Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Kater Murr

Kater Murr (KAH-tehr mewr), a literary tomcat. After being adopted by Master Abraham, he uses his extraordinary intelligence to learn to read and write. His literary masterpiece is his autobiography, written on the back of discarded leaves that happen to contain Kreisler’s biography. His death brings a premature end to his memoirs after two volumes. In his egotistical view of himself, Murr is a genius. He feels no embarrassment at expecting future generations of cats to idolize him, and he holds nothing back about the follies of his adolescence, including outbreaks of lovesickness and a brief fling at membership in a cat fraternity.

Johannes Kreisler

Johannes Kreisler (yoh-HAHN-nehs KRIZ-lehr), the Kapellmeister (resident composer) of Prince Irenäus’ unofficial court at Sieghartshof. About thirty years old, he has dark hair and eyes that give him a soulful look. Kreisler is an eccentric, extremely changeable person with contradictory emotions: At any moment, extreme melancholy may give way to extreme sarcasm. His character was formed by a childhood made desolate by the deaths, a few years apart, of his mother and aunt, and desertion by his father. Kept out of school by the musician uncle who reared him, he learned from various tutors, the most capricious of whom was his piano teacher, Abraham Liscov. Kreisler pursues music until his late teens, with brief interruptions for a diplomatic career. He has become Kapellmeister to the grand duke when the demands of the court become especially humiliating, causing him to run off to Master Abraham in Sieghartshof. Kreisler’s love of music is closely intermingled with love of a more romantic sort, for his singing pupil Julia Benzon. He believes that true musicians reach out...

(The entire section is 763 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Kater Murr is a parody of the self-proclaimed literary genius whose every sentiment, poem, and idea reads as cliche or plagiarism. Indeed, the editor sometimes intervenes to point out passages which Murr has quoted verbatim from William Shakespeare or from Kreisler. Through such citations, however, Murr is made to appear the very paradigm of the Romantic artist: He is singularly unsuccessful at practical life, unable even to venture into the city without getting lost, and all of his love affairs—including an incestuous relationship with his own daughter—end unhappily.

Hoffmann uses the contrast between Murr and Ponto to turn the distinction between feline independence and canine servitude into an analysis of two basic human types, which he might have called “artistic” and “bourgeois.” Ponto obtains everything that he desires by self-humiliation and flattery without regard to his own freedom or to moral considerations. When his first master, tricked into believing him degenerate by a wife whom Ponto had exposed as an adulteress, starts to beat him, Ponto has no qualms about going to the wife’s lover, Baron von Wipp, or carrying the lovers’ billets-doux under his collar. Dogs are thus identified in general with the upper classes, the police, and the whole repressive social system of Hoffmann’s Germany. Murr, whatever his failings, remains free and unhypocritical and hence evokes a certain sympathy in the reader. Even the egotism which is...

(The entire section is 517 words.)