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The King’s Bride (thoughts)

November 4, 2010

Have y’all heard of E.T.A. Hoffmann? I hadn’t heard of him until (relatively) recently, when Oneworld Classics offered to let me choose any book they publish for review. Let me tell you, I spent far too long pouring over their catalogue trying to narrow down all of those delicious sounding books to just one! Why was it so difficult for me? Well, as they state on the website, their “aim is to expand the literary canon in the English-speaking world through a series of mainstream and lesser-known classics, often by commissioning new translations.” Classics? Obscure titles? Translations? Could it be more Eva-like? (Perhaps if it expanded beyond Europe and thus beyond white authors…but that’s neither here nor there.)

Hoffmann jumped out at me because he’s German (I realised at the end of last year I hadn’t read any German authors! Oh the shame!), and as the author blurb informed me: “His work, often bizarre and grotesque, was hugely influential on writers such as Dostoevsky, Kafka and Poe.” I haven’t read Kafka yet (I’m actually contemplating a project to rectify this soon), but I love Dostoevsky and Poe! Plus, he’s a late 18th/early 19th century author, which is a time period I’ve been exploring more this year with delightful results. Not to mention, I love folk tales and fairy tales, and The King’s Bride itself is the story of a young German woman who gets tricked into an engagement to a gnome. I read the freely available excerpt (that links to a pdf file, fyi) and decided I wanted to find out the full story of Fräulein Anna. When it arrived, I ooh’ed and aah’ed over it: it’s such a gorgeous edition. That cover is stunning, the paper is nice and heavy, and it’s a perfect size for a paperback; I was proud to put it on my shelves.

Then, of course, I got distracted with other books, and it took me months to get around to reading it. But when he was referenced in A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book, I became even more excited and decided that this was definitely an October kind of read. When I finally picked it up, then, it was with quite high expectations, and I’m pleased to say that these were met.

There’s a bit of a satirical edge to The King’s Bride, especially with Anna’s poet-fiance. Hoffmann effectively skewers the pseudo-intellectual, work-avoiding poetic wanna-be’s that, if my earlier experience with Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther is any indication, must have been running around Germany during this time in hordes. It’s quite fun to read the ridiculous poems he sends Anna, and later to watch him try to squirm out of fighting a duel to save her from the gnome.

The whole story has a gentle, playful touch…while there’s definitely a bit of the macabre going on, it’s not nearly as dark as I expected from someone who inspired Poe, Kafka, and Dostoevsky. The King’s Bride is much lighter than anything I’ve read by those later authors, and I can imagine Hoffmann reading it aloud at some droll dinner party. It’s a slim book, perfect for the November Novella Challenge, and a good choice for those who are made a bit nervous by the classics. The story trips right along, and while the characters are more caricatures than anything (as befits a fairy tale), Hoffmann himself comes through in his writing as a man I want to get know better. Unfortunately, my library only has one of his books (The Nutcracker), but Christmas is coming, and I suspect that the other title of his that Oneworld Classics publishes: The Devil’s Elixirs will end up in my letter to Santa. And meanwhile I shall be seeking out his stories online: yay for public domain! (Yet another reason to love those classics.)

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2010 5:00 am

    Isn’t he the “Tales of Hoffmann” on whom the Offenbach opera is based? I saw the opera in a Metropolitan Opera HD presentation (live, but on large screen) and enjoyed it thoroughly, both the somewhat mystical plot and the music.

    • November 8, 2010 10:26 am

      Yep! I haven’t seen that opera, but I do love opera so perhaps my library has a recording I can try out.

  2. November 4, 2010 5:17 am

    Annie and I just read The Tales of E.T.A. Hoffmann for school. And we both loved it!!! It’s a collection of seven of his stories, a few of which are rather long. There were definitely moments when I could see how he had likely influenced Poe and Irving. But the tales were very diverse–with The Golden Pot being very fantastical, and The Sandman being very macabre, and Madeleine de Scuderi being very much a dark mystery. This book may actually end up on my favorite reads of the year list. (Of course, I don’t have all that many reads to choose from. :P ) Anyway, I’ll definitely have to get my hands on this one sometime soon!

