Ludwig Tieck Tieck, Ludwig - Essay


(Short Story Criticism)

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'."

Biographical Information

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.

Critical Reception

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.

Principal Works

(Short Story Criticism)

Short Fiction

* Volksmährchen [as Peter Leberecht] (novellas and dramas) 1797

Phantasus. 3 vols. (novellas) 1812-16

Die Verlobung (novella) 1823

Novellen. 7 vols. (novellas) 1823-28

Musikalische Leiden und Freuden (novella) 1824

Die Reisenden (novella) 1824

Pietro von Abano oder Petrus Apone [Pietro of Abano] (novella) 1825

Der Aufruhr in den Cevennen [The Rebellion in the Cévennes Mountains] (novella) 1826

Der Alte vom Berge, und: Die Gesellschaft auf dem Lande [The Old Man of the Mountain] (novellas) 1828

Schriften. 28 vols. (novels, novellas, drama, poetry, and essays) 1828-54

Other Major Works

Geschichte des Herrn William Lovell 3 vols. (novel) 1795-96

Der gestiefelte Kater [Puss in Boots] (drama) 1797

Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen. 2 vols. (novel) 1798

Romantische Dichtungen. 2 vols. (dramas) 1799-1800

Kaiser Octavianus (drama) 1804

Gedichte. 3 vols. (poetry) 1821-23

Vittoria Accorombona. 2 vols. [The Roman Matron] (novel) 1840

Five Dramas of Ludwig Tieck Hitherto Unpublished (dramas) 1959

*This collection includes the novella Der blonde Eckbert.

This work includes the novellas Der blonde Eckbert, Der Runenberg, and Die Elfen.

‡This work includes the drama Leben und Tod der heiligen Genoveva.

Edwin H. Zeydel (essay date 1935)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Early 'Novellen'," in Ludwig Tieck, The German Romanticist: A Critical Study, Princeton University Press, 1935, pp. 284-300.

[In the following excerpt, Zeydel discusses the themes and critical reception of Tieck's early novellas.]

The classification of Tieck's "novellen" for purposes of individual discussion presents problems arising not only from their number and bulk but also from the multiplicity of topics. Two attempts have been made to class them according to subject matter. The first was by J. L. Hoffmann in 1856 [in L. T., eine literarische skizze]; he discussed three types, fantastic, social and historical—an utterly inadequate classification. The second more important attempt was made in 1884 by Jakob Minor in an enlightening article [in T. als Novellendichter]. He found that apart from Der junge Tischlermeister and Vittoria Accorombona, which defied systematization, there were eight categories, namely "novellen" dealing with questions of the day, those dealing with great writers, historical "novellen," stories of ghosts and magic, "novellen" of roguery, satires against the Young Germans, mere anecdotes and epic narratives.

The weakness of Minor's mode of procedure is due to several reasons. His compartments are not always mutually exclusive. Not every "novelle" fits into a single group; some belong in two or three. Besides, plot and subject matter are not as essential to Tieck as is his critique of the times. We shall, therefore, avoid every form of classification and observe a purely chronological method of treatment, devoting [this essay] to the "novellen" written before the July revolution of 1830 (an important event in the political and literary history of Germany). . . . This seems desirable not only for practical reasons, but also because [the early and later novellen show], in a rough way, a unity of purpose. The "novellen" of the first group are generally aimed against some form of ultraconservatism, while those of the latter group usually attack one of the doctrines of the Young Germans.

The first of the "novellen," Die Gemälde (1821), is one of the most characteristic. The plot is so simple that Wilhelm Grimm called it trivial and complained that when he reached the end he was still waiting for the beginning. A young man wastes his large patrimony but is saved by some fine pictures which are hidden in the wainscotting. They are accidentally discovered at a drunken revel (the discovery constitutes the turning point) and enable him to marry the girl of his choice and to live to a ripe, respected age.

Far more important than the plot is the underlying purpose—a discussion of the conflict of opinions aroused by the opposite tendencies in the prevailing theories of art. These divided the artists of the time into two camps. In the one were the adherents of the old classical tradition, in the other the devotees of the more recent school, which had arisen as the result of Wackenroder's and Tieck's meditations, studies and writings on art. Like literary Romanticism, this Romantic school of esthetics, launched in defense of old German and Nazarene art, had degenerated. It had developed a reactionary form of religionism and an ultramontanism which banished all worldly beauty. Tieck, the well informed critic, realized that he himself was partly responsible for this development and wanted to present a true, unprejudiced picture of the situation. So in Die Gemälde he praised the sensual, happy classical beauty of Giulio Romano and overlooked the objections against him in his Geschichte und Theorie der bildenden Künste. On the other hand, he did not altogether reject religious painting, although he censured the exaggerated veneration of old German customs (Deutschtümelei) externally manifested even in clothing and coiffure, which had been suggested by himself and Wackenroder but brought distinctly into vogue by A. W. Schlegel's Romantic colloquies on paintings in the Athenäum (1799). Tieck's young painter Dietrich represents this fatuous trend. And yet the representatives of academic classicism are also slyly ridiculed.

