Theodor Storm Storm, Theodor - Essay


(Short Story Criticism)

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Critical Reception

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.

Principal Works

(Short Story Criticism)


Hans Bar 1837

Marthe und ihre Uhr [Marthe and Her Clock] 1847

Im Saal 1848

Immensee [Immensee; or, The Old Man's Reverie] 1849

Der kleine Hawelmann 1849

Posthuma 1849

Ein grunes Blatt 1850

Im Sonnenschein 1854

Angelika 1855

Wenn die Apfel reif sind 1856

Hinzelmeier 1857

Am Kamin 1858

Auf dem Staatshof [At King's Farm] 1859

Spate Rosen 1859

Druben am Markt 1860

Veronika 1861

Unter dem Tannenbaum 1862

Abseits 1863

Auf der Universitat [Lenore] 1863

Im Schloss [In the Castle] 1863

Bulemanns Haus 1864

Die Regentrude 1864

Der Spiegel des Cyprianus 1864

Ein Malerarbeit 1867

Von Jenseit des Meeres 1867

In St. Jürgen [In St. Jurgen] 1868

Der Amtschirurgus-Heimkehr 1870

Lena Wies 1870

Draussen im Heidedorf [Out in the Moorland Village] 1871

Eine Halligfahrt [A Holm Trip] 1871

Zwei Kuchenesser der alten Zeit 1871

Beim Vetter Christian [At Cousin Christian's] 1873

Viola Tricolor [The Little Stepmother] 1873

Zerstreute Kapitel 1873

Von heut und ehedem 1873

Pole Poppenspäler 1874

Waldwinkel 1874

Im Nachbarhaus links 1875

Psyche 1875

Ein stiller Musikant 1875

Von Kindern und Katzen 1876

Aquis Submersus [Beneath the Flood] 1877

Carsten Curator [Curator Carsten] 1878

Renate [Renate] 1878

Eekenhof 1880

Im Brauerhause 1880

Zur Wald- und Wassarfreude 1880

Der Herr Etatsrat 1881

Die Sohne des Senators [The Senator's Sons] 1881

Hans und Heinz Kirch 1883

Schweigen 1883

Zur Chronik von Grieshuus [A Chapter in the History of Greishuus] 1884

Es waren zwei Konigskinder 1884

John Riew' 1885

Ein Fest auf Haderslevhuus [A Festival at Haderslevhuus] 1885

Vor Zeiten 1886

Ein Bekenntnis 1887

Botjer Basch [Basch the Cooper] 1887

Ein Doppelgänger [A Doppelganger] 1887

Der Schimmelreiter [The Rider on the White Horse] 1888

*The Rider on the White Horse, and Selected Stories [translated by James Wright] 1964

Other Major Works

Liederbuch dreier freunde [with Theodor and Tycho Mommsen] (poetry) 1843

Gedichte (poetry) 1852; revised and enlarged edition, 1885

Samtliche Werke 8 vols. (novellas, poetry, and letters) 1919-20

*Comprises "In the Great Hall," "Immensee," "A Green Leaf," "In the Sunlight," "Veronika," "In St. Jurgen," "Aquis Submersus," and "The Rider on the White Horse."

John C. Blankenangel (essay date 1952)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Tragic Guilt in Storm's Schimmelreiter" in The German Quarterly, Vol. XXV, No. 3, May, 1952, pp. 170-81.

[In the following essay, Blankenangel demonstrates that the protagonist's inherited character traits are integral parts of the tale, and, combined with social interaction, help to produce the tale's tragic outcome.]

In his "Novelle" Der Schimmelreiter Theodor Storm treated the problem of tragic guilt with great breadth and with profound insight into human character and human relations. Directly, as well as by subtle implications, the entire narrative seems to center around this problem. The author's conception of tragic guilt is presented in...

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William F. Mainland (essay date 1962)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Theodor Storm," in German Men of Letters: Twelve Literary Essays, edited by Alex Natan, Dufour Editions, 1962, pp. 147-67.

[In the following essay, Mainland examines Storm's provincial attitudes and upbringing and the effect they had on many of his novellas.]

Da hörte Gabriel einen Ton, dumpf, als käme er aus der Erde; und der Boden unter ihm schüttelte kaum merklich. Da war es wieder und bald noch einmal. Was geschah drüben, dass jetzt zur Nachtzeit die Kanonen gingen?—Regine schien nichts davon gehört zu haben; denn sie hob den Kopf ein wenig und sagte: 'Es schlägt zehn Uhr im Dorf.'

This text...

(The entire section is 7665 words.)

