature of flesh and blood named Coppelius, fear dominates, and all of the lawyer's grotesque features are magnified (K, 140-41). In his presence, the father magically changes—all of his good qualities vanish: "As my old father now bent over the fire, he looked completely different. His mild and honest features seemed to have been distorted into a repulsive and diabolical mask…. He looked like Coppelius" (K, 141-42).

As the boy observes the diabolic alliance between his father and Coppelius, he begins hallucinating. His father is some sort of demon now, servant to the satanic Sandman. This delusion precipitates a nightmare in which Coppelius treats Nathanael like a doll, twisting his hands and feet, saying, "There's something wrong here! It's better the way they were. The Old Man knew his business" (K, 142). The Old Man, the reader does not realize until later, is the scientist Spalanzani. The nightmare has revealed, before Nathanael has even met the scientist, that he too is a father image; but why Nathanael sees himself in the dream as the mechanical creation of the old man is not yet clear. The nightmare ends when "a gentle warm breath passed across my face" (K, 142) and his nurturing mother revivifies him, kisses and cuddles her reclaimed darling. In a revealing synecdoche, the mother is represented by her breath—as the child's inspiring soul image, she is his first incarnation of anima.

So far the tale has been narrated by Nathanael, and there is no way of telling which events are objectively true and which are psychic realities. The conflict between the parents has something to do with the mysterious experiments Coppelius and the father are conducting. When they result in an explosion that kills the father, Nathanael blames Coppelius, the "vile Satan" (K, 143). But if this is a tale told by a madman, the father may not literally be dead. In a story in which figures of speech become uncannily literal, it is also possible that apparently literal events are really figurative. The father does not die; only the good in him does. He leaves, and in so doing undergoes another transformation—into Spalanzani. When Nathanael swears to avenge his father's death, he may really be saying that he will get revenge on his father's real or imagined desertion of his mother. The original father/mother unity is completely severed now.

The second part of the story is a letter from Klara to Nathanael, who in his distraction has accidentally addressed the letter meant for Lothar to Klara. This young woman, somewhat reminiscent of Lewis's Agnes, is a bright levelheaded girl whom Hoffmann presents as a kind of Enlightenment heroine, toward whom he is therefore somewhat ambivalent.13 She is perceptive enough to realize that "all the fears and terrors of which you speak took place only in your mind," and that "dark powers within" Nathanael seem "bent upon his destruction" (K, 145-46). She goes on to give a psychological analysis of doppelgängers:

If there is a dark power … it must form inside us, from part of us, must be identical with ourselves; only in this way can we believe in it and give it the opportunity it needs if it is to accomplish its secret work. If our mind is firm enough and adequately fortified by the joys of life to be able to recognize alien and hostile influences as such … then this mysterious power will perish in its futile attempt to assume a shape that is supposed to be a reflection of ourselves.

                                        (K, 146)

She goes on to reveal that she and Lothar have come to grasp the mechanism of what psychoanalysts would later call projection; the "dark power" within frequently introduces in us "the strange shapes the external world throws in our way, so that we ourselves engender the spirit which in our strange delusion we believe speaks to us from that shape" (K, 146). But Klara's sanity goes too far in the other direction; this Enlightenment heroine dismisses Nathanael's Sandman as a "phantom of the ego"—mere figment of an imagination over-powered by uncanny drives ("unheimliche Treiben"—W, 16). Hoffmann's tale reveals, on the contrary, that the phantoms have their own psychic reality, even if it is not an external reality.

Nathanael, however, sees them as literal monsters. He has been unable to outgrow his childish fears because he still takes them literally, in a failure of vision that originates in a misconstruction of his parents as diametrically opposed entities (mother/angel/moonlight; father/devil/hellfire). Another important—and related—split in the story is the dissociation of sensibility that also originates in Nathanael's bifurcation of the parental image: feminine/heart versus masculine/head. He is therefore, in his next letter to Lothar, outraged by Klara's letter, which he finds too "logical" and "analytical" for a girl. He can only believe that Lothar has poisoned her feminine sensibility with lessons in masculine Logos (K, 147). And no sooner is his disenchantment with Klara spoken than he sees (through peeking, as usual) the "divinely beautiful face" of Olimpia, Spalanzani's supposed daughter (actually a mechanical doll). He does not realize that what he sees in her is a reflection of himself: "Her eyes seemed fixed, I might almost say without vision. It seemed as if she were sleeping with her eyes open" (K, 148—emphasis added; cf. Freud, 385 n. 1). But it is Nathanael (whose eyes have been "stolen" by the Sandman) who has no vision, who is the automaton. He has automatically withdrawn anima (Engelsbild) from Klara, no longer worthy of it, and projected it into Olimpia, his feminine ideal.