Tieck writes with calmness and circumspection. He shows more animation, and bitterness, too, when he argues against the self-styled connoisseurs (represented by the prince—is Burgsdorff his prototype?) who claim omniscience but are really ignoramuses. This deceiving nobleman is himself deceived by a tippling forger named Eulenböck, one of the most delightful creations in German "novellen" literature, who of all of Tieck's characters comes closest to being more than merely a typical figure. His is one of the many genial ironists in the "novellen." His remark that a given brand of wine represents the poetry of its native locality has become famous. But the frequently repeated statement that Eulenböck is a counterpart of the architect and writer on art Genelli is refuted by Tieck in a letter. Count Schack's suggestion that he represents Tieck's nephew Gustav Waagen must also be taken with a grain of salt. As for the principal character, he bears many of Tieck's own characteristics. His predilection for humorous speeches in praise of good victuals and drink was also Tieck's. Three English translations appeared between 1825 and 1833.

The interest in art, particularly in old paintings, evinced by Tieck in Die Gemälde accompanied him through life. We have had previous occasion to refer to it in discussing his relations with Wackenroder, the Schlegels and Runge, and in commenting upon the unpublished manuscript Geschichte und Theorie der bildenden Künste reposing in Vienna. It appears very markedly, too, in his correspondence with the noted art collector Sulpiz Boisserée, whom he met about 1808. Boisserée had an unbounded admiration for Tieck and justly considered him an able connoisseur. Some of Tieck's judgments in his letters to Boisserée are indeed sound, as that on the painting of a Dying Virgin owned by Boisserée (now in the Munich Pina-kothek), which, Tieck readily discerned, was the work of a German artist who lived after Dürer and spent some time in Italy. In the course of his Dresden period his preoccupation with painting also earned him the friendship of the noted artist Vogel von Vogelstein, whose portraits of Tieck have been mentioned.

Not long after Die Gemälde Tieck wrote Der Geheimnisvolle (1821). With it he sounded one of his favorite "novellen" themes, a typical social problem, namely insincerity in political and social life and the perniciousness of lies. The germ of the tale lies in an incident to which allusion has been made. In 1804 his brother-in-law Reichardt, using material furnished him by Count Schlabrendorf, secretly published a pamphlet against Napoleon. Though shielded by the Prussian chancellor, Count Hardenberg, he was forced to flee from the emperor's wrath. Around this nucleus of fact Tieck builds his plot, the locale of which is clearly Ziebingen. Kronenberg, a vain secretmonger and liar, who pharisaically censures others for the same fault of which he is guilty, falsely claims the authorship of a book against Napoleon. His prevarication involves him in serious trouble and almost costs him his life. Most of the other characters in the "novelle" are also untruthful, conspicuous exceptions being noble Cäcilie and young Emmerich. The latter gives expression to Tieck's own patriotic sentiments, his belief in the necessity of German unity, and his disbelief in excessive outspokenness of the public press. Tieck's semi-dramatic treatment has been referred to in the previous chapter.

As Der Geheimnisvolle depicts a gallery of prevaricators, so Die Reisenden, written in the spring of 1822, pictures an assemblage of fools. A tourist travelling incognito—a fad in Tieck's day—is mistaken for a madman and incarcerated in an asylum. Here most of the happenings, largely of a ludicrous nature, take place. We are introduced to many well drawn types, some really insane, while others are merely eccentric and hover on the borderline separating sanity from lunacy. One of Tieck's best figures is young Raimund. Though sane, he is suspected of being deranged, and every attempt to clear himself of this mistrust makes him more suspicious in the eyes of the "experts." His chief handicap arises from a false belief, which becomes an obsession, that his sweetheart has died. Minutes seem as years to him; this earns him the nickname of Methuselah. In the end the old physician in charge of the asylum loses his own mind and dismisses all the inmates. Tieck's ultimate purpose in composing this modern catalog of fools seems to be to deal in a realistic, satiric way with the typically Romantic question: Where does rational thinking end and madness begin? The "novelle" well illustrates his abiding interest in demonism. But from his nature demonism of 1797 to his new realistic demonism is a far cry. Die Reisenden contains many reminiscences of Burgsdorff. A certain similarity to Los Locos de Valencia of Lope, from whom he borrowed numerous motifs for the "novellen," is evident. A French version appeared in 1833.

