Category Archives: Hoffmann, E.T.A.

E.T.A. Hoffmann: ‘Master Flea’ (Feuding Telescopes Excerpt)

I had hoped to post a full review of Hoffmann’s riotous novella, Master Flea, and maybe I still will, but Lockdown Lethargy has taken root and a blogging weariness has set in. However, to save this blog from going into complete hibernation I thought I’d share this brilliant excerpt from the story; it’s too complicated to explain in detail but in summary two rival scientists, Leuwenhoek and Swammerdamm, have encountered each other in the hallway of a house—and a feud ensues.

…Swammerdamm drew a small telescope from his pocket, extended it to its full length, and assailed his enemy with a loud cry of: ‘Draw, you scoundrel, if you have the courage!’
   Leuwenhoek promptly had a similar instrument in his hand, likewise extended it, and shouted: ‘Come on, I’ll fight you, and you’ll soon feel my power!’ The two put the telescopes to their eyes and fell upon each other furiously with sharp and murderous strokes, lengthening and shortening their weapons by pulling the extensions in and out. There were feints, parries, turns, in a word all the tricks of the fencer, and they seemed to grow ever more infuriated. If one of them was hit, he screamed, leapt into the air, and performed the most wonderful caprioles, and the most beautiful entrechats and pirouettes, like the best solo dancer in the Paris ballet, until the other focused the shortened telescope on him. If the same thing happened to the other, he behaved similarly. Thus they alternately displayed the boldest leaps, the wildest gestures, the most furious outcry; the sweat was dripping from their foreheads, their bloodshot eyes were protruding from their heads, and since no cause for their St Vitus dance was visible, save that they looked through the telescopes in turn, one was obliged to conclude that they were lunatics escaped from the madhouse. For the rest, the duel was a most pleasing sight.

This translation is by Ritchie Robertson from the Oxford University Press edition of The Golden Pot and Other Tales first published in 1992.

Below is an illustration of the event from an edition of the novella available on Project Gutenberg.

Image source: Project Gutenberg


Filed under Hoffmann, E.T.A.

‘The Lost Reflection’ by E.T.A. Hoffmann

GLM-V 2015The Lost Reflection is a story from the 1932 collection of tales ‘Tales of Hoffmann’ published in 1932 by Dodd, Mead & Co. I started posting reviews of the stories from this collection earlier this year, which was really an excuse to show the lovely illustrations by Mario Laboccetta. I have already posted reviews on The Entail and The Sandman. I thought I’d use GLM V as an excuse to post some reviews and images of the other stories in the collection.

The story reviewed here, The Lost Reflection, is also known as The Night of New Year’s Eve or The Adventures of New Year’s Eve. The original German title is Abenteuer der Silvester-Nacht and was published in 1815. Sometimes the story contained within this one (i.e. Erasmus’s story) is published separately as The Lost Reflection or The Story of the Lost Reflection. It’s all a little confusing, I know, so I hope I’ve got it correct.

So, the story begins on New Year’s Eve and it’s worth quoting the opening sentence:

I was delirious with fever: the cold of death pierced my very heart, and heedless of the fury of the storm I ran through the streets hatless and cloakless like one escaped from a madhouse.

Hoffmann_Lost-Reflection-01-500pxThe narrator recounts how he came to be running throught the streets like a madman. He’d attended a ball hosted by the counsellor of justice where he met Julia, a woman he’d previously been in love with. He acts like an ass, bumps into people and when he finally gets to talk to her he faints. When he awakes he discovers that Julia is married. This totally freaks him out and he rushes through the streets until he reaches a tavern. He settles down and orders some beer and tobacco. Before long a tall, thin man comes in, keeping his back to the wall, and sits down at the narrator’s table. Then a short man enters the tavern and he asks the landlord to cover the mirror. The two men know each other and argue about obscure topics. By the time the tall man leaves, the narrator realises he is Peter Schlemihl, the man who sold his shadow to the devil.

