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Comparative Literature Studies 40.3 (2003) 311-328



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Romanticism Repays Gothicism:
E.T.A. Hoffmann's "Councilor Krespel" as a Recovery of Matthew G. Lewis's The Monk

William Crisman*


The presence of many aspects of Matthew G. Lewis' novel, The Monk (1796), in E.T.A. Hoffmann's The Devil's Elixirs (1815/16; Die Elixiere des Teufels), as in many Romantic writings, has long been acknowledged. Until recently, however, Hoffmann's Gothic novel has been held in fairly low esteem in his own canon, and Lewis' influence on even such a dismissed work has been sniffed at as local or superficial.1 The chances appear good, however, that the The Monk's influence extends far beyond The Devil's Elixirs to Hoffmann's more internationally esteemed fiction, especially "Councilor Krespel" ("Rat Krespel"), the originally titled story that helps begin The Serapions-Brethren (Die Serapions-Brüder) and that inspired both Thomas Carlyle and Jacques Offenbach.2 Moreover, Hoffmann's translational use of The Monk seems highly meditated, to the point where Hoffmann seems to be less a creative writer than a literary critic finely attuned to one line of concerns in Lewis' novel. Perhaps Hoffmann can repay his debt to Lewis by leading us to an enriched reading of The Monk, which itself has suffered a rather neglectful response history.3 The part of The Monk that particularly influences "Councilor Krespel" is the relation of Ambrosio to Antonia and its connection to Krespel and [End Page 311] his daughter, also named Antonia. Ambrosio is the title figure of The Monk, who after being seduced by Mathilda de Villanegas is consumed by desire for the young Antonia. After raping and killing her, he is tortured by the Inquisition. He escapes with the aid of the Devil, who reveals that Antonia was Abrosio's sister and throws the sinner into an abyss. The exact similarity of the women's names seems more than coincidental given Hoffmann's interest, unusual for his time, in names that repeat one another precisely.4 The shared name, "Antonia," itself is striking because it is mysterious on at least two grounds. First, its "etymology is unknown" and was disputed even by the Roman families who had the name "Antonius."5 Second, the origin of the woman's form, "Antonia," which had quite a vogue in France and Italy, is unclear. It may be a feminine formation from St. Antony the Great, or be directly derived from St. Antonia of third-century Byzantium.6 Hoffmann was known for playing with the names of early Christian saints,7 and of course the literary possibilities involved in having a female "St. Antony" are immense. One more immediate reason Hoffmann could easily be sensitive to the name in Lewis' text is the identity of one of its most famous recent bearers, German "Maria Antonia," French "Marie Antoinette." 8 Both in Lewis and in Hoffmann, Antonia is saintly, tempted, and martyred, and even if the writers had come to the name by independent routes, the routes themselves must have been very similar.

More seems to be involved here, however, than the accidental confluence of independently chosen names. Beyond the identical names, the two women share similar physical characteristics. Lewis' Antonia, even though unseen at first, allures with her "tone of unexampled sweetness" (37), which remains an ambiguously dangerous virtue throughout.9The lecherous Ambrosio is drawn to her because of her "voice to which no man ever listened without interest [. . .] so sweet, so harmonious!" (241 ff.). Hoffmann's Antonia, too, enters her story as an unseen "beautiful female voice. [. . .] There was not one whom the sweet witchery did not enthrall" (220; "die ganz wunderherrliche Stimme eines Frauenzimmers. . . . Nicht einer war, den der süßeste Zauber nicht umfing" [233]). If Antonia's voice in The Monk is a dangerous virtue because it attracts her eventual murderer, so Antonia's voice in "Councilor Krespel" is associated with a fatal disease, a "failure in the chest" from which "her voice derives its wonderful...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1528-4212
Print ISSN
0010-4132
Pages
pp. 311-328
Launched on MUSE
2003-09-02
Open Access
No
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