Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 660
E. T. A. Hoffman embarks on a dual mission in this early nineteenth-century satire. He ostensibly offers an autobiography written by a tomcat, Murr, at the same time he presents a disjointed manuscript draft of the biography of a musician, Johannes Kreisler. In the “Editor’s Foreword,” Hoffman has this unnamed editor present the book as written by a talented young author, who turned out to be the cat. More surprising, the editor says, the manuscript included a different work. These pages from the biography of Kreisler, a Kapellmeister, had been found by Murr while writing his autobiography. He then tore up the book and
without more ado, and thinking no ill, used its pages partly to rest his work on, partly as blotting paper. These pages were left in the manuscript—and were inadvertently printed too, as if they were part of it!
By giving much of the narrative to the cat, Hoffman creates an effective persona or alter ego for himself as a social critic. Murr is rarely hesitant to toot his own horn; while his self-declared originality and creativity sometimes seem admirable, more often the reader notes his egotistic grandstanding in describing humdrum occurrences as though they were personal triumphs.
He who is reading this will never understand my lofty inspiration, being unaware of the high vantage point to which I have soared. Climbed would be more accurate, but a poet doesn’t mention his feet, especially if he has four of them like me.
Murr does not stint in praising his own “true genius,” noting that one reason for telling his life story is to enable the reader to see “the full extent of my excellence.” Learning the greatness of this tomcat, in addition to making the reader “admire me and worship me,” must also include their recognition that these are the words of “a tomcat possessed of intellect, understanding, and sharp claws.”
The pages from the Kreisler biography that are interspersed with the cat’s tale spring up almost without warning, marked only by an editor’s code, “W. P.” At times the two stories coalesce, but at times they diverge widely. Johannes’s inclination for music and his moody temperament are explained by his early experiences, including the influence of his lute-playing aunt and a talented but eccentric organ builder, Abraham Liscov. The instrument-maker was notable even in Kreisler’s small town, which the writer considers “a veritable paradise for eccentrics."
Music with all its wonderful melancholy, all its...
(The entire section contains 660 words.)
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