The narrator seeks out a room for the night at another tavern. In the room there is a large mirror and when he looks into it he sees Julia’s image and cries out ‘Julia!’. Hoffmann_Lost-Reflection-02-900pxHe realises that there is another person in the room and is surprised that it’s the short man from the other tavern. He’s having a bad dream and is calling out ‘Giulietta!’. The narrator wakes him and the man asks him to cover the mirror. The narrator is curious about the man and it turns out that he has no reflection, but rather than selling it like Schlemihl, he gave it away for love. He promises to tell the narrator his story but they are both too tired. The narrator has vivid dreams and in the morning he finds the man has gone. He has, however, left some written pages. The man was called Erasmus Spicker and we now switch to his story.

Erasmus had decided to leave his family to go travelling and so he heads for Italy. In Florence he makes friends and frequents parties. His friends all take mistresses but Erasmus loves his wife and wishes to remain faithful. The others mock him and they decide to test him by calling in Giulietta. Hoffmann_Lost-Reflection-04-900pxErasmus is intoxicated with desire and declares his undying love for her to the astonishment of his friends. Upon returning home he encounters a strange man called Signor Dapertutto who mocks him. His friends think he’s making a fool of himself and decide that he should return home before he does something foolish but Dapertutto convinces him to meet with Giulietta before he leaves. He decides to stay. Erasmus ends up getting in a fight with an ugly Italian over Giulietta and inadvertently kills him. Somehow he escapes with Giulietta. In her boudoir she says he must leave or he will be arrested, but he must leave his reflection with her as a sign of his love for her. Although confused by this request, he agrees, and his image is detached from himself and he sees Giulietta disappear into the mirror with his image.

Erasmus leaves but soon finds that it’s difficult moving about as he is mobbed whenever it’s discovered that he has no reflection. He finally gets home to his loving wife and child and hopes to forget about what has happened. However, one day his missing reflection is noticed and both his wife and child are Hoffmann_Lost-Reflection-03-600pxhorrified. He flees from his house in a distraught state and Dapertutto appears before him. He says that Giulietta still loves him and will be happy to give his reflection back if only he will poison his wife and child. Giulietta also appears to him later in a vision in an embrace with his image. She says if he can’t poison his wife then he should sign a contract in blood allowing Dapertutto to do it. He nearly signs but is prevented by the ghost of his mother. Giulietta and Dapertutto disappear but his reflection is still missing. His wife says that he can only return to her when he has found it. He now searches the world for his reflection along with Schlemihl who is looking for his shadow.

This probably isn’t the best Hoffmann story as it’s all just a bit too manic and contrived, even for Hoffmann, but that may have something to do with the translation. I’m not sure who the translator is but I’d love to compare it with a new translation. The translations of two of the other stories in this collection, ‘The Entail’ and ‘The Sandman’, seem to have parts missing from the stories so I wonder if something similar has been done with this story. Still, if read in the right mood it is quite a fun tale and has all the obsessions of Hoffmann: stories-within-stories, identity problems, magic, madness, coincidences, obsessive love etc. You can’t really go wrong with that combination, can you?


Filed under Art, Fiction, Hoffmann, E.T.A., Laboccetta, Mario

‘The Sandman’ by E.T.A. Hoffmann

E.T.A. Hoffmann has to be one of my favourite authors and The Sandman is one of my favourite of Hoffmann’s stories, it is also the most famous of his works. I would say that the story is as near to perfection as is possible although I’m not sure exactly how I’d justify that. Anyway, I recently (well, back in January, so not that recently) posted about another story called The Entail from the book called Tales of Hoffmann which was published in 1932 by Dodd, Mead & Co. It was really just an excuse to include the luxurious illustrations by Mario Laboccetta in a post. I intend to do the same with every story in the book but it is a time-consuming process which involves scanning pictures from an old book whilst trying not to damage it, cleaning the scans, re-reading the story and then posting a review or summary of the story. Reading Hoffmann is always fun though, so I’m not complaining.

So below is a plot summary of The Sandman and not a review. If you do not want to know the plot then do not read all of the text. I have added the scans in a reasonably high definition so if you click on the picture you should be able to view the picture enlarged. Although the pictures are taken from the Dodd, Mead & Co. book, the quotations are taken from the Penguin version translated by R.J. Hollingdale.

