The major novellas of Theodor Storm

Translated by Denis Jackson

Denis Jackson’s translations of Storm’s novellas offer the most comprehensive selection of this master storyteller of the German nineteenth century available in English. Publication of the sixth of his selections, containing one novella, Grieshuus: The Chronicle of a Family, coincides with the bicentenary of Storm’s birth in September 1817.

Denis Jackson’s editions of Storm have been praised for their stylistic truth to originals and also for their absorbing background material including maps and end-notes taking the reader inside the world of their settings, which range from close-to-life nineteenth-century small-town life in an era of rapid change to ‘chronicles’ of earlier times. Denis Jackson is a winner of the annual Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize for his selection of three of Storm’s novellas under the title Paul the Puppeteer.

‘Translations of the high standard of this one are more than ever in demand.’ – May Garland, Editor of The Oxford Companion to German Literature, on The Dykemaster, Denis Jackson’s translation of Der Schimmelreiter

Theodor Storm (1817–1888) is one of the celebrated, canonical names of nineteenth-century German literature. Romantic writers such as Tieck, Hoffmann and Novalis had been intrigued by the irrational, the exotic and the grotesque. The German writers who followed them were more inward-looking and often tragic, concerned with moral predicaments and the psychology of individuals in a community context. This era of Germanic realism did not produce weighty tomes akin to the major novels published in England, France and Russia during the same period, and the slim volumes of its most accomplished exponents, among them most notably Storm, remain to a degree hidden gems of the great European realist tradition, still waiting to be fully appreciated beyond their country of origin.

By Storm’s time the heroic representation of tragedy, which had reached its zenith with Goethe and Schiller, belonged to a bygone era. In the early nineteenth century Heinrich von Kleist had departed from classical orthodoxies while retaining the dramatic form. Storm demonstrates a further progression, taking tragedy away from the public sphere of the theatre and into the privacy of the home. For him, prose fiction in the shape of the novella was a more intimate vehicle for the portrayal of tragedy, and equal to drama in its ability to convey tragic effect – an organic development in line with the spirit of the age. For all the apparent solidity of Storm’s bourgeois settings, his stories of human failure and disaster movingly highlight the tragic imperfection of life. Storm’s art was early described by a contemporary as that of the requiem, and in a doctoral thesis of the next century as ‘the art of uncovering the seeds of death in each human endeavour’. Narrated with consummate skill, his work has a profound humanity and a universal resonance for the present-day reader. – Barbara Burns, University of Glasgow