Thursday, October 15, 2009

Almost disappointed in Theodor Storm

My enormous enthusiasm for the works of Theodor Storm has been tempered to a degree by the my most recent reading of Storm. The just republished James Wright translations, The Rider on the White Horse (1964/2009), is the culprit.

The Wright book contains Immensee and The Rider on the White Horse, both superb, unmissable. Unlike the great Denis Jackson's translations, the Wright volume has no maps or notes. On the other hand, it's about half the price of Jackson's books. A deal.

So it's not Immensee that's the problem, or the quality of the translations. It's the other stories Wright includes, all good, all delicately written, all about exactly the same thing. Specifically, thwarted love, and the sacrifices thereby required. Two lovers should marry each other, but cannot, so they heroically do what they must. Renunciation - there's some domesticated Goethe here.

Now, Immensee is also about thwarted love, sacrifices, stoicism, regrets, etc. I think it's basically perfect. Followed by another similar story, and then another, and another - six in a row, actually - a certain monotony intrudes, and what looked like necessary heroism in stiry #1 begins to seem false by story #6. Read as intended, isolated in a magazine or album, any one of these stories might have seemed like just the most beautiful thing you've ever seen. All together, the formula becomes apparent.

Tomorrow I'll forget all of this and write about the strengths of these stories. They all have their strengths. And I do want to acknowledge a clear diffference in taste. James Wright preferred these gentler, gauzier stories, characteristic of an early stage in Storm's life. To him, they represented the best of Theodor Storm. Denis Jackson prefers the more complicated, geographically specific, ambiguous later stories.

So do I. But I'm glad this book is easy to get again, am glad I read every story in it, and still plan to track down every Storm tale I can find, no matter how trivial. They have all been rewarding (some more than others).


  1. Just here to express my deep and abiding admiration of Storm's work. It's been many years since I read him and I should do something about that. He rewards return visits.

  2. Storm continues to amaze me, even these stories that I find thin in one way or another.

    I think that many people who stop by Wuthering Expectations would, frankly, love Storm - he would satisfy many tastes. I wouldn't want to say that about everything I read or write about!