(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator imagines to himself how the Prussian writer Heinrich von Kleist, then twenty-five, might have lived during the spring and summer of 1802 in a villa on a small island in the Aar River near the town of Thun. Kleist’s arrival was probably unspectacular: He walked over a short bridge, rang the bell, and someone lazily answered. It was the charming Bernese girl who would become his housekeeper. He is satisfied with the rooms she shows him, but he feels a little sick and wonders why, especially in the midst of such beautiful natural surroundings.

He writes—it is the beginning of his writing career—and occasionally reads from his work to friends in nearby Bern. However, he is dissatisfied with what he produces, among other things, his comedy Der Zerbrochene Krug (1808; The Broken Jug, 1930). The lazy spring weather is maddeningly distracting: “It is as if radiant red stupefying waves rise up in his head whenever he sits at his table and tries to write.” He had intended to become a farmer after arriving in Switzerland.

He often sits at the window and muses on the stunning yet unsettling landscape of the lake, fragrant fields, and bewitching mountains. Lonely, he longs for a nearby voice, hand, or body. By gazing intently on the beauty around him, he tries to forget himself, but memories of home and his mother disturb him. He runs out into the garden, rows a boat onto the open, sunny lake, swims, and hears the laughter of women on the shore. Nature, he thinks, is “like one vast embrace.”

His enjoyment of the scene is never without pain and longing. Sometimes it feels like the end of the world here, and the Alps seem like the unreachable gates to a high, distant paradise. The light...

(The entire section is 716 words.)