Theodor Storm (1817-1888) began his career as a lyric poet. He eventually turned to prose and the novella became his preferred medium. His poetic gift lent itself well to the form, enabling him to evoke mood, landscape and character with simple yet lyric majesty. He is the prime artisan of poetic realism.
Many of his novella are set in the past yet the tales are often enclosed within the framework of his own contemporary times. This simple yet effective technique enables Storm to explore the often conflicting viewpoints of the narrator with the main characters of his tale, to examine shifting historical perspectives and, ultimately the transcience of life.
Der Schimmelreiter (The Dykemaster) is recognised as his masterpiece and is definitely one of the cornerstones of 19th Century German Literature. I have just indulged myself reading the wonderful translation by Denis Jackson, published by Angel Clasics. It’s a translation which does justice to Storm’s prose – it reads as though it were an original English text.
Quoting from the blurb on the cover:
“The Dykemaster is a tale of a visionary young north Friesian Deichgraf of the 18th centruy, creator of a new form of dyke. The short-sighted and self-seeking community with which he is at odds turns him into a phantom, seen riding his grey along the dyke whenever the sea threatens to break through. The rationalistic storyteller, in a highly sophisticated narrative structure, belongs to a later age, and what he relates is a veiled critique of the dyke officials of his own day.
The eerie west Schleswig-Holstein coast, with its vast, hallucinatory tidal flats, hushed polders and terrifying North Sea, is the setting for a tale which grips from first page to last with its dynamic tensions and shifts of focus, mood and pace. Storm’s dense narrative further invites the reader to ask whether progress is possible, how the historical record is established , what parts are played by the rational and the irrational in human existence.”
All that in just 117 pages! Simply magnificent.