E.T.A. Hoffmann

Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann (January 24, 1776 - June 25, 1822), was a German romantic and fantasy author and composer. He changed his third name from Wilhelm to Amadeus in 1813 in homage to the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Jacques Offenbach's masterwork, the opera Tales of Hoffmann, takes some cues from The Devil's Elixir and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's ballet Nutcracker is based on a story by Hoffmann.

Hoffmann's stories were tremendously influential in the 19th century, and he is one of the key authors of the Romantic movement.


He was born in Königsberg, Prussia.

Hoffmann is one of the best-known representatives of German Romanticism, and a pioneer of the fantasy genre, with a taste for the macabre combined with realism that influenced such authors as Franz Kafka, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, and Nikolai Gogol. Hoffmann's work illuminates the darker side of the human spirit found behind the hypocritical harmony of bourgeois life, yet his wide-ranging influence upon and creative significance within the later German romantic period is frequently underestimated. Hoffmann (who ever strived for artistic polymathy) created far more in his works than mere political commentary achieved through satire. His masterpiece (it is generally agreed) is Kater Murr (see bibliographical references below). This novel deals with such issues as the aesthetic status of 'true' artistry, and the modes of self-transcendence that accompany any genuine endeavour to create. Hoffmann's portrayal of the character Kreisler (a genius musician) is wittily counterpointed with the character of the tomcat Murr—a virtuoso illustration of artistic pretentiousness that many of Hoffmann's contemporaries found offensive and subvertive of Romantic ideals. On the contrary, Hoffmann's literature points to the failings of many so-called 'artists' to differentiate between the superficial and the authentic aspects of such Romantic ideals. The self-conscious effort to impress must, according to Hoffmann, be divorced from the self-aware effort to create. This essential duality in Kater Murr is structurally conveyed through a discursive 'splicing together' of two biographical narratives. Such a framework warrants an extensive exploration of its philosophical implications.

Hoffmann's father was a lawyer, and Ernst studied at the Gymnasium in Königsberg. He then worked as a Referendar in Glogów, Silesia and in Berlin in Brandenburg and next in Prussian provinces in the area of Greater Poland and Mazovia: Poznan in South Prussia and later on to Plock in New East Prussia. One of his tasks was to invent names for Jews. He found some poetic ones like Goldbaum or Apfelbaum. He assimilated well in Polish society; the years spent in Poland he recognized as the happiest in his life. Unfortunately, after he was accused of spying for the Prussian king, social ostracism followed In 1805 he moved again to Berlin, where he could further his talent as an artist and writer. Since 1814 he held a position at the Kammergericht, the chamber court. At age 46 he died in Berlin.

He wrote novels and short stories, and he composed music, including an opera. However, when reading the original text of E.T.A. Hoffmann's stories, one soon realizes that these stories were conceived and written at a politically very sensitive time. Comparable messages were expressed in earlier animal stories such as Reinicke Fuchs or Aesop's Fables. His most familiar story is "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King", which inspired the ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. His story "The Sandman" similarly inspired Delibes's ballet Coppelia.

The Nutcracker story is full of charming mimed phantasies with Marie (Clara in the ballet), Fritz and Pate Drosselmayr, the mean Mouseking and the popular Nutcracker. Many children's version books of the Nutcracker have been published. Nutcracker performances have become a yearly feature in many cities around Christmas time. Yet these stories, as with the majority of his literary work, point beyond themselves in philosophical terms; Hoffmann invariably moves into territory where an exploration of the nature of Selfhood, Art and value-judgements are required in order for the reader to enjoy Hoffmann's writings more fully. Stories are, in their various media, the ultimate form of self-definition and world-interpretation; it is through stories that Hoffmann expresses his aesthetic, ethical and political concerns.