In a letter to his friend Lothario, Nathaniel tells of a recent meeting with a barometer salesman, called Coppola, that has upset him. To explain why he is so upset he tells Lothario about his childhood. After supper his father would often tell the children tales or they would be left to read by themselves. When it was time for bed their mother would tell them ‘Now, children, to bed, to bed! The sandman is coming.’ When Nathaniel enquired about the sandman his mother would tell him that it was just a saying – but his sister’s nanny scared him with a graphic description:

‘Oh Nat,’ she replied. ‘don’t you know that yet? It is a wicked man who comes after children when they won’t go to bed and throws handfuls of sand in their eyes, so that they jump out of their heads all bloody, and then he throws them into his sack and carries them to the crescent moon as food for his little children, who have their nest up there and have crooked beaks like owls and peck up the eyes of the naughty children.’

This made Nathaniel terrified of the sandman, even when he was old enough to know that the story could not be true. Hoffmann-Sandman-02-reducedHis father often had a visitor at night after the children had gone to bed and in Nathaniel’s mind this visitor could only be the sandman. One night, to determine the sandman’s identity, Nathaniel hid in his father’s room, but to his surprise it was a ‘family friend’ called Coppelius whom the children and their mother found ‘loathsome and repellent’ but whom their father admired. Coppelius and his father were involved in some alchemical experiments. But Nathaniel soon made his presence known and when Coppelius grabbed hold of him he whispered ‘Now we have eyes – eyes – a lovely pair of children’s eyes!’ which, of course, terrified Nathaniel so much that he passed out.

Nathaniel took weeks to recover from this shock. Coppelius did not visit his father again until a year later, whereupon the children were rushed to bed. At midnight there was an explosion and when the family went to investigate they found Nathaneil’s father was dead and Coppelius had fled. In his letter Nathaniel reveals that his recent visitor was Coppelius, or so he believes.

It happens that Nathaniel accidently sent the above letter to his fiancée Clara. Clara was at first upset by the letter, but she is a sensible woman who rationalises Nathaniel’s fears: his childish fears were imaginary but the sandman got mixed up with the ugly Coppelius. She urges Nathaniel to dismiss the fantastic thoughts from his mind.

In another letter to Lothario, this time addressed correctly, Nathaniel appears calmer. He is attending lectures by Spalanzani, a professor in physics, who has known Coppola for years and who convinces Nathaniel that Coppola cannot be Coppelius. Whilst visiting Spalanzani Nathaniel encounters Spalanzani’s daughter, Olympia:

She was sitting opposite the door, so that I saw the whole of her angelic face. She seemed not to notice me, and her eyes had in general something fixed and staring about them, I could almost say she was sightless, as if she was sleeping with her eyes open. It made me feel quite uncanny, and I crept softly away…

Hoffmann-Sandman-04-reducedNathaniel discovers that Spalanzani keeps Olympia locked away from others.

The narrative now switches to the third-person. Clara is described as sensible and level-headed although others sometimes view her as cold and unfeeling. Nathaniel tries to convince Clara that Copellius is an evil force but Clara is not convinced and tries to get Nathaniel to banish such thoughts from his mind. Nathaniel finds Clara cold and prosaic whilst Clara finds Nathaniel’s mysticism gloomy and boring – Nathaniel and Clara are growing apart:

Nathaniel looked into Clara’s eyes, but it was death which gazed at him mildly out of them.

When Clara is not moved by Nathaniel’s poetry, and instead urges him to throw it into the fire Nathaniel shouts to her ‘Oh, you lifeless accursed automaton!’ Lothario gets involved on Clara’s behalf and a duel is arranged between Nathaniel and Lothario but Clara intervenes and begs them to abandon it. Now reconciled with Clara, Nathaniel returns to his studies.

Hoffmann-Sandman-03-reducedNathaniel finds that his student house has burnt down and so he finds new accommodation. He now lives opposite Professor Spalanzani; in fact his room faces Olympia’s room and he often sees Olympia sitting for hours at her desk. He finds her beautiful but his heart is with Clara.

One day Nathaniel is visited by Coppola. Nathaniel, trying to keep his composure, tells him he doesn’t want any barometers. Coppola replies ‘I also got lov-ely occe, lov-ely occe!’ Nathaniel is horrified but it is revealed that Coppola means spectacles, not eyes. Once Nathaniel has recovered from this shock he sees that Coppola is also selling telescopes and whilst testing one he happens to look at Olympia’s beautiful face – he buys the telescope.

