Call Me Wilhelm or Amadeus

There are a lot of authors that have fallen through the holes in history and fashion, but there’s one that really does deserve to be resurrected -the Prussian grandfather of Gothic literature, E.T.A Hoffman (1776-1822).

You may know the surname, but just not all the stuff he did. He is the subject of Jacques Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffman. His short story The Sandman is the basis of the ballet Copelia, but most of all, his novelette The Nutcracker and the Mouse King became the ballet that gets an airing every Christmas, as well as being covered by Maurice Sendak, who knows a few things about entertaining kids. He was the most widely translated German author in English, was a major figure in the Romantic movement, and authors such as Mary Shelly and Edgar Allen Poe cite him as a major influence.

He wrote only 2 novels, The Devil’s Elixers, and the Tales of The Tomcat Muur, but produced a large number of short stories and novelletes, some of the strangest tales I have ever stumbled upon: well crafted, intense, and just plain weird. In his work I discovered doppelgangers and he was a major force in fantasy, and a forerunner of modern gothic and science fiction.

As if this was not enough, as well as being a busy jurist, he was also a poet, composer and painter. But his  real passion seems to have been music, as he changed his third name from Wilhelm to Amadeus, in honour of Mozart. though he kept Wilhelm for his official title and it is what appears on his tombstone.

He grew up in an artistic family, and his creativity was impressive both in output  and quality. The closest author I can come to him is the 20th century Stefan Zweig, who also has that rare ability to make me feel like I’ve had my head taken out of my skull and put back in sideways.


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