German Writers We Should Love: Part III – ETA Hoffmann


read part one

read part two

ETA Hoffman is not the most famous of writers, but he certainly was a great influence on these we honor as famous. From Poe to Dickens, from Gogol to Dostoyevsky, Hoffmann has left his mark on the best writers. And to influence the great one must himself be great, and he was. Besides being a terrific writer, Hoffmann was a composer, art critic, draftsman, caricaturist, and jurist. He wrote the story which inspired The Nutcracker ballet by Tchaikovsky. His stories were the basis for Offenbach’s opera, The Tales of Hoffmann. And it was a display of his art after his death and compelled Mussorgsky to compose Pictures at an Exhibition. This is just a snapshot of his reach. And his writing catalog is so extensive, I will only be able to skip a rock over the deep waters that is the fiction of ETA Hoffmann.

  • The Nutcracker and the Mouse King – We’ve all seen the ballet, but have we read the book? Give this a quick study before you see the ballet again and new magic will appear before you on the stage.
  • The Woman from Scuderi – This is the first detective story and bears great impress on Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue.
  • The Life and Opinions of Tomcat Murr – The aesthete in me cherishes this work for many of the same reasons I love Goethe’s The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. It is Hoffmann’s masterpiece novel and deals with true artistry, and how the artist must transcend beyond himself to create something permanent and truly wonderful.
  • The Sandman – One of three stories that inspired The Tales of Hoffmann. It is a tale of love and insanity, and it is often difficult to distinguish between the two.
  • Counsillor Krespel – This is the second story to go into The Tales of Hoffmann. Krespel was an unconventional eccentric who did everything from make his own clothes to build his own house in the most unusual of methods, but it worked out well for him. It didn’t hurt at all that he could afford all of this exuberance because it was all paid for by a prince.
  • The Lost Reflection – And the last of story found in The Tales of Hoffmann. It walks the blurriness between the real world and fantasy. It explores a conventional German fantasy motif, the one of a shadow or a reflection that seems independent of its reality form.

I encourage everyone to read as much Hoffmann as you can. But don’t neglect your Schiller and your Goethe. The Germans may be principally known for her composers and her philosophers, but her authors rival the best in the world. Read for yourself and come to your own conclusions.

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