By Heinrich von Kleist, E T A Hoffman, Ludwig Tieck
Translated BY Ronald Taylor
Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, 1993
ISBN # 0-8023-1295-0
146 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
September 2016

The stories of this volume live up to the title “romantic stories,” not in the sense of romantic love, but the sense of 19 century literature which saw the world in an idealized fashion with many events occurring which were supernatural in nature, and with a great thrust on the simple goodness of everyday people caught in a world of where unexplainable sorts of disaster and danger happen to them every day.

. The six tales give the reader a decent overview of what Romanic literature of Germany was like and about. It is quite difficult for a 21st century reader to take the stories very seriously and it’s hard not to even chuckle here and there in the reading as to what the author of the story believes he can say and still be taken seriously. It takes a strong act of suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader, but once that is achieved, the stories have their own fascination.

ECKBERT THE FAIR by Ludwig Tieck pp. 16-33

They have the rare visit of a friend, Walther, who comes to see them. In the evening Bertha announces that she will tell Walther a story, the story of her life.

At about 8 years old, living in great poverty, she just ran away and soon met a lone old woman who took her in and put her to pleasant work, caring for her and teaching her to read.

The woman has a special bird which each day lays an egg with a jewel or pearl in it. The old woman relies on Bertha and is often gone from the cottage for weeks, even months at a time.

After some 4 years, the woman goes off and does not come back. After a long time the girl decides she has to do something, so the leaves the poor dog alone in the house, takes the jewel-laying bird and runs away.

Things seem to go perfectly. After some years she finds her way back to her home village but her own family has died. She then meets Walther, they fall in love and marry and everything has been perfect since.

However, to site the title of another book, soon “things fall apart.” She becomes very ill and is bedridden. Walther begins to fear even his dear friend since he now knows the story of the magical bird that lays precious stones and he fears him. Horrors follow horrors and the story winds its way to a very tragic ending.

THE RUNENBERG -- by Ludwig Tieck pp. 34 – 55

This is sort of a magical fairy tale. A young man, Christen, leaves his simple farm-life home and sets out for something new. He ends up taking a job he likes with a local forester helping with various things in the forest.

On a walk on day he comes to a ruined castle but sees a beautiful woman there who gives him a stone tablet, which later disappears. He is mystified by it all, but never forgets the woman.

Later he comes to a village festival and while there meets and falls in love with Elizabeth, a local beauty. She loves him, and her rich father likes him, so he hires Christen as a gardener. They marry after some six months and soon have a child whom they dearly love.

Some years later a stranger comes to the area and all like him. He leaves a huge sum of money with Christen and says he will be back to claim it later. However, he never returns. However, Christen is obsessed with this wealth and eventually he leaves his idyllic home and wanders of in search of his notion of “treasure.”

THE EARTHQUAKE IN CHILI – by Heinrich von Kleist pp. 56 – 70

In 1647 Santiago, Chili is struck by an earthquake. Jeronimo Rugers falls in love with the daughter of a rich man and she is going to have his child. The child is born is secret. However, later Jeronimo is accused of a crime and is scheduled to be hung, however a huge earthquake interferes with the hanging and he escapes. His wife is about to die, but he rescues her and their child and they seem out of danger. They pledge to go away to Conception where he has a friend.

However, because of the many deaths in the earthquake some of the survivors blame Jeronimo’s behavior for the earthquake, which was seen by them as a punishment from God and he is arrested. However, by some near miracle he and his wife and child escape and Jeronimo survives with his family.

THE BETROTHAL ON SANTO DOMINGO – by Heinrich von Kleist pp. 71 – 103

This tragic tale is set in San Domingo (Haiti) during the Haitian Revolution which ended in 1804. It is 1803 and one of the rebelling slaves, Congo Hoango has taken over his former French master’s property and is a leader in the revolution. He is away in battle.

His key helper at home is an older woman and her beautiful young daughter. They can pass as lighter skinned mulattos, and when a Swiss fellow who is fighting with the French arrives at their home the young girl falls in love with him.

However, there is enormous distrust on all sides and yet the young girl tries to both save her newly beloved and to be able to run away with him to safety.

It is a fascinating tale of confusion, mistrust and tragedy. It is very sad and gripping, but a central ideal example of the Romantic consciousness. To tell more of the plot would ruin it all for any future reader!

The story is well-written and gripping, but very heavy, indeed!

DON GIOVANNI – by E.T.A. HOFFMANN pp. 104 – 117

The narrator is staying at a fancy hotel in a modestly small German town and is quite surprised that they have an opera house inside the hotel itself, and this evening they are playing the opera Don Giovanni by Mozart.

He decides to go and has a private box. After the first intermission someone slips into his box, but he is so riveted on the opera, which he knows intimately, that he doesn’t even turn around.

Soon the person speaks to him and it is the artist, who is singing the role of Donna Anna. She addresses him. Hoffmann tells his friend to whom he is writing this tale about this event as though it was just an ordinary experience.

From the discussion they have he is deeply moved by the rest of the opera in ways that he had never been before even though he’d seen the opera many times.

“If one takes the libretto of Don Giovanni merely as a sequence of events, without attaching any deeper meaning to them, it becomes incomprehensible that Mozart could have composed such music to it.”

However, later he gives what he thinks is the real meaning:

“. . . Donna Anna had been chosen by Heaven to use the love by which Satan had brought about the Don’s downfall in order to make him aware of the divine power within him and thus rescue him from the state of desperation into which his vain adventures had plunged him…”

It is quite a weird and far out tale!


This seems to be the strangest tale of this small volume. It is set in a small town in Silesia. The narrator’s coach has broken down and he will be stuck in this town for several days. He recalls that a friend of his had a friend in this town, so he seeks him out, Professor Aloysius Walther. The professor welcomes him and shows him around the monastery where he lives and in the chapel they find a man working on a mural on the wall which is unfinished.

The professor knows the painter, Berthold, but finds him to be a rather uninteresting artist, just useful at minor work. However, the visitor is much more moved by the artist’s work and delves into his life, which the professor happens to know quite well.

It turns out, in a fairly long and convoluted, but fascinating story, that the artist has a fascinating story and there are reasons behind the nature of his art.

It’s another very far out and creative tale!

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett