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Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works

  Science-fiction & fantasy literature: a critical list with discussions.

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E. T. A. Hoffmann

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Standard Disclaimer:

This is a brief discussion of E. T. A. Hoffmann and, of course, of some speculative-fiction books by Hoffmann.

This discussion and list does not necessarily include every book by Hoffmann: it includes only those books that I both know and like. Just as with the author list itself, omission of a particular item may mean I didn’t think highly enough of the omitted item, or it may simply mean that I have not yet sufficient familiarity with it. (In a very few cases, I have listed some books merely on the strength of my opinion of the author: all such books are clearly marked below, as throughout these lists, with a hash mark (#) before the title so you know what’s what.)

I don’t pretend that this discussion is a deep analysis. My intent is no more than to give you a rough idea of what kinds of tales Hoffmann tells, how those tales are usually told, and what makes them and Hoffmann worthy; in sum, to help you rank E. T. A. Hoffmann (and the works by Hoffmann listed here) on your personal literary “to do” list.

A Few Words About E. T. A. Hoffmann

Regrettably, I have not yet had an opportunity to write an essay on this author, but the “Other Resources” section below will lead you to some information about the “Notable Books” listed farther down this page. You may also find the Bibliography below helpful.

A Hoffmann Bibliography

A complete bibliography of Hoffmann’s work is hard to assemble. What follows is my best attempt at cobbling together the diverse and often contradictory partial bibliographies to be found here and there. (One big problem is that many listings include only titles in English, but the same story can have many different English titles.) For that reason, in the lists below the original title is given first, followed by some of the English-language forms used for it.

Early in his creative life, Hoffmann penned a novel Cornaro that was never published; he then composed another, The Mysterious Man, of which only a fragment survives. His first book to see print was the initial volume of the four story collections that constitute Phantasiestücke in Callots Manier (Fantasy Pieces in Callot’s Manner).

It is also hard to separate out what we would today call “novels” from the lot of Hoffmann’s stories. Some tales, even though published outside of collections, are too short to really qualify—perhaps “novellas” or even “novelettes”. I have not segregated out such tales in the list below, which is basically chronological, but have noted how they are usually classed.

While many—perhaps most—of Hoffmann’s tales have a fantastic element, not all do; but I have made no attempt to separate out the “fantastic” from the “mundane” in this list. Moreover, only a few of these tales are now available in English, at least without spending the GNP of a small nation on some obscure out-of-print edition. Note that the boldfacing of the original titles does not signify whether or not they are fantastic: it is only to make the entries a little more readable.

The story lists omit introductions and other non-fiction, but I have left in them the "Kreisleriana" pieces: a set of literary reflections on music mostly as supposedly related by the fictitious Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler, who also appears in the novel Tomcat Murr. As one commentator said, Hoffmann “had invented poor Johannes Kreisler as a symbol for the misunderstood musician, painting him as a kind of clown”; another described Kreisler as “eccentric, antisocial, and ingenious”. Most of the pieces by “Kreisler” are thus not “tales”, but still embody some fictive elements. (Note that Robert Schumann wrote a series of piano pieces entitled “Kreisleriana” in tribute to Hoffmann.)

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Hoffmann’s Works, by Book

Phantasiestücke in Callots Manier
[Fantasy Pieces in Callot’s Manner]

Published as four volumes:

Schwester Monika erzählt und erfährt
[The Experiences and Confessions of Sister Monica (or just Sister Monica)] - 1815

Classed a novel: a rarely discussed early work, pornographic and published anonymously, set in a convent (which idea was old hat as far back as Boccaccio and Chaucer). Sub-titled Eine erotisch-psychisch-physisch-philantropisch-philantropinische Urkunde des säkularisierten Klosters X (roughly, “An erotic psycho-physical-philanthropic-philanthropist record of secularized Cloister X.”).

Die Elixiere des Teufels
[The Devil’s Elixirs, sometimes as The Devil’s Elixir] - 1815

A novel, of which one reviewer said “The Devil’s Elixirs is some of Hoffmann’s best writing. It is a swift-moving, engaging story that boasts many complex psychological themes, and, of course, countless overlapping motifs, double identities, and confusions between reality and the interpretation of reality.”

[Night Pieces or Nocturnes]

Die Serapions-Brüder
[The Serapion Brotherhood or The Serapion Brethren]

Published as four volumes:

Prinzeßin Brambilla
[Princess Brambilla] -1820

A novella or novelette: a seemingly lightweight but ultimately philosophical comedy of errors rooted in confusion of identity, both actual and psychological.

Lebens-Ansichten des Katers Murr nebst fragmentarischer Biographie des Kapellmeisters Johannes Kreisler in zufälligen Makulaturblättern
[The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr with a Fragmentary Biography of the Music Director Johannes Kreisler in Accidentally Intermingled Pages] - 1820

This novel is possibly Hoffmann’s best work—penetrating social commentary wrapped up in screamingly funny drollery; it has a curiously modern tone.