He now can’t stop looking at Olympia through his telescope; Clara’s image is now wiped from his mind. Nathaniel is invited to a party, hosted by Spalanzani, at which Olympia will be present. When Olympia makes her appearance at the party she is admired by everyone, although some consider her a bit ‘deliberate and stiff’. Nathaniel, however, is besotted and cannot turn his eyes away.

Olympia’s hand was icy cold; he felt a coldness as of death thrill through him; he looked into Olympia’s eyes, which gazed back at him full of love and desire; and at that instant it seemed as though a pulse began to beat in the cold hand and a stream of life blood began to glow. And in Nathaniel’s heart, too, the joy of love glowed brighter, he embraced the lovely Olympia and flew with her into the dancing throng.

Hoffmann-Sandman-06-reducedNathaniel dances again and again with Olympia and between dances they sit together while Spalanzani looks on, smiling at the couple. Spalanzani allows Nathaniel to visit his daughter in future. Nathaniel’s friends find Olympia beautiful but soulless, she only seems to be ‘acting like a living creature’. Nathaniel can only think of Olympia; unlike Clara she doesn’t criticise his poetry, instead she listens, quietly and enraptured.

Nathaniel has completely forgotten about Clara, and with Spalanzani’s approval he visits Olympia with the intention of asking her to marry him. However, when he arrives the house is in an uproar, Spalanzani and Coppola are arguing. When Nathaniel bursts in he sees the two men tugging at Olympia’s head and feet, Coppola manages to wrench Olympia free from Spalanzani and leaves with the lifeless Olympia over his shoulder. Nathaniel notices that Olympia’s eyes are missing. It is at this point that Spalanzani explicitly reveals, what every reader must have realised long before now, that Olympia is an automaton. Spalanzani picks up Olympia’s eyes, throws them towards Nathaniel and urges him to get Olympia back for him. Well, this tips Nathaniel’s mind over the edge and he tries to strangle Spalanzani while shouting ‘Spin, puppet, spin! Circle of fire, circle of fire! Spin, spin!’ Nathaniel is overpowered and sent to the madhouse.

Spalanzani survives the attack from Nathaniel but has to leave the city. The city’s inhabitants discuss the recent events and try to determine exactly what had happened and what it means for them; would they be able to tell if their beloved were an automaton?

But the minds of many esteemed gentlemen were still not set at rest: the episode of the automaton had struck deep roots into their souls, and there stealthily arose in fact a detectable mistrust of the human form. To be quite convinced they were not in love with a wooden doll, many enamoured young men demanded that their young ladies should sing and dance in a less than perfect manner, that while being read to they should knit, sew, play with their puppy and so on, but above all that they should not merely listen but sometimes speak too, and in such a way that what they said gave evidence of some real thinking and feeling behind it.

So, Nathaniel recovers and is reunited with his mother and Clara. All seems to be ok until one day when they’re out shopping; Clara and Nathaniel decide to go to the top of the town hall’s tower to look at the view but when Nathaniel looks through his telescope at the people below he goes crazy again, shouting ‘Spin, puppet, spin!’ etc. He tries to throw Clara off the tower but she clings on. Lothario manages to save Clara but leaves Nathaniel at the top of the tower. Nathaniel had seen Coppelius in the crowd below; screaming ‘Lov-ely occe! Lov-ely occe!’ he throws himself off the tower. Coppelius disappears into the crowd.


Filed under Fiction, Hoffmann, E.T.A., Laboccetta, Mario

‘The Entail’ (Das Majorat) by E.T.A. Hoffmann

Tales-of-Hoffmann-Penguin-fcThe stories in the Penguin collection entitled Tales of Hoffmann were the first that I read by E.T.A. Hoffmann and they got me hooked. Although I’ve re-read some of them since, I decided to re-read the whole collection recently. The Sandman is the best story in the collection and is the one most people are likely to have read, but The Entail is nearly as good and is the only other one in the Penguin book that could be called gothic. It was originally published in 1817 in German as Das Majorat in the second volume of Nachtstücke (Translated as Night Pieces or Nocturnes). The Sandman was in Volume One.