Hoffmann then switches to an omniscient narrative (K, 148),14 prefacing it with a reminder that Nathanael's case is not an anomaly: he should be recognizable to the reader, "and you may feel as if you had seen him with your own eyes on very many occasions. Possibly also, you will come to believe that real life is more singular and more fantastic than anything else and that all a writer can do is present it as 'in a glass darkly'" (K, 149). Nor is Nathanael's anima projection of Klara unusual (though his withdrawal of it certainly is). The authorial narrator himself has a tendency, he admits, to apotheosize Klara, likening himself to poets and musicians who cannot "look at the girl without sensing heavenly music which flows into us from her glance and penetrates to the very soul until everything within us stirs awake and pulsates with emotion" (K, 150). But in reality, Klara is not a muse. "Dreamers and visionaries" have bad luck with her because she is practical; her "clear glance and rare ironical smile" seem to dissipate their "shadowy images." Yet she is tenderhearted and intelligent (K, 151); in short, she is not a mere reflection ("'That is nonsense about a lake and a mirror!'"), magnified in the convex lens of the dreamer. She has her own substance. But Nathanael can only see the reflection of his own projected image—the guardian angel inherited from his sense of the Feminine, formed from his perception of his mother. Unable to "dissolve the projection" (Jung, CW 9.1: 84) and recognize Klara as a woman rather than an Englesbild, he simply withdraws it and reprojects it onto Olimpia, who fits the mold.

Much has been made by critics of Nathanael's aspirations as a poet.15 A common misreading of the tale, in my opinion, is to see Klara as a domestic philistine and Olimpia as the Romantic artist's true muse (cf. Veronika vs. Serpentina in "The Golden Pot"). But Nathanael is not a poet; he is at best a poetaster. Rather than a visionary, he is a literalist. Believing in the objective, external reality of those "dark powers" Klara wrote to him about (K, 151), he imagines himself their "plaything." He also believes that poetic inspiration comes from external powers, rather than from an inner light. Consequently, his tales and poems are "really very boring" (K, 152), for he has reified the archetypes, mistaken them for external beings, for Others.

He writes a poem about his presentiment that Coppelius will destroy him:

He portrayed himself and Klara as united in true love but plagued by some dark hand which occasionally intruded into their lives…. Finally, as they stood at the altar, the sinister Coppelius appeared and touched Klara's lovely eyes, which sprang onto Nathanael's breast, burning and scorching like bleeding sparks. Then Coppelius grabbed him and flung him into a blazing circle of fire.

                                      (K, 152)

The poem turns out to be prophetic, but not in a visionary sense; it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nathanael refuses to see that he himself is the impediment to their marriage, not only because of sexual cowardice, as McGlathery points out, but because of a fragmentation of his personality.16 Klara implores him to realize that what burned into his breast were not her eyes but the drops of his own heart's blood—a heart torn apart by the hands of his own inner daemon, an animus run amok, dissociated from anima.17 The two must be in harmony for a man truly to love a woman. But all Nathanael can see in Klara's eyes now is death, which "looked upon him kindly" (K, 153). And as he gets more enrapt in his poem, more self-possessed, she cries out for him to throw the "mad, stupid tale into the fire." This is not philistinism; she knows rather that his poem is mentally dangerous, a blind rehearsing of his inner turmoil in occultist terms. But Nathanael is indignant: He "thrust Klara away, and cried, 'You damned lifeless automaton!'" (K, 154).