Die Verlobung (1822) is a polemic against exaggerated and complacent piety and against Tieck's old Romantic theory that art and religion are identical. Orthodoxy, he felt, had been labored to such an extent that it had led to mere lip-service, external religionism and intellectual flaccidity, and had undermined mental and moral discipline. The lesson which he would point seems to be that a cultured man may possess truly religious instincts without being orthodox. This idea is pressed with some insistence and stamps Die Verlobung as the first markedly programmatic "novelle."

Apparently the protest it voices was timely. Shortly after its appearance the publisher F. A. Brockhaus noted in his diary that it contains "words spoken in the nick of time, for conditions are now bad, indeed. People care less whether a man does right and fulfils his duty than whether he observes the externalities of religion." Similarly, Goethe felt that Tieck has dispelled gloomy clouds and revealed a clear blue sky of common sense and pure morals.

As usual when Tieck's chief purpose is argumentative and not narrative, the plot is thin and insignificant, serving merely as an illustration of the subject of controversy. A young and beautiful but poor girl consents with reluctance to marry a very pious young baron. She is saved from him by an equally rich but less pious count, who marries her and settles the mortgage on the family mansion. The characters, however, are well portrayed. The principal one bears the name of Tieck's elder daughter Dorothea and mirrors the noblest aspects of her personality. An English translation by Connop Thirlwall came out in 1825.

Musikalische Leiden und Freuden (1822), suggesting in title Hoffmann's Johannes Kreislers des Kapellmeisters Musikalische Leiden and written one year after Weber's Der Freischütz, is composed in a bright, humorous vein. It is of twofold interest and value as an historical document, showing Tieck's own reaction to music and reflecting conditions in the musical world of his day. The autobiographical element is strong. Early in life he had come to understand and appreciate music at Reichardt's home in Berlin and later in Halle and Giebichenstein. He conceived a boyish admiration for Mozart. But his own attempt to play the violin, delightfully described by the "layman" in the story, was an utter failure. Wackenroder had opened his eyes to the close relationship of music and the rest of the arts, with the result that many of his works possess a strong musicalness and marked synaesthesia. His friend Burgsdorff was very musical. And in the home of Count Finckenstein at Madlitz (he was the model for Baron Fernow in the story) Tieck also heard much music.

The trend of his argument in this "novelle" is against spuriousness in music, particularly against ignorant "lovers" of music, stupid amateur performers and the caprices of audiences and singers, in short against all the various abuses of the art. There is no mistaking the types which he introduces, for instance the dilettante enthusiast Kellermann, who is always ecstatic, generally over some composition which he has never heard; Count Alten, the "concert hound"; the musical director tortured by the whims of the public; and the Italian singing teacher, in whom the soulless virtuosos are attacked. It is in this "novelle" that we find Tieck's charge that Beethoven is guilty of farfetched originality. As often in Tieck, the "novelle" is a story framed within a story, so constructed that in the end framework and narrative proper are blended into a unit.

The setting of Die Gesellschaft auf dem Lande (1824) is eighteenth century Brandenburg. The theme, the evil of untruthfulness, is identical with that of Der Geheimnisvolle. Though Tieck opposed the "fanaticism for veraciousness" ascribed to the Teutons, and could condone a white lie, he demanded truth and frankness in all matters of importance, making this demand one of his leading motifs.

As usual the plot is simple. Franz has seen Adelheid at a ball and fallen in love with her. By her brother, his friend, he is invited to the family's country estate. There he poses as a painter. But Adelheid, repulsed by his disingenuous mode of courting, conceals her love for him and encourages another suitor, until the latter has a serious quarrel with her father, the baron. The father, a champion of the "good old times," wears a queue and expects all his friends to do likewise. His steward Römer, who poses as a former hussar, has a particularly fine queue, which is cut off half in jest by Zipfmantel, the miller. The resulting ignominy is too much for Römer, and he dies. Thereupon it turns out that he was a base charlatan, who had lied so long and persistently about his past that he had come to believe his own prevarications. Needless to say, Franz wins Adelheid, and a happy ending is achieved. The tale is written in a pleasantly humorous vein. Some of the characters are well portrayed, especially Römer (modelled on a figure Tieck met in Ziebingen), the old baron (a take-off on the ultraconservatives of the time) and the baroness (who, like Tieck's Ziebingen friends, unable to distinguish between "mir" and "mich," always uses the accusative in addressing servants and the dative in social intercourse).

In its day this "novelle" was praised. A. W. Schlegel read it "with unending delight" and felt that nothing since Don Quixote could compare with it [Lüdeke, L. T. u. d. Brüder Schlegel]. Of interest are a fine tribute to Frederick the Great, also the mature fatalism and belief in supernaturalism affirmed in the words: "Do we toy with ourselves, or does a higher hand shuffle the cards? Perhaps in the very important moments of our lives these two possibilities come to the same thing."

