(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

At midnight, alone in a Gothic gallery, Manfred is meditating about his life. He has undergone many experiences, but only one has profoundly affected him. When he calls on the spirits of the universe to appear before him, none come. He summons them three times, and the third time voices of the seven spirits are heard, invoking a mysterious curse on Manfred’s soul. The first voice is that of the Spirit of Air. It is followed by the voices of the spirits of the mountains, ocean, earth, winds, night, and Manfred’s guiding star. They agree to do his bidding and ask what he would have them do.

Manfred replies that he desires forgetfulness. When the Spirit of Air seeks further explanation, Manfred does not reveal what he wishes to forget. Surely, he insists, spirits that control earth, sky, water, mountains, winds, night, and destiny can bring the oblivion he seeks. The spirits reply, however, that they have no powers beyond their own realms. When Manfred, failing in his hopes, asks the spirits to take bodily forms, the seventh spirit, the star of his destiny, takes the shape of a beautiful woman. At the sight of her, Manfred, hinting at a former love, attempts to hold her, but she vanishes, leaving him senseless. An unidentified voice then utters a lengthy incantation, in which Manfred is cursed and seemingly condemned to wander the earth forever with his spiritual agony unassuaged.

The next morning, alone on a cliff of the Jungfrau in the Bernese Alps, Manfred resolves to forego all superhuman aid. He praises the beauty of nature around him, but he also recognizes his alienation from it. While Manfred is musing on the relative merits of life and death, a chamois hunter approaches unobserved, just in time to restrain Manfred from flinging himself over the cliff. Together, they descend the rocky trail.

In his cottage, the hunter urges Manfred to rest a while before journeying on. Manfred refuses guidance and declares...

(The entire section is 798 words.)