Storm, Theodor 1817-1888
(Born Hans Theodor Woldsen Storm) German novella writer, poet, and fairy tale writer.
A prominent representative of poetic—or, bourgeois—realism, Storm authored over fifty novellas that reflect upon—sometimes criticizing, sometimes idealizing—the situation and the standards of the nineteenth-century German middle class. Though many of his novellas show great concern for home and hearth, Storm's tales are typically focused around the conflicts and desires of the individual within the community. Often set in Storm's native region of Schleswig-Holstein and often told nostalgically through the narrative style of reminisences, his novellas employ the familiar and the everyday to explore the enigmatic and the unknown. Storm's novellas are lyrical meditations on the themes of love, solitude, and death, as well as the isolation, transience, and mutability of an impersonal, alienating universe. Storm advances with great persistence the many and various values of middle-class life, from honesty in love and community to industry and selfreliance.
Storm was born in Husum, Schleswig-Holstein, a region belonging, at his birth, to Denmark. Storm's parents were both from well-respected, and generally well-to-do, families in the region, and many of Storm's novellas reflect a fondness for the idyllic settings, traditions, and circumstances of his youth. While a student at the Gymnasium at Lubeck, Storm had his first serious encounter with literature, meeting Emanuel Geibel, who would later become one of his era's most popular poets, and reading the works of Goethe, Heine, and Eichendorff. Between 1837 and 1842, while studying law at the universities of Kiel and Berlin, Storm began writing poetry and became a member of a literary society, which included in its membership Theodor Mommsen, who would become one of Germany's leading historians. In 1842 Storm began his legal practice in Husum. In that same year, he asked Bertha von Buchan, a young woman whom he had long loved, to marry him. Though her refusal might have been the impetus for some of Storm's early novellas dealing with unrequited love, the refusal also marked the beginning of a tempestuous time in Storm's emotional life, for soon after the refusal, Storm was engaged to and then married a cousin, Constanze Esmarch. The marriage survived, though it was put to a severe test when Storm became passionately attracted to Dorothea Jensen, the woman he would marry twenty years later, after Constanze's death. The late 1840s was also a time of great political turmoil; Schleswig-Holstein was caught in the middle of the nationalist efforts of Denmark and Prussia. Due in large part to conflicts with Danish authorities regarding political poems he had written, Storm lived in exile during the Danish occupation of Schleswig-Holstein, taking up minor judiciary posts in Pottsdam and Heiligenstadt, from 1853 until 1864 when the Prussians defeated the Danes. Though increasingly worried by family affairs, including the ill-health of many of his children—especially the alcoholism of his eldest son, Hans—and though employed steadily in legal professions until his retirement in 1881, Storm worked energetically on his novellas and corresponded with some of the leading literary figures of his day, including Theodor Fontane and Ivan Turgenev. Storm died of abdominal cancer in 1888, four months after completing his last novella.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Though the primary theme of Storm's novellas—the thwarting of human desire for the beautiful life by more-powerful social or hereditary forces—remains constant, the tales' emotional tenor and coloring changed steadily in the course of Storm's career, often reflecting changes in Storm's own changing personal, social, and political situation. Written amidst the many changes in his love-life, Storm's early novellas—including the immensely popular Immensee (1849), a tale of unrequited love told by an old man reflecting on his youth—were nostalgic, atmospheric pieces suffused with a sense of quiet resignation. Novellas written during Storm's exile—including Auf dem Staatshof (1859, At King' s Farm), Auf der Universitat (1863, Lenore), and Im Schloss (1863, In the Castle), a story in which attacks are made on the unwarranted power of the aristocracy—demonstrate a more overt commitment to political change. The novellas written during the 1870s reflect upon difficulties in Storm's family life, including the transition to having a stepmother in Viola Tricolor (1873, The Little Stepmother) and the existence of hereditary illness in Carsten Curator (1878, Curator Carsten). Aquis Submersus (1877, Beneath the Flood), the first of Storm's "chroniknovellen," explicitly deals with culpa patris, the guilt of the father, introducing an overtly tragic element to Storm's corpus. Storm's last and possibly greatest novella, Der Schimmelreiter (1888, The White Horse Rider), tells the story of a man whose ambitions defy nature and alienate him from his community. The man is a person of both mythic and tragic proportion, one who does not resign himself to but rather tempts and challenges fate.
Although a well-recognized writer by the end of his life, many of Storm's contemporaries attacked his work on the grounds that it was mere "Heimatdichtung," regional, provincial work colored by nostalgia and sentiment. A revitalization of interest in Storm occurred in 1930, when the publication of an essay by Thomas Mann revealed the formative role Storm's work played in Mann's understanding of German literature. Since 1945, over seven and one-half million volumes of Storm's work have been published, making Storm the most widely-read German author of the later nineteenth century. In the past thirty years, Storm's work has received increased critical attention, having been studied from virtually all post-war literary interpretive perspectives, including psychoanalytic, existential, and Marxist perspectives. Recent criticism attempts to establish Storm more fully in his sitz im leben, exploring the methods Storm used to communicate about, and to communicate within, the social milieu of his day.