Born: Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann in Konigsberg, Germany, 24 January 1776. Education: Educated at Burgschule, Konigsberg, 1782-92; studied law at University of Konigsberg, 1792-95. Family: Married Maria Thekla Michalina Rorer-Trzynska in 1802; one daughter. Career: In legal civil service: posts in Glogau, 1796-98, Berlin, 1798-1800, Posen, 1800-02, Plozk, 1802-04, Warsaw, 1804-08, and, after Napoleon’s defeat, Berlin, 1814-22. Also a composer: Kappellmeister, 1808-09, house composer and designer, 1810-12, Bamberg Theatre, and conductor for Sekonda Company, Leipzig and Dresden, 1813-14; composer of operas, and editor of musical works by Beethoven, Mozart, Gluck, and others, 1809-21. Died: 25 June 1822.
Werke, edited by Georg Ellinger. 15 vols., 1912; 2nd edition, 1927.
Samtliche Werke, edited by Walter Muller-Seidel and others. 5 vols., 1960-65.
Gesammelte Werke, edited by Rudolf Mingau and Hans-Joachim Kruse. 1976-.
Samtliche Werke, edited by Wulf Segebrecht, Hartmut Steinecke, and others. 1985-.
FantasiestUcke in Callots Manier. 4 vols., 1814-15; as Fantasy Pieces in Callot’s Manner: Pages From the Diary of a Traveling Romantic, translated by Joseph M. Hayse, 1996.
Die Elixiere des Teufels. 1815-16; as The Devil’s Elixir, translated by R. Gillies, 1824; as The Devil’s Elixirs, translated by Ronald Taylor, 1963.
NachtstUcke. 2 vols., 1817.
Seltsame Leiden eines Theater-Direktors. 1819.
Klein Zaches genannt Zinnober. 1819.
Die Serapions-BrUder: Gesammelte Erzalungen und Marchen. 4 vols., 1819-21; as The Serapion Brethren, translated by Alexander Ewing, 1886-92.
Lebens-Ansichten des Katers Murr. 1820-22.
Prinzessin Brambilla. 1821.
Meister Floh. 1822; as Master Flea, translated by G. Sloane, in Specimens of German Romance, vol. 2, 1826.
Die letzten Erzahlungen. 2 vols., 1825.
Tales, edited by Christopher Lazare. 1959.
The Tales of Hoffmann, translated by Michael Bullock. 1963.
Tales, translated by James Kirkup. 1966.
The Best Tales of Hoffmann, edited by E.F. Bleiler. 1967.
Tales, edited by Victor Lange. 1982.
Tales of Hoffmann, edited and translated by R.J. Hollingdale. 1982.
Golden Pot, and Other Tales, translated and edited by Ritchie Robertson. 1992.
Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr: Together With a Fragmentary Biography of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler on Random Sheets of Waste Paper, translated by Anthea Bell. 1999.
Die Maske, edited by Friedrich Schnapp. 1923.
Poetische Werke, edited by Gerhard Seidel. 6 vols., 1958.
Die Vision auf dem Schlachtfelde bei Dresden. 1814.
Briefwechsel, edited by Hans von Muller and Friedrich Schnapp. 3 vols., 1967-69.
Selected Writings, edited and translated by Leonard J. Kent and Elizabeth C. Knight. 2 vols., 1969.
TagebUcher, edited by Friedrich Schnapp. 1971.
Juristische Arbeiten, edited by Friedrich Schnapp. 1973.
Selected Letters of E.T.A. Hoffmann, edited and translated by Johanna C. Sahlin. 1977.
