The E. T. A. Hoffmann Thread

Discussion in 'Classic SF&F' started by Extollager, Nov 27, 2011.

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    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    [​IMG]

    Herewith, Chronsfolk are invited to discuss the life, tales and influence of "German Romantic author of fantasy and horror," as Wikipedia puts it, Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann (24 January 1776 – 25 June 1822).

    My understanding is that he was an influence, directly or indirectly, on many of the major writers in those genres (Poe, Gogol, Dickens, Dostoevsky, George MacDonald....)* -- and that his works in their own right offer much enjoyment. I believe that one of his stories is an outstanding early example of the android theme.
    [​IMG]

    (I was interested to see that Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky had a Hoffmann film projected but died before it could be made.)

    There seem to be several English translations of his best tales available. These include the story that inspired the Nutcracker ballet. One can also get his weird novel The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr... perhaps something Fritz Leiber would have relished. According to Wikipedia, --Critic Alex Ross writes of the novel, "If the phantasmagoric 'Kater Murr' were published tomorrow as the work of a young Brooklyn hipster, it might be hailed as a tour de force of postmodern fiction."--

    Perhaps he would be a good author for Northern hemisphere folk to get into during our winter -- I say this without prejudice against Antipodean friends!

    Who's interested?

    *I suspect that Robert Aickman was a recent author with whom ETAH had important affinities. Perhaps Mervyn Peake, too?
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    HoopyFrood

    HoopyFrood Iago with a Blackberry

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    I've only read one of his stories, Der Sandmann, but I'm a little bit obsessed with it. The Sandman figure, and the link to eyes ("pretty eyes!") is something with which I keep trying to experiment in my own stories.
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    I have only read one colllection of Hoffmann's tales -- the Dover Best Tales, ed. by E. F. Bleiler -- and a scattered tale or two outside of that; but, from my perspective, he takes a bit of getting used to, yet I would say that effort well spent. His works blur from fantasy to realism to horror to humor... sometimes within the same paragraph (if not the same sentence!). He is often surreal, frequently satirical, and not uncommonly moved by a feeling of pathos mixed with irony which would do Cabell proud. (And there is another who may well have been influenced by him.) His "The Mines of Falun" is an excellent example of this, as I recall, and would repay any lover of genuine fantasy (as opposed to the overblown sword-and-sorcery which comprises so much of what people think of as "fantasy")* a thousandfold.

    And, as Hoops has said, "The Sandman" is one of the great classics of both the fantasy and horror genres, as well as being taken as the text for Freud's own classic "On the Uncanny" ("Das Unheimliche"), one of the great examinations of this genre of writing. (And I say this as someone who has many reservations about Freud and Freudian literary criticism.)

    And, if one has a chance, it really would be a good idea to see Offenbach's opera, Tales of Hoffmann (which features an adaptation of the story to which Extollager refers above); a lovely encapsulation of much of his charm. (I saw a production many, many years ago, and the lighting director of the piece chose the perfect way to illuminate the stage, making the tableaux appear as those classic paintings by Rembrandt and others, with that golden glow about them. The young lady who performed as Olympia was astonishingly good, and carried off the automata's aria so well that she had nearly everyone's jaw on the floor....)

    *Don't misunderstand. I love S&S, but also know full well the distinction between it -- essentially an adventure story with fantastical elements -- and genuine fantasy, which is quite a different critter, and has a much longer heritage... at least, if we are dealing with what most people consider "fantasy" today.
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    J-Sun

    J-Sun Active Member

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    I have a collection that, like so many, I haven't read. But I love Poe, Gogol, and Dostoevsky and to "blur from fantasy to realism to horror to humor" sounds good so I'm looking forward to it even more than I was. Mine (Kent/Knight, University of Chicago Press) is strangely lacking "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" but does have "The Sandman", "The Mines of Falun", and several others.
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    One might also want to look up a copy of Alberto von Chamisso's The Wonderful History of Peter Schlemihl, which also fits into that tradition. In fact, Hoffmann gives a nod to Chamisso's work by including Schlemihl as a secondary character in one of his tales....

    Other German Romantics are also worth exploring, if you like Hoffmann, such as Friedrich Heinrich Karl de la Motte Fouqué, whose Undine is an absolutely enchanting tale... and was also a favorite of Poe.
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    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    ... J. Sheridan Le Fanu too, you think?

    Hawthorne?

    Metropolis too?

    [​IMG]
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    HoopyFrood

    HoopyFrood Iago with a Blackberry

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    Yeah, I totally said that ;)

    And that's why I read it. I knew it was because of Freud and the Uncanny but couldn't remember how...
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    I have no idea about Le Fanu... though there is supposed to be a book of criticism and scholarship on him coming out from Hippocampus Press, which might possibly have information on this:

    http://www.hippocampuspress.com/myt...e-fanu?zenid=aebdd6ca7e0a94eb13cf07561e3b3a39

    Hawthorne... I vaguely recall, from his letters, more than a little disinterest in European literature in general, and German and French literature in particular. This may be an erroneous recollection, but I know he wasn't particularly interested in most older fictional writings (or art, for that matter) through most of his life, except for the writings dealing with America.

    Metropolis? Well, it is quite possible Thea von Harbeau had this story in mind, but given the viciousness of Rotwang's robot as opposed to the character of the automaton in Hoffmann's tale... I have my doubts.

    Just had to be a smart-aleck, did you? Hmmph. See what I get for handing you a compliment, Newt....

    All right, Miss Smarty... since you must have me be specific -- the first clause was addressed to your comments, and was expressing an implied, not explicit, dimension I saw in them; the bit about Freud's essay was entirely mine own.

