Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Devilish Dynamics: Fairy Tale, Dream, Art, and Dance in E. T. A. Hoffmann's "New Year's Eve Adventure"

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Devilish Dynamics: Fairy Tale, Dream, Art, and Dance in E. T. A. Hoffmann's "New Year's Eve Adventure"

Article excerpt

Hatless and coatless, the Traveling Enthusiast, the main narrator of E. T. A. Hoffmann's literary fairy tale "A New Year's Eve Adventure" shuttlecocks his way from a celebration party to a beer cellar and then to the Golden Eagle Inn, where he spends the night because his house key is in the pocket of his abandoned coat. Written in a style that combines fantasy and realism, "Adventure" was published in the fourth volume of Hoffmann's first collection of stories and anecdotes called Fantasy Pieces (1815). Its complex structure contains another fairy tale, titled "The Story of the Lost Reflection," and a description of a dream embedded within the Enthusiast's longer narrative. The dream compresses and distorts all the elements of the outer narrative. This narrative is itself framed by a fictional editor's introduction and a postscript from the narrator to the author: "my dear Amadeus, Theodore Hoffmann" (Hoffmann, Sämtliche Werke, 2.1: 359). In addition, Adelbert von Chamisso's contemporary novella-cum-fairy tale, Peter Schlemihl (1813), is alluded to throughout, along with copious references to the Old Masters, which bring painterly as well as literary and kinetic resonance to the text. Convolutions and multiple allusions in "Adventure" suggest that the Enthusiast's storytelling signifies much more than the drunken ramblings of his body and mind. These seemingly random events as he capers around Berlin have a similar kinetic and spatial direction to dancing in a spin, circle, or chain. Although it is unlikely that a direct line of influence can be traced from such dance configurations to the fairy tale's plot, circumstantial connections are strong. Even though mapping the momentum and ephemerality of dance steps onto the creative practice of writing a narrative would be impossible, in this instance dance narratives and postures have certainly transferred from one to the other.1 Our contention is that the apparently haphazard rambling of "Adventure" has also been influenced and shaped by the medieval concept of the Dance of Death. This dance manifests itself in a number of ways. It is frequently depicted in medieval manuscripts, on the walls of European churches, and in the work of master painters and engravers; it was once performed during the quasi-legendary outbreaks of the European dancing plague; last, it is alluded to in the titles of traditional folk dances and is configured in their patterns of movement. We claim that folk dance, as an artistic form, is part of the ripple effect between literature, art, and music within a surrounding culture, a specific example being the many thematic, narrative, kinetic, and dynamic resonances between devilish dancing and "Adventure." We argue that the web of metaphors supporting "Adventure" connects a semantic field composed of Death as dancer, trickster, or fool; an animate corpse or skeleton as dancer, musician, or fool; dancers as fools; and the Devil or shape-shifter as trickster, dancer, musician, or fool.2 In the middle of this overlapping field sits the Devil's counterpart: a crafty seductress. Different permutations of these elements recur in the iconography of the Dance of Death. Death touches skin or clothing or grasps the hands of the living, who then follow him, often with manic steps. Variations of Death and his helpers include skeletons, naked animate corpses, and dancing devils as jesters and musicians. They often seize and maneuver victims, leading a chain or haphazard ring of dancers. The Devil as trickster frequently makes a pact with the living. Likewise, the devilish female seducer metamorphoses into many guises and primarily tempts men. In Christian mythology she stems from Eve. She constitutes one of the many representations of strong women that can be found in Hoffmann's fiction in general and in his fairy tales in particular (Scullion and Treby 2-4).

The concept of involuntary dance in Hoffmann's tales, which are shot through with fairy-tale motifs, has received scant critical attention. …

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