The Russian Hoffmannists

The Russian Hoffmannists

The Russian Hoffmannists

The Russian Hoffmannists

Excerpt

The significance of the Tales of Hoffmann for Russian literature forms the continuous thread upon which all parts of the present book are strung, but the author wishes to explain at the outset why the several parts, the beads upon the strand, are so diverse. Various points of fact needed to be made in this study and one major point of fancy needed, so to speak, to be unmade. Both processes required patient examination of details.

The point of fancy to be unmade was the irresponsible identification of Hoffmann's influence where no such influence, or very little, exists. Critics, both amateur and professional, made such claims from 1825 onwards and both kinds of critics have repeated the errors down to the present moment. The Countess Rostopčina provided the best example of such unwarranted claims when she dubbed Prince Odoevskij, in his own lifetime, "Hoffmann II". The resemblance between the two writers was generic but superficial; Odoevskij himself, an utterly honest man, disavowed the resemblance emphatically. Our examination of the facts of the matter has brought us to the conclusion that there was slightly more influence than Odoevskij remembered and vastly less than Countess Rostopčina imagined. Clarification of such points was time-consuming but necessary if a true judgment was to be arrived at. It is, however, incidental to the establishment of points of fact in this study, which is concerned with significant influences of Hoffmann upon Russian creative writers.

The sifting of evidence was a slow process. The seventy-odd prose Tales were available to Russian intellectuals, many of them in Russian translation, almost all of them in French translation; in most instances considered here the writers themselves knew enough German to read them in their original language, either easily or with difficulty as the case might be. There is no question whatever as to the availability of the Tales. Brilliant Russian authors, mediocre Russian authors, and poor Russian hacks all made tries at "Hoffmann's manner", each individual understanding a little something different by "Hoffmann's manner". It . . .

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