    • November 8, 2010 10:26 am

      Oh lovely! I wish my library had the tales, but at least I can read them online. :)

  3. November 4, 2010 5:34 am

    I hadn’t heard of him, but the story sounds really great. I’ll be watching to see what you think of the rest of his work that you read.

    • November 8, 2010 10:27 am

      I really need to get back into reading random short stories and talk about them…last year I did that, but this year I fell out of the habit.

  4. November 4, 2010 8:53 am

    Never heard of him, but I’m glad you brought his writing to my attention. What would I do without word-of-keyboard? :D

    • November 8, 2010 10:27 am

      I know! Word of keyboard is responsible for such much of my reading. :D

  5. November 4, 2010 11:26 am

    I am glad you like Hoffmann. I know him (well, I am German) and enjoyed “Der Sandmann” a lot. If you need any German-literature-recommendations, feel free to ask!

    • November 8, 2010 10:27 am

      I’d be happy for any recommendations you have to offer! :D

  6. November 4, 2010 12:09 pm

    I couldn’t find any library with this particular book (worldcat.org), but was able to ILL a collection of his tales! Nice find :)

    • November 8, 2010 10:28 am

      Really?! I didn’t realise no libraries carried it; I suppose I imagined at least a few must have an old out-of-print copy. But I hope you enjoy the collection you managed to ILL. :)

  7. November 4, 2010 12:56 pm

    I definiteloy want to read this now. I have never heard of this author, but if he was an inspiration to Poe, then I definitely want to know more. I have enough books for the November Novella challenge to last me through December too, so I won’t get it yet. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    • November 8, 2010 10:29 am

      lol! I feel like if I were to put together a November Novella list it’d be enough to last me all year. :D

  8. November 4, 2010 3:43 pm

    I did NOT really enjoy my experience with Kafka. But I didn’t hate it. Sounds like an interesting read. An author to try. Thanks for the alert.

    • November 8, 2010 10:29 am

      I have no idea what I’ll make of Kafka, but I’m curious!

  9. November 4, 2010 4:18 pm

    Hoffmann is awesome; I’m glad you found him. Last fall I took a seminar on German Romantic fairy tales and Hoffmann played a major part in that movement. I cannot recommend highly enough The Golden Pot and The Sandman, both of which are in an Oxford World’s Classics edition (with a gorgeous cover to boot) with some shorter stories. I love the whimsy he brings to what can often be a darker genre.

    If this piqued your interest in Kunstmärchen in general I would also recommend Heinrich von Kleist (much darker) and Ludwig Tieck (just plain awesome).

    • November 8, 2010 10:31 am

      That seminar sounds awesome! I’ll see if I can ILL the OWC book, and thanks for the other German recs. My library has a Kleist collection (The Marquise of O– and other stories) but none by Tieck. Looks like I’ll be ILLing some more in the future. ;)

  10. November 4, 2010 4:56 pm

    I’ve never heard of him, but I love it when I discover something new, and in the next few days I hear about it from somewhere completely else. It makes my world feel all connected. :)

    • November 8, 2010 10:32 am

      I love that too! Synchronicity rocks! :D

  11. November 4, 2010 10:06 pm

    He sonnds familiar….hmmm…

    • November 8, 2010 10:33 am

      He wrote The Nutcracker…is that where you’ve heard of him? I think he was a composer as well.

  12. November 5, 2010 12:17 pm

    I had only ever heard of Hoffmann because of The Nutcracker until last year maybe when this book ended up on my library list. I haven’t gotten to it yet but now I’ll make more of an effort!

  13. November 6, 2010 4:29 pm

    I have heard of him but haven’t had the chance to read him yet. Glad to hear you liked his book.

    • November 8, 2010 10:33 am

      I’m glad I liked it too! It’s always awkward when I accept a book for review and then don’t like it.

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