    (Yeesh! Some people just won't allow you to be nice to 'em.....):rolleyes:
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    J-Sun

    J-Sun Active Member

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    Looking at the intro to my book, it says "Irving, Hawthorne, and Poe were among those in America who were acquainted with his works.... Hawthorne's use of the ancestral curse stems from Hoffman's "Das Majorat" ("The Legacy")." But they don't really provide any arguments for this or their other statements on influence.

    It goes on to mention his influence in Russia (Pushkin, Turgenev, Gogol, Dostoevsky) and France (Sainte-Beuve, George Sand, Baudelaire). Then lesser influences in England (Carlyle (sort of negatively), Brontes, Stevenson).

    They don't say anything about Germany except in a negative sense - they provide an unkind quote from Goethe (probably reacting against his earlier self as much as Hoffmann). I probably will get around to la Motte Fouqué one of these days. I've never heard of Chamisso - I'll have to look into that.
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    HoopyFrood

    HoopyFrood Iago with a Blackberry

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    Actually, all I was thinking was "bless him for making me look smart"!

    And damn right your bit about Freud was your own. As I said, was what made me realise why I read the story in the first place (and, I assume, the essay that you mentioned as well...)
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    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    Wow the names just keep on coming when it comes to Hoffman eh?

    Certainly Hoffman was an influence on quite a number of authors many of whom have already been mentioned.

    I possibly hold an advantage over some other folk here in that German is my second language, so not unsurprisingly I have a rather nice collection of Hoffman's 'original' that is to say untranslated fiction. Hoffman, as one person I heard discussing his work recently said, is the kind of writer that is liked (in the main admired) but not well read. An interesting observation which is possibly borne out so far by the comments on this thread. As JD has already alluded to Hoffman is very much in the school of 'Romantic Irony'. In addition to two of the biggest names associated with the German Romantic movement as my learned colleague has already mentioned in La Motte Fouqué (Undine is just a great tale irrespective of Genre but certainly something every lover of Fantasy should read) and Chamisso, Heinrich Von Kleist need also be acknowledged, whose recently translated/released collection by Penguin, 'The Marquis of O and other stories', is yet another collection worth reading. Going further back again to the roots of this movement, we have authors including Ludwig Tieck whose 'weird' fairy tale The Blonde Eckbert, is a superb story worth tracking down...I have a copy in both German and English. Tieck is not well represented in translation, which is as shame given how great an author he is. Clemens Brentano is another worth searching out if you are able to source any translations....of course Goethe is also included in this 'group'.

    I would be interested to know if if J-Sun's introduction mentions these authors as well?

    Going back to Hoffman, the The Oxford University Press edn. Golden Pot and other Tales & Penguin Black Classic edn. Tales of Hoffman are also worth seeking out for anyone interested in reading his stories.
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    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    I read those and wrote something about them for a series on C. S. Lewis's reading, published in the bulletin of the New York CSL Society. He was a great admirer of Arthur Rackham & perhaps knew the artist's rendering of Undine:

    [​IMG]
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    J-Sun

    J-Sun Active Member

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    That's great that you mention him. I forget exactly how I came to get the Hoffmann but I sense it as being part of whatever it is that moves me to read things. :) I have the Kleist you mention but have no recollection how I came to get it at all and was sort of afraid it was unrelated to that "whatever". Nice to hear reinforcement that it is related.

    This is a very name-dropping intro, mentioning many only in passing. But a direct quote on direct ancestors has "Brentano, Arnim, Kleist, Fouque, Chamisso, Eichendorff, and Kerner" as people who "had some influence on Hoffmann, the first two especially in the area of the grotesque; but Jean Paul (Friedrich Richter) and Ludwig Tieck, other contemporaries, seem to have exerted very considerable and direct influence" and goes on to give each a paragraph before returning to Brentano and Arnim for another.
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    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    The Von Kleist collection is very good but Hoffman probaly still remains in 'another class', that is to say is overall the better writer and the most promintent internationally of the German Romantics...Goethe notwithstanding.

    That's a pretty fair summary then of the German Romantics. I didn't mention Richter as he has less to do with our current discussion and Eichendorff and Kerner I know very little about. Brentano and Arnim were certainly front and centre along with that other dynamic parinig in 'The Brothers Grimm' during that period.
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    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    [​IMG]

    Is it time for someone to suggest a Hoffmann story for discussion? Why not the one Hoopy Frood mentioned -- "The Sandman"?

    It's available online here

    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/32046/32046-h/32046-h.htm#sandman

    and perhaps elsewhere.

    Shall we commence discussing it in a week, on Dec. 7? Who'd be on board for this?
    [​IMG]
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    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    I'll try to join in around that time Extollager, work commitments depending...I can always post later into next week.

    Anyone wondering what the caption on the iilustration is, it says "The Sandman, 'pen and ink drawing' by E.T.A. Hoffman".

    There are not that many of his drawings I've seen floating about though.
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    I'd like to but, like Mr. G, it depends largely on how things go otherwise. If possible, though, it would be something I'd enjoy....
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    Forgotten Realms

    Forgotten Realms New Member

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    I have never read something from E.T.A. Hoffmann, but I like the gothic novel writers in general. My favourites here are "Melmoth the Wanderer" by Charles Robert Maturin and "The Castle of Otranto" by Horace Walpole.
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Interesting contrast there. Without meaning to take the thread off-topic -- but definitely with the idea of being a bit facetious -- those two pretty much form "the alpha and the omega" of the classic Gothic....
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    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    "The Sandman" is about 35 pages, so not a big undertaking!
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