Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 317
The Life and Opinions of Kater Murr: together with a fragmentary Biography of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler on Random Sheets of Waste Paper is a satirical novel by Prussian writer and composer Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffman. The novel, which was published in two volumes, is noted for its prose style and...
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The Life and Opinions of Kater Murr: together with a fragmentary Biography of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler on Random Sheets of Waste Paper is a satirical novel by Prussian writer and composer Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffman. The novel, which was published in two volumes, is noted for its prose style and innovative literary techniques. The fantasy element of the story, in which a cat writes his autobiography, illustrates the nature of memoirs and biographies. In particular, E. T. A. Hoffman indirectly suggests that autobiographies can only be accepted at face value, because the readers of memoirs do not truly know the person behind the writings.
In the case of Kater Murr, that person is actually a tomcat. When Kater Murr's memoir is mixed up with the biography of composer Johannes Kreisler's, Hoffman's message further emphasized. The fact that the two biographies can harmonize seamlessly as if it is the biography of one individual shows that we can create mythologies about ourselves and our lives. On the other hand, the complex narrative and humorous chaos illustrate that people could lose their individuality in a world of billions. Although Kater Murr and Kreisler have different personalities, when their similarities (i.e. high intelligence) overlap, their respective identities become singular.
In essence, the two characters represent the intellectual class of their time and how they relate to a society that is anti-academic but pro-faux intellectualism, the latter being a trend among the nobility and upper-class. They are both rebel figures and they are both arrogant—although the arrogance is more pronounced in Kater Murr's character. Another subtext worth pointing out is the fact that autobiographies are inherently egotistical. This is fitting for both characters because of their arrogance, and it illustrates the further absurdity of the memoir and biography genre. Despite these shortcomings and flaws, the two intertwined characters represent how individuals are viewed by society versus how they view themselves.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 539
When E. T. A. Hoffmann published the first volume of Kater Murr (as the work is popularly known), he had been an acclaimed author for some five years, following appearance of his first major work, the Fantasiestücke (fantasy pieces, 1814-1815) in four volumes. His death came half a year after publication of the second volume of Kater Murr.
As the full title indicates, Kater Murr tells a double story. The romantic plot concerns the love of the musician Kreisler for a sixteen-year-old girl, Julia Benzon, and the nominal main story is the autobiography of a literary tomcat who in the end is given into the care of the musician Kreisler by its owner, Master Abraham, an organ builder and conjurer. Master Abraham is at the same time the self-appointed mentor to Kreisler in his passion for young Julia. Unlike most of Hoffmann’s four dozen tales and his other novel, Die Elixiere des Teufels (1815-1816; The Devils Elixirs, 1824), Kater Murr contains no element of the magical or miraculous, save for the tomcats gift of speech and other human abilities and capacities.
The complication in the love story is Kreisler’s yearning to believe that his passion for Julia is pure and platonic, not tainted by fleshly lust, and her similar desire to believe that her love for the thirty-year-old composer and conductor is wholly transcendent in nature, a spiritual love with music as its medium. The specter of impure, lustful desire arises for Kreisler and Julia in the persons of the aristocrats Princess Hedwiga, with whom Julia has been reared, and Prince Hektor, a Neapolitan. Princess Hedwiga envies Julia for the romantic passion Kreisler shows for her and attempts seductively to interest Kreisler in herself. Prince Hektor, Princess Hedwigas suitor, meanwhile is bent on the seduction of Julia. In the end, Master Abraham’s dream of seeing Kreisler and Julia united fails to come to pass. That dream is motivated by his grief over the disappearance of his young wife, Chiara, with whom his relationship had been of a spiritual nature, yet with undertones of erotic desire that Abraham, like Johannes, resists recognizing.
Leaves from Kreisler’s biography that served Murr as blotting paper have been bound into the tomcat’s own story. That story likewise revolves around the theme of desire and renunciation. In the literary tomcats case, the renunciation results from humiliating experiences with the opposite sex, in particular, his mate Miesmie’s infidelity. Adding insult to the latter injury is Miesmie’s denunciation of him for his amorous attraction to a pretty kitten (their daughter Mina, whom he did not recognize as his progeny) and the female greyhound Minonas rejection of his advances. In the end, Murr renounces love in favor of literature.
The third volume of the novel, for which Hoffmann had contracted when his death from a paralytic illness intervened, was to contain the tomcat’s reflections and observations while living with Kreisler, along with further segments of the latters biography. These segments of the Kreisler biography, however, evidently would not have held its ending, which is found instead in the initial segment of the novel’s first volume, in keeping with the meaning that Kreisler himself gives to his name as “circler.”
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 56
Hewett-Thayer, Harvey W. Hoffmann: Author of the Tales, 1948.
McGlathery, James M. Mysticism and Sexuality: E.T.A. Hoffmann, Part Two: Interpretations of the Tales, 1981.
Negus, Kenneth. E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Other World: The Romantic Author and His New Mythology, 1965.
Rosen, Robert S. E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “Kater Murr”: Aufbauformen und Erzahlsituationen, 1970.
Taylor, Ronald. Hoffmann, 1963.