David S. Artiss (essay date 1968)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Bird Motif and Myth in Theodor Storm's Schimmelreiter"' in Seminar, Vol. IV, No. 1, Spring, 1968, pp. 1-16.

[In the following essay, Artiss examines the symbolic use of birds in Der Schimmelreiter, finding that they "supply the key to the supernatural element" in the novella.]

Recent interpretations of Der Schimmelreiter by Theodor Storm reflect the renewed interest in the study of motif and symbol, after the neglect of half a century. Two of these interpretations draw attention to the need for a closer examination of the mythological elements in this Novelle. A closer study of the birds in the story reveals the author's...

(The entire section is 6425 words.)

Leonard L. Duroche (essay date 1971)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Like and Look Alike: Symmetry and Irony in Theodor Storm's Aquis submersus," in Seminar, Vol. VII, No. 1, March, 1971, pp. 1-13.

[In the following essay, Duroche argues that Storm "succeeds in saying just the opposite of what his novella seems to say, " examining the strategic juxtapositioning of narrative elements.]

A continuing problem for students of Storm has been the attempt to penetrate the highly involved structure of Aquis submersus and to bring the frame into some kind of meaningful relationship to the central narrative. Recent critical comments have tended to cluster around two positions. One pattern of interpretation, seen most...

(The entire section is 4954 words.)

John M. Ellis (essay date 1974)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Storm: 'Der Schimmelreiter'," in Narration in the German Novelle: Theory and Interpretation, Cambridge University Press, 1974, pp. 155-68.

[In the following essay, Ellis examines the importance of the narrative framework in Der Schimmelreiter, demonstrating how attention to the frame puts greater emphasis on the community and its reactions to the tale than on the tale's hero.]

The narrative framework of Storm's Der Schimmelreiter is notoriously complex, and involves at least four visible or implied story-tellers; but though some recent criticism of Storm's narrative technique has been very interesting, it is surprising that no detailed...

(The entire section is 4614 words.)

Clifford Albrecht Bernd (essay date 1981)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Novella (I. Theodor Storm)," in German Poetic Realism, Twayne, 1981, pp. 29-36.

[In the following essay, Bernd, by examining Immensee and Aquis submersus shows Storm to be a significant practitioner of and contributor to the German Poetic Realism school.]

If it can be claimed that Julian Schmidt was the missionary apostle of German Poetic Realism, that the impress of his hand constituted the shaping force which brought its theory into being, then it must also be recognized that the first important practitioner of the new literary movement was Theodor Storm (1817-1888).

Storm was a native of the Danish duchy of Schleswig, and...

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David Artiss (essay date 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Theodor Storm: Poetic Realist or Realist Poet? Secret Strategies of Art and Realism," in In Search of the Poetic Real: Essays in Honor of Clifford Albrecht Bernd on the Occasion of his Sixtieth Birthday, edited by John F. Fetzer, Roland Hoermann, and Winder McConnell, Hans-Dieter Heinz, 1989, pp. 23-32.

[In the following essay, Artiss argues that the enduring appeal of Storm's prose may be its sophisticated use of irony.]

Appreciation for the writings of Theodor Storm, as reflected in the sale and translation of his works since 1945, is unmatched by any other nineteenth-century German-speaking writer, with the single, possible exception of Goethe. In this...

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Robert C. Holub (essay date 1991)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Memory of Realism: The Aesthetics of Abnegation in Storm's Aquis submersus," in Reflections of Realism: Paradox, Norm, and Ideology in Nineteenth Century German Prose, Wayne State University Press, 1991, pp. 132-51.

[In the following essay, Holub describes Aquis submersus as a realist novella concerned with the difficulties and deceptions of memory.]

Das Leben trügt—Erinnerung
Allein bleibt ewig treu;
Die bringet nur geheilten Schmerz
Und nur gesühnte Reu.

(Life deceives—memory alone remains eternally true; it brings only healed pain...

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Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)

Alt, A. Tilo. Theodor Storm. New York: Twayne, 1973, 151 p.

Substantial overview of Storm's life and work, including detailed remarks on the novellas.

——. "Escape and Transformation: An Inquiry into the Nature of Storm's Realism." In Creative Encounter: Festschrift for Herman Salinger, edited by Leland R. Phelps and A. Tilo Alt, pp. 117-32. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978.

Discusses Storm's principal methods for dealing with a reality he saw as fundamentally insecure: escapism in the earlier novellas and transformation in the later novellas.

Andrews, John S. "Immensee and Victorian England." Modern...

(The entire section is 1417 words.)