(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The unnamed narrator of “The Seventh Trunk” is a writer who hopes to find or to create the perfect work of fiction. Early in his career, he thought that this goal had been achieved. He read in the Bockelmunden Parish News the first installment of what was supposed to be a two-part story by an author named Jakob Maria Hermes. Unfortunately, however, the publication went out of business, so the conclusion of Hermes’s story never appeared.

The narrator gives only the briefest account of its plot: A nine-year-old girl is lured into joining a religious order that attends mass not once, but twice each Sunday. Although the narrator is unable to present the story exactly as he read it years earlier, he insists that it was the most nearly perfect work of fiction that he has ever read. Only one sentence struck him as flawed. On seeing the young girl, a nun of the order is said to be aware of her own “senselessness” (Sinnlosigkeit). The narrator says that the word seems ridiculous in its context and must have been a printer’s error for “sensuality” (Sinnlichkeit). He draws this conclusion because, shortly before this, the same nun notices a spot of chocolate appearing on the young girl’s blue dress. This image, the narrator concludes, must evoke feelings that the nun is powerless to suppress.

Curious as to how the story turned out, the narrator searches for information about the author in everything from writers’ indexes to the Bockelmunden parish register. At last, he is forced to conclude that the name “Jakob Maria Hermes” must have been a pseudonym. He then begins to seek out Ferdinand Schmitz, a retired schoolmaster who was the last editor of the Bockelmunden Parish News. By a remarkable coincidence, Schmitz dies only a day or two before the narrator arrives in town. At the old man’s funeral, the narrator is told by relatives that the entire archives of the Bockelmunden Parish News—perhaps half a dozen boxes of correspondence, records, and unpublished manuscripts—were burned during the final days of World War II. Left with no means of recovering the story’s original ending, the...

(The entire section is 887 words.)