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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By Theodor Storm (1817–1888)

THEODOR STORM is one of the masters of the German novelle. His range is somewhat limited, for he is intensely national, almost sectional. Born in Husum, a small town on the sea-coast of Schleswig-Holstein, he had the Northerner’s deep love for home; and all his work is colored by this love. After passing through the gymnasium of his native town, he went to Lübeck to prepare for the university. Here his love of poetry was awakened; and Goethe, Eichendorf, and Heine exerted an influence upon him which he never outgrew. He studied law at Kiel and at Berlin, and settled down to a quiet practice at Husum. The revolutionary disturbances of 1848 drove him from his home, and led him to accept positions under the Prussian government; first at Potsdam, and then at Heiligenstadt in Southern Germany. During these latter years he acquired that intimate acquaintance with Southern manners and modes of thinking which he turned to artistic uses in some of his stories. He returned to Husum in 1864, where he held the position of landvogt until 1880. He then retired to his country home in Holstein; and some of his most delightful work was produced in his old age.

Storm led the most uneventful of lives: happy in his family and conscientious in his official duties. In his literary work there is very curiously an ever-returning undertone of sadness, of lost hopes, of disappointed lives. He began his literary career as lyric poet,—by ‘Liederbuch Dreier Freunde’ (Song-Book of Three Friends), a small volume published in 1843 in conjunction with Tycho and Theodor Mommsen. By their truth to nature and their simple pathos these poems promised to place Storm high among German lyric poets, had not his growing fame as story-teller led him to cultivate prose at the expense of poetry. His first great success was ‘Immen-see,’ published in 1850. Even to-day it is one of the most popular and best known of his works. It is a story of reminiscence,—an old man going back to his youth to live over again, in the twilight hour, the days of his young lost love. This harking back to bygone times runs more or less through all of Storm’s work. It determines the form,—a tale told in the first person by an elderly speaker; and it colors the spirit, toning it down to the gray of sorrows outlived but not forgotten. Renunciation and resignation are the watchwords of most of his stories.

With his return home in 1864, a new and the most fruitful period of his work began, marked by a great advance in characterization and in firmness of touch; he is also more dramatic: ‘In St. Jürgen’ is an example. He next tried the artist novel, a favorite type with German writers. ‘Psyche,’ published in 1875, has been especially praised by German critics. Some of his strongest work was done in the so-called chronicle novels,—romantic tales with a historic background, delineating North German life in the seventeenth century. ‘Aquis Submersis’ is one of the best of these, and by some critics considered the finest he ever wrote. ‘Pole Poppenspäler’ (Paul the Puppet-Player), written in 1877 for the children’s magazine Deutsche Jugend, is one of his most charming stories. He composed it with the utmost care, on the principle that only the best is good enough for children, and that one should not “write down” to them. He has also cultivated the Märchen: of these, ‘Die Regentrude’ (Rain-Gertrude) is a most happy example of the blending of the real with the fantastic.

After his retirement his country home became a Mecca for literary pilgrimages. He was a favorite of the German reading public, because of his poetical, dreamy sentiment, his simplicity, his love of home, and his finished workmanship. He knows how to create an atmosphere and to produce a mood; he is one of the great masters of the short story of character and sentiment.