Every once in a while I try to find some more works by Hoffmann in English and a few years ago I found a Hoffmann-Tales-fcXcopy of another collection of stories called, once again, Tales of Hoffmann, which was published by Dodd, Mead & Co. in New York. There’s no date in the book but I think it was published in 1932. I was attracted to this book because it contains many colour illustrations by Mario Laboccetta who had come to my attention as one of his illustrations was used for the cover of the excellent Oxford University Press collection of stories called The Golden Pot and Other Tales. Each story has several full-colour illustrations associated with it as well as smaller illustrations of the main characters and scenes.

This is therefore a review of the Penguin translation but with illustrations from the ‘Dodd, Mead & Co’ book. The story is translated as The Walled-in Door in the Dodd version. I don’t know who translated the Dodd version but a quick comparison of a few passages indicate that there was a bit of editing as well.
The story starts in true gothic style, the narrator, who we later find out is called Theodore, describes the desolate environs of the Castle R., the ancestral seat of Baron von R. Many of his ancestors shunned this castle as it was too gloomy and lived instead at Courland. At the start of the narrative Baron Roderich von R. is the current occupant of the castle and Theodore is a twenty year-old clerk working for his seventy year-old great-uncle, Advocate V., who is a legal advisor to the Baron. They travel to the Castle in a carriage through the falling snow. (I think that one reason I like this story so much is that this initial set-up reminds me of one of my favourite films, Fearless Vampire Killers by Roman Polanksi – the old man and his young helper travelling towards a desolate castle in the snow.) When they arrive at the castle they find that one of the walls has recently fallen down and there is rubble in the room that Advocate V usually uses on his visits. Hoffmann-The-Entail-04_reducedAll this information has to be drawn out of the servant, Franz, to much comic effect. They go to their gloomy room in the gloomy castle and make themselves as comfortable as they can. Theodore notices a walled-up door in the room and wonders why it is no longer in use and then reads a ghost story while Advocate V. goes to bed. He’s startled when he hears something walking across the hall sighing and groaning. Theodore becomes scared even though he thinks he’s being childish. He hears voices, a horrible scraping sound and the sound of horses being led from the stables below. Theodore wakes his great-uncle Advocate V. who is having a bad dream.

The story then switches to show us some of the characters that inhabit the castle along with the Baron, noticeably two old baronesses wearing clothes long out of fashion.

It was obvious from their expressions that they believed the wellbeing of R.’s inhabitants was endangered by my youth. The visit was very enjoyable, but the horror of the previous night still clung to me.

In the evening Theodore discusses the previous night’s events with his great-uncle, expecting him to be amused, instead he takes Theodore’s story seriously and they decide to wait up for the ghost that night. Once again the sounds of something walking and scraping can be heard. Advocate V. decides to confront the ghost at the position of the walled-up door and says ‘Daniel, Daniel! what are you doing here at this hour?’ and the ghost departs. Theodore’s great-uncle obviously knows more about the events at the castle.

The Baron arrives at the castle along with his young wife, the Baronness Seraphine. Hoffmann-The-Entail-07_reducedThe Baron is rude to Theodore and just seems to like hunting. Theodore is smitten by the beautiful Seraphine and starts fantasising about her much to his uncle’s annoyance. Theodore discovers that the Baroness loves music and she manages to acquire a piano from the local village. Theodore, Seraphine and her companion Adelheid now spend a lot of time together playing music. Theodore’s uncle warns him to be very careful. Theodore is infatuated with Seraphine whilst Seraphine is in raptures over the music they’ve been playing. Theodore feels as if he’s in a dream and tries to shake himself out of it. He decides to join in with a wolf-hunt to get his mind off Seraphine. Hoffmann-The-Entail-05_reducedHowever he doesn’t pay attention to the hunt and daydreams instead and suddenly finds himself confronted by a snarling wolf. When it attacks he manages to defend himself by stabbing it in the throat. Theodore becomes a hero and his tale is told again and again. The Baroness falls ill one night and the whole household is in an uproar. Theodore nearly makes a fool of himself but is stopped by his great-uncle from doing so. It turns out that there is nothing wrong with the Baroness. Hoffmann-The-Entail-06_reducedThe Baron claims that the recent musical interest shown by the Baroness is actually killing her (this is a common theme in Hoffmann’s work – see also Councillor Krespel aka The Cremona Violin) and asks Theodore to cease. He also enquires about their experiences with the ghost, Daniel. His great-uncle informs Theodore that they will leave the following day. Not long after their return his great-uncle has a stroke but he recovers and one day decides to enlighten Theodore on the goings on at the Castle.

