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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 393

Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffman (E.T.A. Hoffman) wrote The Life and Opinions of Kater Murr in the early 1800s. The story is satirically written as the autobiography of a cat.

Master Abraham Liscov : Master Abraham is a multi-talented man who finds himself the owner of Kater Murr. Among other specialties,...

(The entire section contains 1673 words.)

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Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffman (E.T.A. Hoffman) wrote The Life and Opinions of Kater Murr in the early 1800s. The story is satirically written as the autobiography of a cat.

Master Abraham Liscov: Master Abraham is a multi-talented man who finds himself the owner of Kater Murr. Among other specialties, he is a magician, and many of his adventures are associated with that fact. He works for Fürst Irenäus as his “Master of Pleasures.”

Kater Murr: Our titular character, Kater Murr, is a tomcat who belongs to Master Abraham. He is incredibly smart and able to complete tasks unusual for felines, such as writing and reading. In fact, he wrote his autobiography. He is very confident about both his life and the legacy he expects to leave behind. Sadly, he dies before he is able to complete all the volumes of his memoirs.

Fürst Irenäus: Once a prince, Irenäus has fallen to being merely a rich noble who continues to behave as a prince, treating his home of Sieghartsof as a court.

Johannes Kreisler: He serves as the composer for Irenäus’ court. Master Abraham taught Kreisler piano as a boy, an experience which stuck with him into adulthood. He is in love with Julia Benzon, but is forced to flee the court when he stabs a military officer in self-defense. Master Abraham keeps in touch with Kreisler and ultimately convinces him to return to court, where he sadly learns that Julia is betrothed.

Julia Benzon: She is the daughter of Rätin Benzon, beloved by Johannes Kreisler, and engaged to Prince Ignaz. She is mostly characterized in the novel by the ways in which she belongs to other people.

Rätin Benzon: She is Julia’s mother and was once a lover of Fürst Irenäus. She does not want Julia to marry Johannes Kreisler and acts in opposition, instead forcing her to marry Prince Ignaz.

Prince Ignaz: He is engaged to Julia Benzon and the brother of Princess Hedwiga. He is seen as emotionally immature.

Pricess Hedwiga: She is Fürst Irenäus’s daughter and has had a traumatic life. She was attacked by Leonard Ettlinger, a man who was hopelessly in love with her mother. Princess Hedwiga is uncomfortable with Kreisler because he reminds her of Ettlinger, though they eventually make peace.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 763

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 spiritually to their beloved. After the mysterious affair of Prince Hektor (in which Kreisler stabs the prince’s adjutant in self-defense and is very nearly killed), Kreisler keeps in touch with Master Abraham by letter. He has escaped the court to seek refuge in an abbey filled with music-loving monks. Kreisler appears to have attained peace until the appearance of Father Cyprianus brings long-simmering intrigues to bear on him. At the urging of Master Abraham, he goes back to the court, only to find that Julia is to be married.

Master Abraham Liscov

Master Abraham Liscov (LIHS-kohf), a magician, organ builder, and unofficial counselor to Fürst Irenäus. He is a small, thin man with snow-white hair and coal-black eyebrows, fond of making elaborate artificial devices and playing tricks on people. Having begun his career as a piano tuner, organ builder, and music teacher, he turns up briefly in Italy, as a magician. In Naples, he becomes associated with the conjurer Severino, taking over his Invisible Maiden trick and even his name after the old man’s death. There, he becomes involved with the sinister Prince Hektor and with the psychic Chiara, who returns to Germany as Master Abraham’s wife before disappearing mysteriously. Now, he serves as “Master of Pleasures” and ironical expert in magic to Fürst Irenäus (as well as a counterforce to Rätin Benzon).

Fürst Irenäus

Fürst Irenäus (fewrst ih-rehn-AY-ews), the owner of the court at Sieghartshof. A kindly, cultured, and mildly eccentric aristocrat who has become a wealthy private citizen by losing his tiny princedom through purchase rather than war, Irenäus continues to hold court in his palace of Sieghartshof.

Rätin Benzon

Rätin Benzon (RAY-tihn BEHNT-zohn), a witty, worldly, and intelligent woman in her middle thirties who wishes to pull the strings of the puppets in Irenäus’ court. She and the Fürst once had a secret affair, resulting in a child. Having greatly influenced Hedwiga’s spiritual development, she is now trying to find a good husband for her daughter Julia and to neutralize what she sees as Master Abraham’s opposing plans.

Julia Benzon

Julia Benzon, the Rätin’s daughter. With a voice as beautiful as her face and spirit, she is Kreisler’s distant beloved. Eventually, the Rätin marries her to Prince Ignaz, Hedwiga’s emotionally retarded brother.

Princess Hedwiga

Princess Hedwiga (HEHD-vee-gah), Irenäus’ daughter. She is haunted by memories of the mad painter Leonard Ettlinger, who attempted to murder her and then died insane from hopeless love for her mother, the Fürstin. Because she finds an uncanny resemblance to Ettlinger in Kreisler, she at first fears the musician as a madman. Only later does she become reconciled to him. Her betrothal to Prince Hektor is an ominous development, as it intensifies her trances and fainting spells.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 517

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 his most striking trait reveals a frankness that other geniuses lack.

Kreisler shares with Murr an essential freedom and detestation of hypocrisy and an inability to integrate himself fully within society. As opposed to Murr, everything about him is unique and original, but it is precisely that originality—particularly the ironic brilliance of his rhetoric, always verging on nonsense—which prevents anyone besides Meister Abraham, who has been his teacher since childhood, from knowing him. Kreisler is perceived by Julia as the essence of goodness, by Hedwiga as the essence of sensuality, by Benzon as a danger, and by almost everyone else as a madman. Indeed, Kreisler’s greatest fear is of being destroyed by the madness which he senses is pursuing him. Insanity for Kreisler is embodied in the figure of the mad painter Ettlinger, whom Kreisler resembles and whom he at one point sees as literally stalking him in the famous Doppelganger motif. Similarly, Kreisler was created by Hoffman as a more bizarre version of himself: Kreisler’s inserted narration of his childhood is a thinly disguised autobiography of Hoffmann.

Most of the other characters are archetypes: Meister Abraham is the omniscient good fairy, providing the hero with magic weapons at the appropriate moments; Hedwiga, who spends most of the novel in fits and trances, represents the mysterious drives of the unconscious; Benzon is the scheming parvenu contrasting with the buffo role of Irenaus. Finally, Julia is the chaste damsel in distress whom Kreisler loves from afar. The Life and Opinions of Kater Murr then presents the reader with a remarkable variety of character types, drawn from fairy tales, from romance, from theater and opera, and from Hoffmann’s own Romantic imagination.

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