Paul the Puppeteer; with The Village on the Moor and Renate

The narratives of Theodor Storm are among the outstanding achievements of classic German fiction. This third selection in Denis Jackson’s pioneering series of translations, which began with The Dykemaster (Der Schimmelreiter), contains three contrasting works of Storm’s middle period, the 1870s, when, in the words of Paul Heyse, he moved from ‘watercolours’ to ‘oils’. Paul the Puppeteer is a magical tale which speaks to all ages. Storm’s affectionate portrayal of the vanishing world of the marionette theatre also contains sharp social comment. The jeer in the Low German title of the story, Pole Poppenspäler, is that of solid, guild-dominated society at the travelling puppeteers and their gypsy-like way of life. The Village on the Moor arises directly out of Storm’s professional career: it is an account, told through an investigating lawyer’s eyes, of the case of a mysterious death out on the moor, the chief suspect being a girl of sinister aura with whom the young deceased was in love. Both these works are translated into English for the first time. Renate records the memories of an eighteenth-century Lutheran pastor and his love for a farmer’s daughter who is persecuted by the local community for alleged witchcraft; the clash between religious bigotry and spontaneous emotion drives one of the most moving stories in all Storm’s fiction.

The translator’s lively introduction and end notes, and six pages of maps, will add to the reader’s enjoyment of these stories.

ORDER

‘Finely balanced between potential tragedy and empathy for those caught up in the structures that cause it, Paul the Puppeteer is a tale of great charm and humanity, yet not afraid of taking sides. It is framed here by two novellas linked by intimations of sorcery …’ – Maren Meinhardt, Times Literary Supplement

‘Why does one bite one’s lip with anxiety when Paul breaks the puppetmaster’s best puppet, or when the local yobbos start to wreck the show? And why, when our now grown-up heroine, half-starving, sees Paul’s face and cries out his name in the icy town square of Heiligenstadt, does one find one’s heart swelling for a moment with relief and joy? – It’s Storm’s painterly eye, of course, that does the trick. He takes us to the places where it happens and we see them plain; we are there. One can almost smell the drains.’ – Nicholas Bagnall, Slightly Foxed