Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hans and Heinz Kirch - a statue of Theodor Storm

Theodor Storm's novella Hans and Heniz Kirch (1882) contains a story that could be, has been, set anywhere. A father is ambitious for his son; the son has other plans; small misunderstandings create large problems. As is common with Storm, though, the actual setting, in the German Baltic port town of Heiligenhafen, is crucial.

I have become so impressed with Denis Jackson, the English translator and scholar of Storm. The extent of the notes in his little collections are absurd, and should mostly be ignored while reading, but are a sign of loving devotion (the hand-drawn maps placed before most stories, though, are an essential reference).

Jackson tells me that most of the key details used by Storm are still in Heiligenhafen. The odd church, a tower with no steeple, is still there, and it still has the special gallery once reserved for ship owners and captains. There is still a giant whale tail, inscribed with a poem, hanging over the towne hall door, although now it is wooden, while in Storm's time it was the actual preserved tail of a killer whale. One new thing in the town is a statue of Theodor Storm, erected just because of this story.

Hans and Heinz Kirch is a fine example of the art if the novella. It covers forty years of a family's history in sixty pages without feeling rushed (the opposite, really). So the story is a model of economy. This is one reason the setting is so important, whether real or invented. It's the repetition of a few details, like the ringing of the church bell at curfew, that bridge the gaps between episodes, and provide their own map to the story.

I don't pretend to have all of the imagery and themes in Hans and Heinz Kirch sorted out for myself. Well, that's why we reread. Next time.


  1. Hear! Hear! It an incredibly powerful story and Jackson's translations really are something to savour.

    I've reviewed a couple of the Jackson translations here and am eagerly awaiting the next volume "Carsten The Trustee and other stories". Publication date keeps going back though - 18 months and counting ....

  2. Thanks for the links. I had missed those on your website. I see that the translator found them!