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Hugo von Hofmannsthal's Terzinen ueber Vergaeglichkeit and Da Maerchen der 672. Nacht : a study in ambivalence Smith, Katharine M.


The early works of Hugo von Hofmannsthal reveal a strong dichotomy. On the one hand he is drawn towards a mysticism in which he is strongly influenced by the German Romantics, particularly Novalis. The Romantics' tendency to negate the value of temporal existence is reinforced in Hofmannsthal's thought by the influence of the late nineteenth century aestheticism of his colleagues Arthur Schnitzler and Leopold Andrian, as well as of his contemporaries, Stefan George and Gabriel d'Annunzio. Hence there is in Hofmannsthal's early works a mystic sense of a non-temporal, non-spatial, all-embracing existence. Yet at the same time there is also an increasing awareness of the value of this earthly life, the need for a willing acceptance of it and actual participation in it. The ambivalence of Hofmannsthal's attitude reaches a climax in the year 1894-95. In that year Hofmannsthal is forced out of a hitherto much sheltered life in which he could devote himself almost entirely to his learning and his art into contact with the real world. In the spring of 1894 he takes his law examinations, and in preparing for them he is conscious of passing out of the years of schooling and preparation into the years of maturity and responsibility. During the previous autumn he wrote to his friend Edgar Karg about the earnestness of life: "Ich will diesen Ernst heuer sehr ernst nehmen und iiber meine Pflichten und Rechte ein biflchen nachdenken: damit meine ich nicht die dumme Staatsprdfung. Eher meine ich den Beruf im tieferen Sinn. Es giebt so viel, das vielleieht zu-sammenbrechen wird. Die Zeit hat etwas aufregend sehones."¹ In July his friend Josephine von Wertheimstein died and, probably for the first time, Hofmannsthal felt death as personal reality.² In the autumn of the same year Hofmannsthal enters the military service where he will have to learn to face a real possibility of his own death, and where, again for the first time in his life, he would have to work in the service of others, and live in a disciplined system with them. All these experiences combine to break down the isolated and artificial life which he had enjoyed till that time. In the summer of 1894, in the space of a few days following the death of Prau von Wertheimstein, Hofmannsthal writes the four Terzinen uber Verganglichkeit, primarily an expression of his Romantic mysticism, and at the same time he works on his Marchen der 672. Nacht (completed the following year) which is a violent exposure of the meaninglessness of a life removed from social morality. The purpose of this thesis is to attempt to show the nature of Hofmannsthal's dualism through an analysis of these two major works of the crucial 1894-95 year in which the opposite poles of his thought are most evident. Before looking at the works themselves it will be necessary to turn to Ad me ipsum, Hofmannsthal’s notes on his personal philosophy as a background for the understanding of his works, and to consider this philosophy as it derives from Romantic thought and as it is expressed in some of the other early works. ¹ Oct. 10, 1893, "Briefe an Edgar Karg aus den Jahren 1892-95," N. Rds., Vol. 73, (1962), p. 590. ² Just the Christmas before Hofmannsthal had described Prau von Wertheimstein as one of those "Die uns mehr als alle anderen sind", with whom he felt a~mystic communion of souls. Gedichte, p. 516.

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