At the Sun-Gazette, staff members tend to read. A lot. So we thought we would share what we're reading and let you know how they fare.
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Staffer: Matthew Parrish
What I read: "Die Elixiere des Teufels (The Devil's Elixirs)" by E.T.A. Hoffmann
Genre: Gothic Novel
Synopsis: A monk from a cursed family drinks the Devil's Elixir and proceeds to murder people during fits of madness. He consistently changes his identity in order to avoid being found out.
Stats: Language: German. Originally published in 1816.
What I thought: "The Devil's Elixirs" is one of my favorite novels I've ever read. It has the mad rush of a work by Poe with the psychological drama of Dostoevsky, but get this: it was written before either of those authors wrote anything.
Poe was just a child and Dostoevsky wasn't alive yet when the novel was published in 1816.
Both authors were heavily influenced by E.T.A. Hoffmann and Dostoevsky even claimed to have read everything the German Romantic author wrote.
Hoffmann was born on Jan. 24, 1776, in Koenigsberg, East Prussia, which is now Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania. The author, who was, for a good amount of his life, a judge by day and an artist (and wino) by night, didn't even aspire to being a great writer. He actually wanted to be a great composer. Hoffmann loved music so much that he even changed his name from Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann to Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann because of his great respect for Mozart.
Hoffmann is best known in the U.S. for his story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," which inspired Tchaikovsky's famous ballet, however, he has written many other great works that deserve more attention, including "The Devil's Elixirs."
The novel has many motifs, but the main one is that great German concept of the "Doppelgaenger," or the double.
As our "hero" Brother Medardus, the crazy monk, skips from town to town "accidentally" masquerading as other people (and also casually committing murders), he suddenly comes upon a man who looks exactly like himself during a stay at a forester's house. This leads to some of the funniest elements of an already hilarious novel. What's crazier than a deranged monk running around causing chaos? Two identical deranged monks running around causing chaos!
After each bout of madness, Medardus flees wherever he was staying, blames all his actions on a temporary sickness and assumes a new identity. Here's a brief excerpt from an English translation:
"I resolved immediately to change my dress, and disguise as much as possible my appearance. With the help of scissors and a comb, which I found in a dressing-case, I cut off my beard, and brought my head of hair, as well as I could, into order. I then threw off my monk's habit, in which I still found the fatal stiletto, Victorin's letters, and the basket-bottle, with the remainder of the Devil's Elixir."
Throughout the monk's adventure, there's never a dull moment and you'll find yourself laughing out loud more than once.
What I'm reading next: "Der Goldne Topf (The Golden Pot)" by E.T.A. Hoffmann.