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8 - Theodor Storm’s Der Schimmelreiter: Schauerrealismus or Gothic Realism in the Family Periodical

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 February 2023

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Summary

Theodor Storm’S Final Novella, Der Schimmelreiter (The Rider on the White Horse, 1888), did not immediately become a bestseller upon publication. Only later did it establish itself as one of the most widely read novellas in the German language. Nonetheless, the text can productively serve as the starting point for a discussion of the material conditions influencing literary production in the late nineteenth century. This chapter brings together several different approaches to Storm’s story. It examines Der Schimmelreiter in the context of the mass production of literature, as well as the problematic status of the uncanny in literary realism and the conception and reception of the novella itself. It will relate these approaches to the text to publishing practices of the time through an analysis of the intricate layering of narrative frames within the novella.

In what follows I will explain in more detail how each of these approaches to the novella is connected to a narrative frame. The first frame brings the context of the novella into the piece itself, via the great-grandmother, a reader of journals. The placing of the ghostly rider in the middle frame creates the effect of the uncanny. It alludes to the instability of the source material, and finally, by anticipating its own reception, it self-consciously transcends its original narrative form. The implicit tension between the transmission of a folktale and the sophisticated artistry of the novella draws attention to the potential for a realist aesthetic of the uncanny. From these critical reflections on the representation of the uncanny within the realist aesthetic emerges a genre that, for want of an established technical term, I shall here call “Schauerrealismus” (gothic realism). This mode of writing is established above all by the dynamics of the frame narration, through which the reader experiences the effect of the uncanny.

The relationship of Storm’s novella to its literary context parallels the position of the new dike in the text: just as the point of contact between the new and the old dike is problematic and fragile, so the relation between a tale that has been handed down through the generations and its formal modification in Der Schimmelreiter is complex and problematic.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2012

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