I have enjoyed participating in German Literature Month hosted by Caroline of Beauty is a Sleep Cat and Lizzy of Lizzy's Literary Life. So far I have posted on a "Germelshausen" by Friedrich Gerstacker (from which the plot of the movie Brigadoon was lifted and reset in Scotland) and short stories by two Nobel Laureates, Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse. I posted yesterday on a "The Jew's Beech Tree" by Annette von Droste-Hulshaff, an interesting short story from 1842 reflective of some of the prevailing prejudices of the time.
Novalis (the pen name of George Friederr von Hardenberg (1772 to 1801) was born into a very affluent aristocratic family from the Saxony region of what is now Germany. He was related to Karl August von Hardenberg, Chancelor of Prussia in the early part of the 19th century. Raised in great affluence surrounded by servants he was at first educated by private tutors learning the classics. He was sent to study law where he met many of the great thinkers and writers of his time. He was very influenced by German Idealism which in his case meant the ideas of George Fichte and Kantian Transcendentalism (There is a very interesting fictionalized account of the life of Novalis The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald.) His family traced their ancestry back to 12th century Saxon nobility. (There is a good article on him here.)
In his short life Novalis married and became a widower twice (the ages of the women he was involved with in his life would be considered way to young now but people also died much younger then so I will not judge this).
Novalis is the very epitome of a Romantic era writer. He was a tremendous seeker of wisdom and knowledge. It is hard to imagine him as a manager of the family salt mines!. He died way too young of Tuberculous, like many others.
"The Story of Hyacinth and Roseblossom" reads very much as a Romantic Era fairy tale of lovers separated and reunited after the male character finishes a mysterious quest . I will tell a bit of the story but leave the basic plot unspoiled so others can enjoy it afresh. Like many a romantic writer, Novalis celebrates nature and luxuriates in melancholy and brooding states of mind. The opening paragraph gives a good feel for the story.
"Once ages ago there lived in the far west a guileless youth. He was very good, but at the same time peculiar beyond measure. He constantly grieved over nothing at all, always went about alone and silent, sat down by himself whenever the others played and were happy, and was always thinking about strange things. Woods and caves were his favorite haunts, and there he talked constantly with birds and animals, with rocks and trees--naturally not a word of sense, nothing but stuff silly enough to make one die a-laughing. Yet he continued to remain morose and grave in spite of the fact that the squirrel, the long-tailed monkey, the parrot, and the bullfinch took great pains to distract him and lead him into the right path."
This is a world where nature comes alive. In times Hyacinth finds a sweetheart, the beautiful Rosebloom. At first all is wonderful between them until a strange older man begins to charm Rosebloom. As I read this I began to wonder how to take the figure of the man especially with the reference to strange alphabetic characters. Please look at this and tell me what you think.
"Alas, how soon did all this bliss pass away! There came along a man from foreign lands; he had traveled everywhere, had a long beard, deep-set eyes, terrible eyebrows, a strange cloak with many folds and queer figures woven in it. He seated himself in front of the house that belonged to Hyacinth's parents. Now Hyacinth was very curious and sat down beside him and fetched him bread and wine. Then the man parted his white beard and told stories until late at night and Hyacinth did not stir nor did he tire of listening. As far as one could learn afterward the man had related much about foreign lands, unknown regions, astonishingly wondrous things, staying there three days and creeping down into deep pits with Hyacinth."
Hyacinth begins to weep and he decides he to must depart for foreign lands so he can return with wonderful stories to tell. He leaves without tell Rosebloom he is going and everywhere he travels he asks where he can find the Goddess Isis. He encounters a group of traveling flowers and speaks with them and obtains the wisdom he needs to succeed in his quest and the story comes to a marvelously happy ending.
This is pretty close to a fair tale. I found it very interesting reading. It is Romanticism near its high point.
It was translated by Lillian Winter
You can read it HERE.