This is only just over half way through the story at this point. Hoffmann-The-Entail-09_reducedThe rest of the story consists of the great-uncle’s account of the history behind the events – this involves murder, sleepwalkers, illegitimate children, gold and ghostly apparitions. Although the beginning of the story was quite gothic the second half is a more straightforward style, but as is common with Hoffmann, his explanations become increasingly complicated. In this case there’s a whole host of characters, very often with the same christian names (for example there are two Roderichs and two Huberts) and the time-frame keeps shifting about in the retelling of events. The story ends with a melancholic epilogue and the final paragraph sums up the story very well:

Poor, ill-advised Roderich! What evil power did you conjure up to poison in its first youth the race you thought to have planted for eternity?

When I first read the story I spent some time trying to untangle the characters and events and to be fair to Hoffmann it does make sense. But part of the fun of reading a tale by Hoffmann is, I feel, to enjoy the complexity and confusion.


Filed under Hoffmann, E.T.A., Laboccetta, Mario, Uncategorized

‘Little Zaches, Great Zinnober’ by E.T.A. Hoffmann

I was hoping to read E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr for GLM4 but as I feared I ran out of time. However, I wanted to squeeze in a Hoffmann review of my own before it ended so I plumped for this tale Little Zaches, Great Zinnober. As far as I know it’s not readily available in English in any published work but a little while ago I found this great translation online by Michael Haldane which can be retrieved from his website here along with some other translations. The original German title is Klein Zaches genannt Zinnober and was originally published in 1819.

The novel is one of his more fantastical pieces in the style of The Golden Pot, The Nutcracker and Mouse King and Master Flea and it involves many of Hoffmann’s favourite themes: fairies, confused identities, magic, Romantic students, strange beings etc. The tale begins with an old peasant woman collapsing by the roadside with a basket full of twigs on her head. She laments her fate and we find out how she gave birth to a strange little child that has ‘spidery little legs, and instead of talking, he growls and miaows, like a cat.’ This is Little Zaches, and he crawls out from the basket that the old woman has been carrying. A more detailed description of Little Zaches follows:

The thing’s head was set deep between its shoulders, it had a pumpkin-like outgrowth in place of a back, and its hazel switch-thin little legs hung down directly beneath its breast, so that the boy resembled a split radish. A dull eye would discover little about the face, but looking more closely, you would become aware of a long, sharp nose jutting out beneath shaggy black hair and a pair of small, darkly flashing eyes that seemed — especially when one considered the otherwise quite old, furrowed facial features — to reveal a small alraun [mandrake root].

So Little Zaches supposedly looks like a mandrake root; these appear in witchcraft and folklore and are supposed to have magical properties. Anyway, along comes Fräulein von Rosenchön, a nun, who takes pity on them both, she picks up Little Zaches, combs his hair then sprinkles holy water over him, then leaves. When the woman wakes up she’s pleased with Zaches’ nicely combed hair and they walk on where they meet the local priest who is so impressed by Little Zaches’ looks and erudition that he offers to raise him as his own.

It turns out that Fräulein von Rosenchön is also known as Rosengrünschön (is there a German pun here?) but is really the Fairy Rosabelverde. Yes, she’s a fairy who escaped the ‘fairy purges’ that were instigated by Paphnutius when he tried to enforce Enlightenment values throughout the land and to get rid of all undesirable elements. Fairies are particularly offensive because of their ‘unbearable police-unfriendly habits’ and for their propensity to ‘drive in the air with harnessed doves, swans’ and ‘even winged horses’. If Hoffmann has a dig here at the expense of the Enlightenment then with the start of chapter Two he has a dig at Romanticism by introducing the student Balthasar, a poet and a student who is in love with his tutor’s beautiful daughter Candida. He likes going for lonely strolls in the forest alone when his friends are all enjoying themselves. Things start to escalate now because Balthasar and his friend see a horse approaching that seems as if it has no rider but is in fact being ridden by Zaches who strikes the students as preposterous. When Zaches appears in town (Kerepes) instead of being laughed at by everyone they thinks he’s wonderful. Zaches, now known as Zinnober, wheedles his way into a plush job as a minister to the Fürst (prince) by taking the credit of several people, including Balthasar, and he even ends up getting betrothed to Candida. Only a few people can see Zinnober as he really is; for most people he is a perfect gentleman, poet, scholar, diplomat and lover.