Pietro von Abano oder Petrus Apone, Zaubergeschichte (1824) deals with medieval superstitions, spooks and magic and is charged with an atmosphere of fantasticalness. In being more a narrative portrait than a disquisition it is hardly a "novelle" in Tieck's sense, rather a fairy tale in the Romantic style. Like Dichterleben, which was to follow, it marks a transition from the "novelle" of contemporary conditions to the historical type. But instead of allowing the magic element to be manifested in nature, as he had done in Der blonde Eckbert, he makes the devil and his human underlings its ministers. The hellish medieval magician Apone of Padua, in love with dead Crescentia, calls her back from the grave. Hovering between life and death, she is promised full life by the sorcerer if she will marry him. But her yearning for death is stronger than her will to be resuscitated under such conditions. In the end it turns out that Apone was under the influence of Berecynth, a demon, who restores him to life, only to spirit him away. And Crescentia has a twin sister, who had been kidnaped in infancy and is now rescued and married by Antonio, Crescentia's lover. Of interest is Tieck's belief that childlike faith works greater miracles than sophisticated sorcery.

The source which Tieck used is the Storia della letteratura italiana of Girolamo Tiraboschi. Though lacking unity, the difficult subject, which Brentano also used in his Romanzen vom Rosenkranz, is handled cleverly (as Niebuhr, too, thought) and with a degree of skill. As in his earlier Romantic tales, Tieck banishes realism and all reference to contemporary everyday life. In later works, when he mixed spiritualism, magic and realism, as in the modern tale Der Schutzgeist (1839), he was less successful. A continuation of Pietro von Abano, announced in 1824, did not appear. In 1827 the tale was used as the basis for an opera by Spohr (text by Karl Pfeiffer). Two English translations were published in 1831 and 1839, respectively.

Dichterleben (1824), with a prolog Das Fest zu Kenilworth (1828) and a second part (1829), is again more narrative than argumentative and rates higher than any of the "novellen" preceding it except Pietro von Abano. As early as 1800 he had planned a novel on the early English drama. The three "novellen" comprising Dichterleben, together covering three hundred fifty pages...

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Gordon Birrell (essay date 1979)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Split Terrain: Space in the Märchen of Tieck," in The Boundless Present: Space and Time in the Literary Fairy Tales of Novalis and Tieck, The University of North Carolina Press, 1979, pp. 39-62.

[In the following excerpt, Birrell explores how Tieck's use of spatial and temporal space is related to thematic and structural qualities of Der blonde Eckbert]

Der blonde Eckbert

In contrast to Novalis's tales, which are intellectually engaging but rather short on emotional appeal, the Märchen of Ludwig Tieck speak directly to the feelings and senses. Der blonde Eckbert, for instance, is so lyrically evocative...

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Roger Paulin (essay date 1985)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Vittoria Accorombona: The Literary Works of the Later Dresden Years," in Ludwig Tieck: A Literary Biography, Clarendon Press, 1985, pp. 304-31.

[In the following excerpt, Paulin provides a thematic and stylistic analysis of Tieck's later short fiction.]

There were some works written in Tieck's later years in Dresden which were mere passing reactions to the 'charivari of the times', others a proof that a seasoned practitioner could write a Novelle with his little finger if he needed the money. Sometimes, the chance to write a preface for a friend's work or for one of the many translations he superintended, gave him the opportunity for extemporized...

(The entire section is 9475 words.)

Maria Tatar (essay date 1987)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Unholy Alliances: Narrative Ambiguity in Tieck's 'Der Blonde Eckbert'," in MLN: Modern Language Notes, Vol. 102, 1987, pp. 608-26.

[In the following essay, Tatar examines the narrative structure of Tieck's novella, maintaining that the ambiguity of the text "engages the reader's mind in a never-ending process of interpretation, in an endless search that becomes its own end."]

While most authors have at one time or another professed a preference for entertaining or for instructing their readers (unless they have prided themselves on their ability to do both), Ludwig Tieck never really harbored the one ambition or the other. The stated aim of his fiction was to...

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Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)


Klett, Dwight A. Ludwig Tieck: An Annotated Guide to Research. New York: Garland Publishing, 1993, 201 p.

Full-length bibliography of secondary material on Tieck.

Paulin, Roger. Ludwig Tieck. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler, 1987, 133 p.

Contains a complete primary bibliography of Tieck's literary and critical works.


Birrell, Gordon. The Boundless Present: Space and Time in the Literary Fairy Tales of Novalis and Tieck. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1979, 160 p....

(The entire section is 380 words.)