A Study of the Major Novellas of E. T. A. Hoffmann

By McGlathery, James M | German Quarterly, April 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

A Study of the Major Novellas of E. T. A. Hoffmann


McGlathery, James M, German Quarterly


19th Century Literature and Culture Roder, Birgit. A Study of the Major Novellas of E. T. A. Hoffmann. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2003. xiii + 193 pp. $60.00 hardcover.

The first question invited by the title of Birgit Roder's book concerns the choice of which of Hoffmann's works she considers to be his major novellas (she uses that generic term in a looser or broader sense). The nine tales she examines are, in the order of the chapters discussing them, "Das Fraulein von Scuderi (39-56), "Der Sandmann" (57-75), "Die Jesuiterkirche in G." (79-93), "Die Fermate" (94-104), "Der Artushof" (105-25), "Don Juan" (129-41), "Das Sanctus" (142-52), "Rat Krespel" (153-78). The surprises among these choices are surely "Die Jesuiterkirche in G.," "Die Fermate," and "Das Sanctus," while the selection of "Der Artushof " may also seem odd in view of its scant critical acceptance and "Don juan," considering its relative brevity and its nature as more a piece of music criticism than a narrative. (Roder seems to have nodded off when in introducing her discussion of the latter work she wrongly places it among the tales collected in Hoffmann's Die Serapions-Bmder instead of in the earlier Fantasiestucke; cf. 129).

A second question occasioned by the book's title regards the type of critical approach taken in this study. The answer helps explain Roder's opinion about which of Hoffmann's "novellas" should be considered the major ones. Like many, and certainly a majority of students of Hoffmann before her, Roder views what has come to be called "the problem of the artist" as the most important of Hoffmann's themes and objects of portrayal. It is then not difficult to agree that from this critical perspective her choices of major novellas are quite appropriate.

Roder's interpretive approach is basically that of platonically-or perhaps more appropriately, neoplatonically-inclined critics of Hoffmann. She understands the problem of the artist to be rooted in devotion and dedication to the Ideal and the Absolute and in the impossibility of fulfillment of that longing (cf. her introductory chapter "Hoffmann and the Romantic Dilemma," 10-36).

In the platonic tradition dedication to the True and the Beautiful includes devotion to the Good. Far from neglecting this third aspect of the platonic ideal, Roder is concerned with measuring the actions of Hoffmann's artist figures against standards of morality. …

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