Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Heinrich von Kleist’s The Marquise of O—— plays an important role in genre studies of the novella, a form closely associated with the Romantic period of literature in Germany. The novella occupies a place between the short story and the novel and usually involves a framing device of some kind and often a central symbol. Though Kleist characterized this work as a tale (Erzählung), critics have assimilated it to the novellas contemporary to it because of its substantial length and the framing device in which the narrator claims to be telling a true story.

The work also allows significant character development, as it spans the time from the first encounter between Giulietta and Count F—— to the birth of their child and subsequent reconciliation. The narrator frames the story as if it were factual by claiming to have changed the setting from southern to northern Italy and by suppressing the names of the characters.

The central symbol of the novella can be seen in the count’s memory of throwing mud at a white swan as a child on his father’s estate. As the count recovers from a bullet wound, he recounts this vision to the marquise, explaining that her face became interchangeable with the figure of the swan in his fevered mind.

The Marquise of O—— supports powerful psychological readings of family relationships, both between the parents and their daughter and between the lover-rapist Count...

(The entire section is 403 words.)