Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In Indian Summer, the antagonism between the classic and the romantic is resolved; the polarity is caught in the depictions of Natalie, dignified, calm, and displaying perfect form, and Mathilde, first rapturous and yearning and later mystically renouncing. Yet these two are naturally linked as mother and daughter. Natalie, through education, has developed strength of character and a noble spirit. Her being is classical in its balance just as her appearance is classical in a form such as that of Greek maidens. Natalie and Gustav are incarnations of the Greek ideal of Kalokagathie, the fusion of the beautiful and the good. Heinrich, a youth on the way to becoming a man, gradually assumes the contours of Baron von Risach, the man of action. Heinrich’s attainment of full and perfect manhood is the theme of the novel. He progresses from innocence and latency to sophistication and realization without ever falling into serious error. His education, while awkward at times, is never arduous. All the major characters mature without rebellion or friction between generations. The mark of their nobility is their naturalness and simplicity. Love does not overpower them; instead, it becomes clear to them gradually, like the growing appreciation of the beauty of a classical marble statue which emerges from the protective cover of plaster. To suit his didactic purpose, Stifter places restraints on the relationship between the two lovers in order to contrast it with Baron von Risach and Mathilde’s story. This restraint is in keeping with the whole tenor of the book. Heinrich and Natalie are always in close communion with nature, and they are always at one with themselves. These characters have no inclination to show off or appear brilliant. This prevents the young people from having real friends outside their own circle. For Stifter, genuine education is possible only through association with greater and more mature minds. Yet the aesthetic and ethical unity which informs the characters in the foreground and presents them as ideals does not redeem the secondary characters, who remain inferior.