Ludwig Tieck 1773-1853
(Full name Johann Ludwig Tieck; also wrote under the pseudonym of Peter Leberecht) German novella writer, novelist, dramatist, poet, translator, essayist, critic, and editor.
A seminal figure in the German Romantic movement, Tieck is best known for his märchen, novellas derived from traditional fairy and folk tales, his novel Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen (1798), and his dramas Der gestiefelte Kater (1797, Puss in Boots) and Leben und Tod der heiligen Genoveva (1799). In his works, Tieck combined realism with the inexplicable, thus rebelling against the literalism of the Rationalists who preceded him. "The stated aim of Tieck's fiction," wrote Maria Tatar, "was to drive readers to the point of distraction, to mystify and bewilder them until they reached that blissful state that Tieck designated as 'poetic madness'."
Tieck was born into a middle-class family in Berlin, which was then the capital of Prussia. Encouraged to read by his mother, Tieck was influenced at an early age by the works of William Shakespeare and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He attended a progressive secondary school where he is believed to have written as many as thirty works in various genres. Tieck studied theology, philosophy, and literature at universities in Halle, Erlangen, and Göttingen. In 1794 he found employment as a writer for the Berlin publisher Christoph Friedrich Nicolai. Shortly thereafter, Tieck produced Volksmährchen (1797), which contained his most celebrated novella—Der blonde Eckbert—as well as the play Puss in Boots. The success of Tieck's 1798 novel Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen liberated him from Nicolai, a welcome parting after Nicolai published an unauthorized edition of Tieck's writings.
Around this time, Tieck became involved with the Jena Romanticists, an elite literary circle that included such notable figures as Friedrich Schlegel, August Wilhelm Schlegel, Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling, and Novalis. In 1798 Tieck married Amalie Alberti; the couple later had two daughters. After 1800 Tieck's literary output waned, partly because of his perfectionist ways but also because of frequent lapses into depression. He desperately sought regular income, and eventually moved his family into the home of his friend and benefactor Wilhelm von Burgsdorff. In 1819 Tieck was appointed Dramaturg, dramatic advisor, of the Dresden Theater. He then began writing the bulk of his novellas, the majority of which were historical works. Tieck spent the remaining years of his life as writer-in-residence at the court of King Frederick Wilhelm IV of Prussia. He died in Berlin in 1853.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Tieck is best known for his imaginative reworkings of fairy tales and traditional folktales. Among his most popular works is the novella Der blonde Eckbert, which combines psychological examination of its protagonist's mental states with typically fantastic and supernatural plot elements drawn from folklore. In many of the stories that comprise Volksmährchen, Tieck explores the relationship between reality and the imagination. Using a dense, poetic style, he creates an atmosphere that enables his readers to accept improbable occurrences as possible, even inevitable. In 1811 he published Phantasus, which includes plays, tales, and novellas. The framing story of the collection revolves around a group of young people conversing about literature and reading aloud the stories that comprise the volume. Their remarks provide a highly self-conscious literary commentary on the individual pieces. The novellas of this volume, in addition to Tieck's later novellas, are less Romantic than his earlier works, reflecting Tieck's age and outlook at the time they were written.
Tieck's works were so popular in his lifetime that he and Goethe were together hailed as Germany's most distinguished men of letters. His influence was not lasting, however, as Tieck's works are seldom read today. Critics commend Tieck's introduction of fantastic elements into otherwise realistic narratives, and he is consistently praised for his effective portrayal of the mental states of his characters. He is also praised for his integration of numerous themes, such as the loss of innocence, dualism in nature, guilt, fatalism, and the destructive power of love. However, some commentators criticize his confusing interweaving of different time periods, sudden interjections of unrelated action, and a perceived lack of cohesion in his plots.