The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Undine is the story of a water-spirit’s quest for a soul, of the stringent conditions that subsequently apply to her remaining in the human world, and of the tragedy that overtakes her, then her husband, as a result of his unfaithfulness in marriage. An old fisherman and his wife live in their cottage by a lake, separated from the city by a dark forest filled with frightening specters. Late in life, they have a daughter, but she apparently drowns. Shortly afterward, a richly dressed child called Undine appears, soaking wet, at their door.

When Undine is eighteen years old, water-spirits lead two visitors to the cottage, then create a storm to keep them there. One of the visitors, a knight named Huldbrand of Ringstetten, falls in love with Undine. The other visitor, Father Heilmann, marries them.

After the wedding night, Undine is transformed because she has acquired a human soul. She reveals her true nature as a water-spirit to her husband, who chooses to remain with her. On their way back to the city, a tall man in white appears to them in the forest and wishes to talk to the bride. It is Uncle Kühleborn, the most powerful water-spirit in the region. Undine no longer wants anything to do with him. Huldbrand draws his sword to protect her, and Kühleborn turns into a torrent of water, telling Huldbrand always to guard his wife that well.

In the city, the only person who is not happy that Huldbrand has reappeared with an...

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Fisherman’s hut

Fisherman’s hut. Hut in which the knight Sir Huldbrand meets and eventually marries the water spirit Undine; situated between the wild forest and the lake that provides his living. By virtue of her adoption by the fisherman, Undine is already removed from her true place, but while she and Huldbrand remain there, she is still connected to the lake and the various streams that feed into it. Of all the dwellings featured in the story, this is the one which best preserves a symbolic balance between nature and culture; however, the precariousness of that balance is reflected in hectic weather and unruly surges of the streams. Furthermore, it represents a state of being that has already been surpassed. It is significant that when Bertalda tries to return to the hut, she cannot make her way through the Black Valley; she has to be rescued by Huldbrand and returned to the relative safety of Ringstetten.


*Vienna. “Imperial city” to which Huldbrand initially takes his bride. The city is not immediately identified as Vienna—the Austrian capital of the so-called Holy Roman Empire in the era in which the story is set—nor is the river on which it stands clearly identified as the Danube. Friedrich de la Motte-Fouqué’s decision to situate the story more specifically appears to have been made when he was partway through writing it.

In the novel, the city lies on the far side of the forest from the fisherman’s hut. Although Huldbrand and Undine are entertained there by the duke and duchess, neither of them really belongs there—nor, indeed, does Bertalda, who is the fisherman’s...

(The entire section is 682 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Gosse, Edmund. “La Motte Fouqué: A Critical Study.” In Undine, by Friedrich de la Motte-Fouqué. London: Lawrence and Bullen, 1896. Gosse’s translation is perhaps the best of several English versions; his prefatory essay discusses the sources and reception of the work.

Green, David. “Keats and La Motte Fouqué’s Undine.” Delaware Notes 27 (1954): 34-48. Discusses the influence of Undine on John Keats’s Lamia (1820) and other poems involving supernatural women.

Hoppe, Manfred K. E. “Friedrich de La Motte Fouqué.” In Supernatural Fiction Writers: Fantasy and Horror, edited by Everett F. Bleiler. New York: Scribner’s, 1985. The essay contains an elaborate discussion of Undine, connecting its femme fatale theme to Fouqué’s own experiences.

Lillyman, W. J. “Fouqué’s Undine.” Studies in Romanticism 10 (1971): 94-104. Provides a careful dissection of the text.

Mornin, Edward. “Some Patriotic Novels and Tales by de La Motte Fouqué.” Seminar 11 (1975): 141-156. Places Undine and other works by Fouqué in the political context of German Romanticism and German nationalism.