He is the automaton, of course, and though there are a few remissions from his mental disease when he manages momentarily to restore "Klara in his heart" (K, 153-55, 166), he keeps relapsing into a more and more psychotic paranoia. As long as he refuses to accept the "dark powers" as his own, he is doomed. During one of his remissions, he recognizes that he has been the victim of a "gruesome illusion … the product of his own mind," and that the optician Coppola cannot possibly be "the ghostly double [verfluchter Doppeltgänger] and revenant of the accursed Coppelius" (K, 156; W, 28). But then, picking up one of Coppola's spyglasses, he "involuntarily" peeps at Olimpia. At first she looks lifeless and rigid (for he has momentarily withdrawn anima from the doll and reinvested Klara with it), but as he peeps she is transformed; "moist moonbeams were beginning to shine in Olimpia's eyes." Hoffmann again uses anima signs—water and the moon.18 But what is more remarkable in this passage is his insight into the unconscious process of projection. Nathanael animates Olimpia with "everincreasing life," imposing on her his feminine ideal. Thus she becomes an angel that "hovered before him in the air," glowing with "divine beauty" (K, 156-57).

When Hoffmann has Nathanael acquire a new set of eyes, the author creates a symbol of what Nathanael has been doing all along—magnifying. Through apotheosis he turns people into archetypes, and through reification he turns archetypes into people. Olimpia, through projection, becomes a real girl, in character the opposite of Klara. Nathanael is the only man at her concert and coming-out party who does not see that she is dull, empty-headed, and inarticulate—a mere machine. When he dances with her, he animates her further, as his "warm life-blood surges through her veins" (K, 159). She merely takes life from him; she has none of her own. She cannot say anything intelligent, and yet he considers her a "magnificent and heavenly woman! You ray shining from the promised land of love! You deep soul, in which my whole being is reflected" ("du tiefes Gemut, in dem sich mein ganzes Sein spiegelt") (K, 159; W, 31).

Although Olimpia reminds him of "the legend of the dead bride" (K, 160), he continues to give life to her.19 She is the ultimate in feminine passivity and receptivity, infinitely preferable to the more masculine Klara:

Never before had he had such a splendid listener…. She sat for hours on end without moving, staring directly into his eyes, and her gaze grew ever more ardent and animated…. It seemed to him as if she expressed thoughts about his work and about all of his poetic gifts from the very depths of his own soul, as though she spoke from within him.

                                        (K, 162)

Perceiving her "utter passivity" as a fascination for him and his poetic genius, Nathanael is unable to see the significance of her identity as the "daughter" of the diabolical Spalanzani, even after he sees Spalanzani and Coppola/Coppelius fighting over her. They twist and tug her "this way and that, contending furiously for possession of her" (K, 163). For the first time, Nathanael sees that she is a lifeless doll; and worse, her eyes are missing. What he fails to see is the similarity between this scene and the dream that he had (K, 142) in which it was his hands and feet that were being twisted. Spalanzani now tells him that the eyes used in the doll had been stolen from Nathanael, at whom he now hurls the bloody things, which hit his breast. The poem comes true; Spalanzani is revealed as yet another doppelgänger of Coppelius, and Nathanael's mind, overwhelmed by this appearance of yet another goblin, is completely shattered by madness.

The dream, the poem, and now this hallucination are all messages from his unconscious that he is unable to decipher, because he takes the symbols literally. Convinced that the male phantoms are gone, he once again "recovers" by reprojecting anima onto Klara: "An angel guided me to the path of light" (K, 166). They prepare to marry, but one day after they have climbed a tower to look at the mountains, Nathanael "automatically" takes Coppola's spyglasses out of his pocket, and looks at Klara through them. Babbling incoherently about a whirling wooden doll and a circle of fire, he tries to hurl Klara from the tower. Lothar saves her, but Nathanael, seeing "the gigantic figure of the lawyer Coppelius" (K, 167) in the crowd below, throws himself to his death. The narrative ends with the assurance that Klara found a husband many years later, along with the "quiet domestic happiness" that "Nathanael, with his lacerated soul [Innern zerrissene], could never have provided her" (K, 167; W, 40). Klara here seems like Veronika in "The Golden Pot"—symbol of domesticity, inappropriate mate for an artist, who must be married to his muse. But since no woman can be a muse except in the imagination of the artist, he is better off not imposing upon mortal woman the awesome responsibility of "inspiratrice." At least, he should recognize, as Nathanael never does, that inspiration ultimately comes from within.

Nathanael is but the travesty of an artist. Instead of creating powerful poetic symbols out of the "dark powers" of his mind (as Hoffmann himself is able to do), he creates reifications, pathetic fallacies that take figures too literally—that make out of the archetypes of the soul mere bogeymen and dolls.