Seltsame Leiden eines Theaterdirektors
[Strange Sorrows of a Theater Director] - 1819

Apparently (I have no copy) a lengthy essay concerning the actor Max Devrient; published as a stand-alone.

Klein Zaches genannt Zinnober
[Little Zaches, Called Cinnobar] - 1819

A novel: this tale seems widely accepted as one of Hoffmann’s best fantastic works (which is saying something). Little Sachs (called Cinnobar) is an ugly dwarf who acquires the magical ability to be credited for “whatever gracious or pleasing thing is said or done in his presence”—that is, he steals others’ merit; Sachs rises high in the world before his literarily inevitable downfall. There is available on line a full English translation by Michael Haldane, who also offers a few brief thoughts on the tale, as well as a lengthy dissertation on translating Hoffmann into English with special notes on this piece.

Meister Floh: Ein Mährchen in Sieben Abenteuern Zweier Freunde
[Master Flea] - 1822

A novella or novelette: a comedic (and satiric) fantasy in which the Master of the Fleas magically allows the protagonist to know to when people are lying to him; the work was a thinly veiled political critique, and got Hoffmann in a boatload of trouble.

Letzte Erzählungen
[Later Stories] - 1825

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Hoffmann’s Works, Alphabetically

These lists are for the benefit of collectors, and are useful mainly because Hoffmann in English translation has not yet appeared in a complete set, and there is substantial overlap between the various collections that are available. I have not segregated the works by length (“novels”, “novellas” and short stories are intermixed).

Titles in the Original German

This list is by the original titles, because translations can have quite various English titles. The alphabetizing ignores leading Ein, Eine, Der, Die, Das. Capitalization may vary from edition to edition.

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Titles in English Translation

This list shows the various translations of the titles in the books listed farther below, but there could be other versions as well in other works. Each variant is shown by on a line itself, so this list is longer than the list in the original German shown above. The alphabetizing ignores leading A, An, The.

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Hoffmann’s Tales Published in English

This is not an attempt at an exhaustive listing; rather, it is an attempt at a listing of works still available, new or used, at a reasonable price, which I arbitrarily set as under $35 or so (lowest price found). The collections are arbitrarily numbered for reference to show which stories are in which (a list by story follows father below).

Be aware that many editions of Hoffmann in English are knock-off scan-in reprints of quite old translations now in the public domain. Also be aware that many—some would say most—translators have made rather awful renditions of Hoffmann’s work; caveat lector. One competent reviewer…Michael Haldane…has remarked that “Ritchie Robertson, the translator of Tales of Hoffmann for the World’s Classics…has produced the best modern English translations of Hoffmann”; regrettably, it is only of a few tales. Other collections that have been said to be well done include the Penguin collection, the 1943 set assembled by illustrator Hugo Steiner-Prag (though it is said some are “condensed”), and the University of Chicago collection. And Anthea Bell’s translation of Tomcat Murr (see immediately below) appears quite sound.

Longer Works

These range from book-length novels to novellas or novelettes (the distinction between a novella and a novelette is hazy, to say the least).

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Some of these include one or more of the longer works listed above. They are numbered {thus} for later cross-reference of the stories each contains. The years shown are for the translation, not the original composition (for which see farther above)

One notable collection not listed below is Fantasy Pieces in Callot’s Manner [Phantasiestücke in Callots Manier], published by Union College Press in 1995 and then Syracuse University Press in 1996. It is the only one-volume translation of that work, but is now very scarce and, more crucial, very expensive, typically well into the three-digit price range.

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Works Collected in the Books Above

This lists all stories (and longer works) in any of the collections above; the numerals show in which ones it appears (and each numeral is a link to that book’s list). Titles in green appear in only one collection.

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Works NOT Collected in the Books Above

This lists all stories not in any of the collections above—these are the “missing works” of Hoffmann in English (at least in any readily available books).

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Other E. T. A. Hoffmann Resources

E. T. A. Hoffmann Resources on the Web

An interesting starting point is The Hoffmann Project, “a student-produced project which presents a biographic and bibliographic led author study”. The next-closest thing to a dedicated Hoffmann site, E.T.A. Hoffmann, is now defunct, but there remains an archived copy. It has a lot of material, including an interesting “Time Table of Hoffmann’s life”, plus some of his clever drawings (he was, after all, a polymath).

More valuable resources are Michael Haldane’s a few brief thoughts on Klein Zaches genannt Zinnober and his lengthy dissertation “Little Ernest, Great Ernst: The Trials and Tribulations of E.T.A. Hoffmann in English”, on translating Hoffmann.

Beyond those, we have, among others:

Naturally, there is a lot more on such a famed man, but those links ought to give you a good start.

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E. T. A. Hoffmann Resources in Print

The list below derives in main part from Ritchie Robinson’s “Select Bibliography” in the notes accompanying his translation of The Golden Pot and Other Tales (Oxford University Press); the notes alone are worth the price of the book. All comments on particular books shown below are Robinson’s.

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Notable Science-Fiction and Fantasy Books by E. T. A. Hoffmann ***

(Please review the extensive Hoffmann Bibliography notes.)

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