Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

ph_0111201667-Hoffman.jpg E. T. A. Hoffman Published by Salem Press, Inc.

A genius with versatile talents in graphics, music, and theater, E. T. A. Hoffmann first achieved artistic distinction as a musician. He composed symphonies, operettas, sonatas, and the first romantic opera Undine (1816), based on a Nouvelle by Friedrich Heinrich Karl de la Motte Fouqué, and he wrote perceptive, progressive music criticism on Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Juan and The Magic Flute, and other musical topics. He also wrote two major novels: Die Elixiere des Teufels: Nachgelassene Papiere des Bruders Medardus, eines Kapuziners (1815-1816; The Devil’s Elixirs: From the Posthumous Papers of Brother Medardus, a Capuchin Friar, 1824), a Jekyll-Hyde psychological novel exploring the darker side of human nature, and Lebensansichten des Katers Murr, nebst fragmentarischer Biographie des Kapellmeisters Johannes Kreisler in zufälligen Makulaturblättern (1819-1821; The Life and Opinions of Kater Murr, with the Fragmentary Biography of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler on Random Sheets of Scrap Paper, 1969), a structurally innovative novel which contains interspersed pages from the life of a fictitious musician, used as blotting paper and underlay by the main narrator, the cat.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

E. T. A. Hoffmann is a major figure of the romantic period and among the best-known writers of the German Romantic movement outside Germany. Although it would be difficult to trace completely his worldwide influence, his work certainly inspired writers such as Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe in the United States, Alexandre Dumas, père, Honoré de Balzac, and Victor Hugo in France, and Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, and Fyodor Dostoevski in Russia. His tales have also inspired many composers, perhaps most notably Jacques Offenbach (The Tales of Hoffmann) and Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky (The Nutcracker and The Queen of Spades). His short fiction introduced many modern themes, including parapsychology and abnormal psychology, alienation of humans from life and society, the subconscious, the use of robots and automatons, and the fantastic and the grotesque. Hoffmann has also been credited with writing the first detective story in 1820, “Das Fräulein von Scudéri” (“Mademoiselle de Scudéry”).

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

For most of his life, E. T. A. Hoffmann (HAWF-mahn) cherished the hope that he would one day be remembered as a composer, and it was only late in his career as an artist that literary preoccupations began to outweigh his interest in music. By the time of his death, Hoffmann had nevertheless produced a considerable literary oeuvre that included two novels and more than seventy tales. Hoffmann gathered most of the tales into three collections. He published the first under the title Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier (1814-1815; Fantasy Pieces in Callot’s Manner, 1996). Included in this collection are Hoffmann’s important first story, “Ritter Gluck: Eine Erinnerung aus dem Jahr 1809” (“Ritter Gluck”), as well as his most famous fairy tale, “Der goldene Topf: Ein Märchen aus der neuen Zeit” (“The Golden Flower Pot”). Hoffmann’s second collection, Nachtstücke (1817; night pieces), contains his most ghostly, even ghoulish, creations. Its opening story,“Der Sandmann” (“The Sandman”), still servedSigmund Freud in 1919 as a case study of the human sense of the uncanny. Into the four volumes of Die Serapionsbrüder (1819-1821; The Serapion Brethren, 1886-1892) Hoffmann incorporated “Rat Krespel” (“Councillor Krespel”), “Die Bergwerke zu Falun” (“The Mines of Falun”), and—immortalized by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky in 1892 as The Nutcracker Suite—the fairy tale “Nussknacker und Mausekönig” (“Nutcracker and the King of Mice”). The first detective story in European literature and Hoffmann’s most popular tale during his lifetime, “Das Fräulein von Scudéri” (“Mademoiselle de Scudéri”), also appeared in The Serapion Brethren.

During the last three years of his life, Hoffmann wrote three lengthy, complex tales in which he tried to achieve a unique blend of fairy tale, social satire, and aesthetic speculation: Klein Zaches, genannt Zinnober (1819; Little Zaches, Surnamed Zinnober, 1971), Prinzessin Brambilla: Ein Capriccio nach Jakob Callot (1821; Princess Brambilla: A “Capriccio” in the Style of Jacques Callot, 1971), and Meister Floh: Ein Märchen in sieben Abenteuern zweier Freunde (1822; Master Flea: A Fairy Tale in Seven Adventures of Two Friends, 1826). Hoffmann’s letters and diaries were published in the four-volume Tagebücher in 1971, and a volume of his letters was published in English in 1977.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In his own day, E. T. A. Hoffmann became a successful writer in a remarkably short time. His ghost and horror stories were received with favor by critics and with enthusiasm by the general reading public. Still, few would have considered Hoffmann to be more than an admittedly original and masterful entertainer. With his mixture of the miraculous, the fantastic, and the horrible, he clearly catered to his generation’s fascination with the occult and his readers’ thirst for the thrill of a spine-chilling story.

After Hoffmann’s death, his reputation as a writer diminished rapidly and was finally destroyed by a formidable opponent from abroad. In 1827, Sir Walter Scott published in Foreign Quarterly Review a scathing attack against the excessive employment of supernatural elements in fiction titled “On the Supernatural in Fictitious Composition; and Particularly on the Works of Ernest Theodore William Hoffmann.” Using the works of Hoffmann to make his point, Scott concluded that only an opium-inflamed mind could have conceived such frightful chimeras. Scott’s assault on Hoffmann’s reputation proved fatal, because Johann Wolfgang von Goethe then made it his personal mission to recommend Scott’s indictment of the unsavory Hoffmann to the sane sensibilities of his German compatriots.

That Hoffmann’s writings survived this Olympian disapproval is largely the result of their success in France. Though none of Hoffmann’s works had been...

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In what ways does E. T. A. Hoffmann bring supernatural and realistic elements together in Master Flea: A Fairy Tale in Seven Adventures to Two Friends?

Is Councillor Krespel in the story named for him a version of the author?

Trace the influence of Hoffmann on the mystery stories of Edgar Allan Poe.

Hoffmann is usually called a Romantic. Are there aspects of his stories that seem anti-Romantic?

Cite several instances of the influence of Hoffmann’s stories as bases for works or parts of works by well-known composers.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Allen, Richard. “Reading Kleist and Hoffmann.” In Romantic Writing, edited by Stephen Bygrave. London: Routledge, 1996. Discusses alienation, the Freudian notion of the uncanny, the relationship between love and death, and the sense of strangeness in Hoffmann’s “The Sandman.”

Bergström, Stefan. Between Real and Unreal: A Thematic Study of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s “Die Serapionsbrüder.” New York: Peter Lang, 1999. A critical study. Includes bibliographical references.

Daemmrich, Horst S. The Shattered Self: E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Tragic Vision. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1973....

(The entire section is 698 words.)