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E.T.A. Hoffmann was a 19th century German author known for his bizarre, fantastical works. He was one of the major figures of German Romanticism, and his work inspired such later genres as Surrealism, Fantasy, and Magical Realism. E.T.A. Hoffmann was also a music critic, composer, painter, jurist, and caricaturist.
Hoffmann was born Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann on 24 January 1776 in Köningsberg, Prussia, the youngest of three children. His parents separated in 1778, and Wilhelm spent his childhood in his grandmother's home with his mother and her three unmarried siblings. Hoffmann showed interest and talent in the arts as a child, when he began painting and drawing, composing music, and reading avidly. At the age of 16, he began studying law at Königsberg University, carrying on the tradition of both sides of his family.
Hoffmann balanced his judiciary career with his artistic one beginning in his school days, when he supported himself with piano lessons. He passed his first law exam in 1795 and began working as a legal clerk and writing his first literary works. Hoffmann lived with his uncle in Glogau for a few years before passing his second law exam and moving to Berlin in 1798. There, he was exposed to a richer literary and artistic culture than he had previously experienced, and he immersed himself in the life of the city.
Hoffmann took up a government post in Posen in modern-day Poland after passing his final law exam in 1800. He found the small town unbearably boring, but married Michaelina, a local woman, in 1802. Hoffmann's first published works date from around this time. In 1804, he and his wife moved to Warsaw, where Hoffmann found the atmosphere much more engaging and began to see more success as a writer. He changed his third given name to Amadeus the same year, as a tribute to Mozart.
Hoffmann had a child in 1806, but soon after came on hard times when Napoleon's army invaded Warsaw. He lost his post and was unable to find any kind of stable work for a few years. He moved to Bamberg in 1808, where he supported himself with music lessons and composed a number of musical and literary works. Luckily, this period of desperation allowed him to develop his skills as a writer, and his works became immensely popular.
Hoffmann returned to Berlin in 1815 and remained there for the rest of his life, becoming a respected judge and the most popular author in the city. When he died on 25 June 1822, he left a legacy of strange but compelling stories that would have a lasting influence in many areas of Western culture. Psychiatrists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung were inspired by his work, as were many writers of the Romantic period and later eras. Some of Hoffmann's stories became the basis for Jacques Offenbach's 1881 opera Les contes d'Hoffmann and Tchaikovsky's 1892 ballet The Nutcracker.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who was E. T. A. Hoffmann and why is he significant in literature?
E. T. A. Hoffmann, short for Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann, was a German Romantic author of fantasy and Gothic horror, a jurist, composer, music critic, draftsman, and caricaturist. He is significant for his ability to infuse his tales with supernatural and fantastical elements, which influenced the Romantic movement and the genre of fantasy literature. His stories often explore the complex interplay between reality and the uncanny, and his work has inspired other writers and composers, including Tchaikovsky, who adapted Hoffmann's story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" into the famous ballet "The Nutcracker."
What are some of E. T. A. Hoffmann's most famous works?
E. T. A. Hoffmann's most famous works include "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," which became the basis for the ballet; "The Sandman," a tale that delves into themes of fear and the uncanny; and "Kreisleriana," a collection of fantastical and satirical pieces that inspired Robert Schumann's piano suite of the same name. His novella "Mademoiselle de Scud√©ri" is considered one of the earliest examples of detective fiction.
How did E. T. A. Hoffmann influence music and culture?
E. T. A. Hoffmann was also a composer and music critic, and his literary works have had a profound influence on music and culture. His reviews and essays contributed to the appreciation of Beethoven's music, and his stories have been adapted into operas, ballets, and films. His aesthetic theories and the fusion of the fantastic with the everyday in his stories have shaped the Romantic ideal in music and the arts, influencing composers like Schumann, Wagner, and Offenbach.
What themes are commonly found in Hoffmann's writing?
Common themes in Hoffmann's writing include the conflict between reality and illusion, the exploration of the subconscious, and the supernatural. His characters often encounter the bizarre and the uncanny, leading to psychological conflict and transformation. Hoffmann's fascination with duality is also evident, as seen in characters who have dual natures or lead double lives. These themes reflect the broader Romantic interest in the depths of the human psyche and the mysteries of the world.
How has E. T. A. Hoffmann's work been received by critics and scholars?
E. T. A. Hoffmann's work has been received with both fascination and controversy by critics and scholars. While some have praised his imaginative power and the originality of his storytelling, others have criticized his work for its perceived excesses and lack of moral clarity. Nonetheless, his influence on the genres of fantasy and horror is widely acknowledged, and his stories continue to be studied for their complex narrative structures and their insights into the Romantic imagination.