Hoffmann, Author of the Tales by Harvey Hewett-Thayer, 1948; Hoffmann by Ronald Taylor, 1963; E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Other World: The Romantic Author and His ”New Mythology" by Kenneth Negus, 1965; Music: The Medium of the Metaphysical in Hoffmann by Pauline Watts, 1972; The Shattered Self: E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Tragic Vision by Horst S. Daemmrich, 1973; E.T.A. Hoffmann and Music by R. Murray Schafer, 1975; Hoffmann and the Rhetoric of Terror by Elizabeth Wright, 1978; Spellbound: Studies on Mesmerism and Literature by Maria M. Tatar, 1978; Baudelaire et Hoffmann by Rosemary Lloyd, 1979; Mysticism and Sexuality: E.T.A. Hoffmann by James M. McGlathery, 2 vols., 1981-85; Hoffmann’s Musical Writings: Kreisleriana, The Poet and Composer, Musical Criticism by David Charlton, 1989; Authorship as Alchemy: Subversive Writing in Pushkin, Scott, Hoffmann by David Glenn Kropf, 1994; E.T.A. Hoffmann by James M. McGlathery, 1997.
E.T.A. Hoffmann is one of the few authors belonging to German romanticism who has attained international status. As an exponent of ”black romanticism,” as it is called in Europe, he was hailed by Baudelaire and scorned by Sir Walter Scott for his preoccupation with the grotesque and the bizarre. He managed to combine this trait with, on the one hand, the most astringent satire, criticizing the injustices of his day in Meister Floh (Master Flea), and on the other hand, with a modern concern regarding a writer’s identity in Lebens-Ansichten des Katers Murr [The Life and Opinions of Tomcat Murr].
He made the best possible use of the literary conventions of his day, such as the popular Gothic novel, the epistolary novel, and the short story or novella. He was a diarist and a keen letter writer; like most of his fellow-romanticists he constantly reflected on what he did and on how and why he did it. Interspersed with his fictional writings he developed a theory of representation which accounts for the artist’s fascination and concern with subjective phenomena, what he called his ”inner world,” and he argued that the persuasiveness of the artist’s vision depended on his ability to project this world accurately into the external. But it also depended on a reader, playfully addressed by the narrator as ”dear reader,” and placed within the fictional world of the novel, an example of Romantic irony whereby the artist asserted his supremacy. This reader was expected to suspend disbelief and to open himself up to the experience offered by the novels and stories.
Hoffmann’s modernity rests in the powerful description of this inner world, later systematically examined by Freud’s new science of the mind, a science not like the physical sciences but like the human ones, depending on interpretation of subjective phenomena. One of Freud’s key essays, ”The Uncanny,” uses one of Hoffmann’s stories, ”Der Sandmann” (”The Sand-Man”), in order to capture a certain kind of aesthetic experience. Hoffmann was himself interested in parapsychological phenomena of all kinds, being well acquainted with the work of Anton Mesmer, who played a key role in the history of medicine and psychoanalysis. Hoffmann wrote a number of stories about strange characters, hypnotized and possessed by powerful and threatening figures.
A major theme in Hoffmann’s work is that of the divided self, now almost a cliche of Hoffmann scholarship. Whereas in Goethe’s Faust this can be seen as a benign split, in Hoffmann’s work it is usually catastrophic, a prime instance being Die Elixiere des Teufels (The Devil’s Elixirs), though it sometimes resolves itself ironically, as in ”Der goldene Topf” (”The Golden Pot”), or satirically, as in Prinzessin Brambilla [Princess Brambilla]. The split is between the hero’s desire to belong to the world of art and music, and his desire to partake of the pleasures and security of the life of an average citizen. These dual desires manifest themselves in a simultaneous love for two different women, an idealized figure, usually connected with the world of art and music, and a domestic figure who promises the joys of marriage. This precarious stance also parallels the situation in Hoffmann’s life, where he simultaneously maintained a satisfactory marriage and an unconsummated but passionate love for an erstwhile music pupil, from the days when he earned his living by giving music lessons. He was similarly divided in his profession, earning his living in one sphere and following his bent in another, the career of civil servant later replacing that of music teacher.
Those who do not recognize him as an author may be acquainted with him as the inspiration behind Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann and Delibes’s ballet Coppelia.