Hoffmann shows us that we all have our inner phantoms. We must recognize them as such without merely dismissing them (like Klara) as unreal figments. Nathanael never realizes that Coppelius, Coppola, Spalanzani, and the Sandman are all identical—all go back to his father imago, the child's unconscious image of the father. He is perceived as sinister only after the child notices a conflict with the mother. This split causes a dissociation of sensibility that makes it impossible for him to love Klara as a woman. He can only perceive her in the holy light of the angelic feminine, utterly dissociated from the analytical, scientific, logical masculine. When she fails to live up to this ideal, he withdraws the anima projection and apparently reprojects it onto a more feminine girl. But Olimpia is nothing more than a vacuous and passive receptacle for Nathanael's projections, a symbol of his own femininity. She is an Echo to his Narcissus.20

What dooms Nathanael, then, is his unconscious fission of the androgynous archetype—what Jung called "the divine syzygy"21—which is split when the child perceives an unresolvable conflict between his parents. Masculine and feminine become polar opposites; then each gets magnified as Nathanael is unable to outgrow his childish deification of the parents.22 This polarization in turn causes him to reify the dark powers, mistaking inner daemons for external occult influences.23 He is trapped in a vicious circle of deification and reification—the "circle of fire" through which he finally throws himself.


1. Schiller's "Der Geisterscher" (1789) was especially influential on later, more psychological horror (Frank, 145-46). Ludwig Tieck was the more innovative, blending Gothic and märchen elements in "Der Blonde Eckbert" (1797) and "Der Runenberg" (1812).

2. Hewett-Thayer (113-21) provides a concise summary of Hoffmann's reading of these and other philosophers. See also McGlathery's exhaustive source study Mysticism and Sexuality: E. T. A. Hoffman. Part One: Hoffmann and His Sources, 136-50.

3. Cf. Tymms, 60: "To Hoffmann, the apparent absurdities of dreams, visions, and other figments of the irrational mind imply deep mysteries of cosmic proportions, which might be revealed to man if he were but able to … decipher, the symbolism." Other readers draw direct links between Hoffmann and Jung. Prawer asserts: "For Hoffmann, the personal unconscious is a means of gaining contact with something larger and deeper … which we may equate … with Jung's collective unconscious" (302); Peters (62) agrees: "the Other Realm exists at a deep subconscious level … common to all human beings, not unlike C. G. Jung's concept of the Collective Unconscious."

4. Hoffmann's masterful "märchen for modern times" therefore inspired one of the best Jungian interpretations of literature: Aniela Jaffé's monograph. Prawer (302) and other non-Jungians have praised her study. Another Jungian interpretation more relevant to this essay is Elardo's dissertation, "The Chthonic Woman." But his study, heavily dependent on Neumann, overemphasizes the negative aspects of the feminine, forgetting the bipolarity of the archetype. She cannot be "always the vixen, never the virgin" (2704A), she is often imagined as both.

5. In a sense, Jungian analytical psychology is a "formulation … of the confluence of traditions that shaped … Romanticism" (Bickman, 5), but it must be remembered that Jung did not derive his theories from the Romantic philosophers. He made inferences, often in agreement with theirs, based on observations of dreams and fantasies of patients. Hoffmann seems to have made similar inferences based on his own observations.

6. Kiernan (310) thinks "The Sandman" is "an autobiographical sketch of Hoffmann's childhood." McGlathery (Part One, 35-37) sums up the psychobiographical interpretations. See also Mahlendorf's article, which reveals "the thin line between creativity and pathology" (232) in Hoffmann. Nathanael in "The Sandman" is that part of Hoffmann he wishes to exorcize. McGlathery (passim) sees Hoffmann's protagonists as "self-ironic" portraits.

7. Le Diable amoureux was one of Hoffmann's favorite books (McGlathery, Part One, 122; cf. Winkler), but it was probably mostly from Tieck that Hoffmann learned the techniques of Ambiguous Gothic—e.g., of refusing to explain away the supernatural, seeing in the uncanny a psychic reality that is not mere delusion.

8. Cf. Daemmrich, 23: The unconscious alter-ego projections appearing in the Romantic fiction of the Germans are "the first indication of the modern crisis in man's identity." This identity crisis involves doppelgängers of both sexes—it is a crisis also of gender identity, as Nathanael's identity in "The Sandman" dissolves into Olimpia.