One day when Balthasar and his friend, Referendarius Pulcher, are walking in the woods they hear a strange musical sound and then see a man dressed like a Chinese man with plumes on his head in a cart that looked as if it was made of sparkling crystal, pulled by two unicorns and driven by a silver pheasant and at the back is a large rose-beetle which is cooling the man by fluttering its wings. It turns out that the man is Doctor Prosper Alpanus. The students get to know him and hope that he will be able to help them in their attempt to break the spell that Zinnober has over the townsfolk.

There are so many wonderful and humorous episodes in this short book such as when Zinnober is awarded the ‘Order of the Green-Spotted Tiger’ and it takes the best minds of the land over a week to determine the best way to fix it to his coat. And there’s Fabian whose coat sleeves end up shrinking and whose coat tail keeps growing until he is threatened with expulsion from the town for his outlandish behaviour. Alpanus flies about on giant dragonflies, Terpin studies why wine doesn’t taste like water and there is even an incident where someone dies by getting stuck in a teapot. This is fun stuff but one of my favourite episodes is when Fräulein (or Sister) Rosenchön visits Alpanus and there’s an incident with the coffee.

Prosper asked if she, as it was still early morning, would perhaps take a cup of coffee; Rosenschön said that a Nun never spurned such things. The coffee was brought, but however hard Prosper tried to pour it out, the cups remained empty, notwithstanding that coffee streamed out of the pot.
“Well, well,” smiled Prosper Alpanus, “this is naughty coffee! Would you, my dear Fraulein, be so good as to pour the coffee yourself?”
“With pleasure,” replied the Fraulein, grasping the pot. But despite the fact that not a single drop poured out of the pot, the cup became fuller and fuller, and the coffee flowed over on to the table, on to the Nun’s dress. She quickly put the pot down; the coffee immediately disappeared without a trace.

They’re using their magical powers to tussle with each other. A few more incidents occur until Alpanus declares that Rosenschön (Rosabelverde) is now in his power and we get this great scene.

  “In your power,” cried the Fraulein, angrily, “in your power, Doctor? Foolish conceit!”
And with these words her silk dress spread itself out, and she floated up to the ceiling as the loveliest Camberwell beauty. But at once Prosper Alpanus was buzzing and rushing after her as a huge stag-beetle. Totally exhausted, the Camberwell beauty fluttered down and ran around the ground as a little mouse. But the stag-beetle sprang after it, miaowing and snorting, as a grey tomcat. The little mouse rose once again as a dazzling hummingbird, when all sorts of strange voices were raised all around the country house, and all sorts of wonderful insects buzzed in, along with strange wood-fowl, and a golden web was spun over the window. Then all at once the Fairy Rosabelverde, radiant in all her splendour and eminence, in a glistening white garment fastened by a sparkling belt of diamonds, white and red roses woven in her dark locks, stood there in the middle of the room. Before her the magus in a gold-embroidered robe, a glittering crown on his head, the cane with the fiery-beaming knob in his hand.
As Rosabelverde strode up to the magus, a golden comb fell out of her hair and shattered, as if it were made of glass, on the marble floor.
“Oh my! Oh my!” cried the Fairy.
Suddenly Sister von Rosenschon was sitting once more in a long black dress at the coffee table, and opposite her sat Doctor Prosper Alpanus.

As it happens the golden comb is quite important but I won’t reveal any more of the plot. Will the students, with Alpanus’s help, manage to break the spell that Zinnober has over the town? Will Balthasar marry Candida? What will happen to Zaches/Zinnober? Will they all live happily ever after? As with many of Hoffmann’s stories this is such a fun read that it’s difficult to resist reading it. Isn’t it?



Filed under Fiction, Hoffmann, E.T.A.