(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“A New Year’s Eve Adventure” is partially E. T. A. Hoffmann’s own romantic fantasy, but it is also a satire on the convention of the lost reflection or shadow familiar in other German fantasies of the early nineteenth century. It is typical of Hoffmann in that its reality seems to hover halfway between the real world and the world of fairy tale; thus the split in the central character, Spikher, both between himself and his reflection, as well as between himself and the Travelling Enthusiast, is reflective of the duality of the world as Hoffmann sees it—always half-actual, half-imaginative, always half-comic, half-tragic.

The basic nature of such a split is announced in the editor’s foreword to the story, in which the Travelling Enthusiast is described as one who cannot separate the events of his inner life from those of the outside world. Suggesting that the reader is to enter a world where he cannot determine where inner world ends and outer world begins, the editor warns the reader that in this story he will be in a strange magical realm, where figures of fantasy step right into his own life.

The story opens with the convention, familiar in the stories of Edgar Allan Poe (who was highly influenced by Hoffmann’s fiction), of the Enthusiast’s sense of inexplicable fear and madness, the source of which is the fact that every New Year’s Eve the Devil keeps a special treat for him. He goes to a party given by the counselor of justice and there sees Julia, a beautiful woman from his former life of love and poetry, only to discover that she is married to a spindle-legged little cretin with eyes like a frog.

Retreating from the grand party to a beer cellar, the Enthusiast meets a tall, sad man who looks like a character from a Peter Paul Rubens painting and a short, dried-up fellow who has a powerful antipathy toward mirrors. This second stranger has two different faces, one that of a pleasant young man and the other that of a demoniac old man. The reader discovers that this little man is Erasmus Spikher, who has lost his...

(The entire section is 846 words.)