9. Sir Walter Scott (467) missed their moral significance completely, seeing Hoffmann's tales as mere raving, the "feverish dreams of a lightheaded patient … requiring the assistance of medicine rather than of criticism." Goethe agreed that they seemed meaningless. Their ambiguity has resulted in conflicting interpretations, from Neoplatonic Idealism (Negus) to Romantic Irony (Tatar) to the Absurd (Daemmrich, 75, and Prawer, 307).

10. All references in English to "The Sandman" and "The Mines at Falun" are to Knight and Kent's edition, Selected Writings of E. T. A. Hoffmann, Volume One, hereinafter abbreviated as K. References to the original German, given for key words and phrases, are to E. T. A. Hoffmanns Werke, vol. 2, hereinafter abbreviated W.

11. Freud, 384: "The figure of his father and Coppelius represent the two opposites into which the father-imago is split by the ambivalence of the child's feeling."

12. McGlathery (Part One, 36) considers Freud's equation of the fear of eye-loss with castration anxiety "unacceptable," since Freud was more interested here in supporting his theories than in understanding Hoffmann. Cf. Prawer, 303. For Prawer, the intrusion of the unheimlich into the cozy heimlich domestic circle is a matter of much more than sexual consequence.

13. That Klara may be an Enlightenment figure is further supported by the German word for Enlightenment: Aufklärung. Hoffmann's distrust of Enlightenment science is apparent in his sinister portrayal of Spalanzani, a prototype for Frankenstein and Rappaccini (see Cohen's article).

14. Thus complicating his tale even further. As several readers have noticed, the narrator who comes in after the epistolary first half seems yet another reflection—another "alter-ego projection" either of Nathanael (his sane self perhaps) or of Hoffmann himself. See Tatar's article for an explanation of these multiple reflections in terms of Romantic Irony. I see this narrator as an authorial voice of sanity.

15. Mahlendorf, for example, sees Nathanael as a Romantic poet. Although she recognizes in the tale "the thin line between genius and madness," she does not see that Nathanael, as a reifying literalist, is no poet. Nor does Kamla, for whom Olimpia is "the mirror image of the [Romantic] solipsistic poet" (95).

16. McGlathery reduces the tale to a comic conte licencieux involving sexual panic or "cold feet" (Part Two, 58). I do not deny the sexual element in the tale, but I think it is part of a larger whole. Sexuality is only part of Eros.

17. Here I am following the post-Jungian idea (supporting Freud's notion that humans are innately bisexual) that men must have an animus as well as an anima (Hillman, "Anima II," 141-43). Cf. Samuels, Jung and the Post-Jungians, 210; Logos and Eros exist within a person of either sex: "The balance and relation between the two separate principles regulate the individual's sense of himself as a sexed and gendered being." One might argue that Coppelius is better seen as a "shadow" than an animus (as Prawer [302] suggests), but as Hillman and Samuels imply, Jung's notion of the shadow developed in the absence of an animus theory in the male. Once dissociated from anima, the animus becomes the "shadow."

18. Emma Jung (65-70) reveals how frequently the anima is associated with water. The moon is traditionally viewed as feminine by men, while the sun is supposedly masculine. Icons of the androgynous archetype have often been presented as fusions of sun and moon (see Man and His Symbols, 69, woodcut illustration).

19. The corpse bride (discussed more fully in Chapter 5 below), as Knight and Kent point out in a footnote (K, 160), is an allusion to Goethe's ballad "The Bride of Korinth." In Hoffmann, the necrophilia made explicit in the poem is only hinted at; Goethe's bride is not ambiguous like Olimpia, whose corpselike features are an ironic metaphor for what Nathanael really wants in a woman and for the dead state of Nathanael's soul.

20. Cf. Irving Massey's chapter 6. He comes to a similar conclusion (that Nathanael is narcissistic) by a different route. When Klara refuses to become a projection of Nathanael, "she throws him back upon his … nothingness" (118). Cf. also G. R. Thompson, Romantic Gothic Tales, 50, and Kamla's article.

21. Jung, CW 9.1. 67: "It therefore seems probable that the archetypal form of the divine syzygy first covers up and assimilates the image of the real parents until, with increasing consciousness, the real figures of the parents are perceived—often to the child's disappointment. Nobody knows better than the psychotherapist that the mythologizing of the parents is often pursued far into adulthood and is given up only with the greatest resistance." Nathanael's parents at first fit the archetypal mold, which presents them as a unity.

