The Life and Opinions of Kater Murr Summary
The Life and Opinions of Kater Murr by Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann is an unusual novel, both in its plot and structure. Its first volume was published in 1818 and it takes the form of an autobiography of a cat named Tomcat Murr (hence the book's title). This witty cat is literate, educated, and a member of the middle class.
The Life and Opinions of Kater Murr is structured as though a printing accident has caused Tomcat Murr's memoirs to splice together with a book recounting the life of composer Johannes Kreisler. A note at the beginning of the work informs the reader that this error happened as a result of Tomcat Murr using wastepaper from his master's studio to compose the book. This unusual structure adds to the novel's surreal, comedic tone.
As the novel unfolds, it becomes clear that Kreisler and Tomcat Murr are very different characters. While Kreisler is a tormented musical genius, Tomcat Murr is confident, assured of his own intelligence, always up for a challenge, and charming. This excerpt provides insight into Tomcat Murr's high opinion of himself:
I lay my life story before the world, so that the reader may learn how to educate himself to be a great tomcat, may recognize the full extent of my excellence, may love, value, honour and admire me—and worship me a little.
Should anyone be audacious enough to think of casting doubt on the sterling worth of this remarkable book, let him reflect that he is dealing with a tomcat possessed of intellect, understanding, and sharp claws.
Tomcat Murr's sections of the book are broken into four parts. The first depicts the origins of his literary career and how he came to learn the language spoken by poodles. The second explores his ill-fated love affair with a cat named Miesmies. In the third chapter Tomcat Murr successfully attacks the cat that seduced Miesmies away from him, and in the final chapter he visits many high-class canine events due to his status as a famed poet and his friendship with a poodle named Ponto.
At the end of the final Tomcat Murr section, the reader is informed that the celebrated cat has died. It's stated that the upcoming third book will provide more detail about Tomcat Murr's later life spent with Kreisler, as well as continuing Kreisler's biography. Unfortunately, Hoffmann did not live long enough to finalize the third book of The Life and Opinions of Kater Murr.
E.T.A. Hoffmann, who introduces himself as the editor of Murr’s manuscript, informs the reader in the preface that this novel consists of the reminiscences of Murr the cat, interrupted at seventeen places by pages from an anonymous biography of the composer Johannes Kreisler which was used by Murr as scratch paper and sent to the printer by mistake. While the Murr material runs in a straightforward if interrupted chronology, the Kreisler biography (which constitutes more than half of the novel), supposedly torn at random from the book by Murr, lies like a jigsaw puzzle in need of reconstruction by the reader. For example, the first section to be read belongs chronologically with the material of book 3 of the novel, which Hoffman did not live to complete. In summarizing the events, it will be necessary to deal with the two biographies separately.
Murr’s “Life and Opinions”—the title reflects the influence of Laurence Sterne’s humorous novel Tristram Shandy (1759-1767)—is divided into four parts. In “Existential Feelings: Boyhood Months,” Murr tells of his being saved from drowning by Meister Abraham Liscov, of his learning to read and embarking on a literary career, and of his friendship with the poodle Ponto and his subsequent mastery of poodle language. Murr’s love affair with the cat Miesmies, which ends when she betrays him for another tomcat, forms the central episode in the second chapter, “The Life and Experiences of the Youth.” In the next chapter, Murr is saved from philistinism by his friend Muzius and becomes a “Bursche.” (Hoffmann is parodying the student...
(The entire section is 1,283 words.)