Image of the Orient in E. T. A. Hoffmann’s writing
Neilly, Joanna Claire
Although the field of German Romantic Orientalism has been growing in recent years, the prolific writer E. T. A. Hoffmann has largely escaped critical attention. This study of his oeuvre reveals, however, that it was shaped and influenced by both the scholarly and popular orientalist discourses of his time. Furthermore, Hoffmann satirises literary orientalist practices even as he takes part in them, and so his work exposes the ambivalence of the apparent German veneration for the ‘Romantic’ Orient. While Hoffmann responds to the Romantic image of the Orient set up by his predecessors (J.G. Herder, Novalis, Friedrich Schlegel), he does so in order to reveal both the uses and the limits of this model for the Romantic artist in the modern world. The Orient serves as an inspiration for Romantic art, and thus Edward Said’s claim that the Romantics appropriated the East merely for the rejuvenation of European literature must be acknowledged. Nevertheless, as an extremely self-aware writer, Hoffmann does not utilise this approach uncritically. My thesis shows how Hoffmann responded to the image of the Orient as it was produced by writers, musicians, and scholars inside the German-speaking lands. The Orient resists successful imitation, as his texts acknowledge when they turn a critical eye towards German cultural production. Furthermore, Hoffmann’s famous criticism of nineteenth-century society is enhanced by comparison of German and oriental characters, with the latter often coming out more favourably. Hoffmann’s tales therefore demand a reassessment of the view that the Romantics constructed the Orient exclusively as a paradisaical land of poetic fulfilment. His (self-) reflective response to the nineteenth-century treatment of the Orient in Germany marks him out as an original – and essential – voice in Romantic Orientalism.