22. Cf. Schneidermann, 285, who cites Heinz Hartmann's idea that "there is a tendency in the pre-phallic stage to identify the parents as idealized, powerful, magical protectors"—a tendency Jung explains as archetypal.

23. That Hoffmann was somewhat skeptical of occultism seems clear from McGlathery, Part One, chapter 9: "Hoffmann's tales are … ironic jests about the widespread occultism and spiritualism of his own day" (155).

Works Cited

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Cohen, Hubert I. "Hoffmann's 'The Sandman': A Possible Source for 'Rappaccini's Daughter.'" ESQ 68 (1972): 148-55.

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Elardo, Ronald Joseph. "The Chthonic Woman in the Novellas and Fairy Tales of E. T. A. Hoffmann." DAI 40 (1979): 2704A.

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Further Reading

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Bresnick, Adam. "Prosopoetic Compulsion: Reading the Uncanny in Freud and Hoffmann." Germanic Review 71, no. 2 (spring 1996): 114-32.

Builds on Sigmund Freud's theories by analyzing his essay "The Uncanny" and Hoffmann's short story "The Sandman."

Freud, Sigmund. "The Uncanny." In The Uncanny, by Sigmund Freud, translated by David McLintock, pp. 123-62. New York: Penguin, 2003.

An essay originally published in Imago in 1919 as "Das Unheimliche" and considered the quintessential work on the subject of the uncanny. Defines the uncanny, provides examples of how it is exemplified in "The Sandman," and explains how the uncanny functions within the context of human psychology.

Ireland, Kenneth R. "Urban Perspectives: Fantasy and Reality in Hoffmann and Dickens." Comparative Literature 30, no. 2 (spring 1978): 133-56.

Discusses the parallels between the works of Hoffmann and Dickens, with particular emphasis on doubling.

Jones, Malcolm V. "'Der Sandmann' and 'the Uncanny': A Sketch for an Alternative Approach." Paragraph: A Journal of Modern Critical Theory 7 (March 1986): 77-101.

Counters Sigmund Freud's reading of "The Sandman."

Kamla, Thomas A. "E. T. A. Hoffmann's Vampirism: Instinctual Perversion." American Imago 42 (1985): 235-53.

Examines the pathological behavior of the characters in the untitled vampire tale published in The Serapion Brethren.

Labriola, Patrick. "Edgar Allan Poe and E. T. A. Hoffman: The Double in 'William Wilson' and The Devil's Elixirs." International Fiction Review 29 (2002): 69-77.

Using Sigmund Freud's "The Uncanny" as a guide, outlines the developmental stages of the double in Edgar Allan Poe's short story "William Wilson" and Hoffman's The Devil's Elixirs and analyzes both authors' treatment of the divided self.

McGlathery, James. E. T. A. Hoffmann. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1997, 195 p.

Full-length analysis of Hoffmann's life and works.

Negus, Kenneth. "The Allusions to Schiller's Der Geisterseher in E. T. A. Hoffmann's Das Majorat." German Quarterly 32, no. 4 (November 1959): 341-55.

Explores the influence of Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller's Der Geisterseher on Hoffmann's Das Majorat.

――――――. "The Family Tree in E. T. A. Hoffmann's Die Elixiere des Teufels." PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 73, no. 5, Part 1 (December 1958): 516-20.

Assesses the significance of ancestry in The Devil's Elixier.

Romero, Christiane Zehl. "M. G. Lewis' The Monk and E. T. A. Hoffmann's Die Elixiere des Teufels: Two Versions of the Gothic." Neophilologus 63 (1979): 574-82.

Compares the gothicism in The Monk and in Die Elixiere des Teufels (The Devil's Elixir).

Willson, A. Leslie. "Hoffmann's Horrors." In Literature and the Occult: Essays in Comparative Literature, edited by Luanne Frank, pp. 264-71. Arlington, Tex.: University of Texas at Arlington, 1977.

Explores elements of magic and the supernatural in Hoffmann's tales.


Additional coverage of Hoffmann's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Concise Dictionary of World Literary Biography, Vol. 2; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 90; European Writers, Vol. 5; Literature Resource Center; Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vol. 2; Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Ed. 2; Reference Guide to World Literature, Eds. 2, 3; Short Story Criticism, Vol. 13; Something about the Author, Vol. 27; Supernatural Fiction Writers, Vol. 1; and Writers for Children.

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E. T. A. Hoffmann World Literature Analysis