Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Hofmannsthal, Hugo von

(1874-1929) Austrian poet and dramatist, best-known for his libretto for the Opera Der Rosenkavalier (1911) by Richard Strauss (1864-1949). In the fantasy vein he wrote other librettos for Strauss, including (see also below) Ariadne auf Naxos ["Ariadne on Naxos"] (1912), Die Frau ohne Schatten ["The Woman without a Shadow"] (1919) and Die Ägyptische Helena ["The Egyptian Helen"] (1928).

HVH's early writings are full of the Fin-de-Siècle melancholy that pervaded much of the literature of Decadence in the 1890s, with a particular emphasis on death. His play Der Tor und der Tod (1894; trans Max Blatt as Death and the Fool 1913 US) explores the tension between artistic aestheticism and moral obligation as an elaborate Dance of Death. There followed a sequence of experimental stories later collected as Das Märchen der 672. Nacht und andere Erzählungen (coll 1905; trans as Four Stories 1968 UK), all of which explored different encounters with Death. The title story, "Das Märchen der 672. Nacht" (1895 Die Zeit; cut trans Alan Trethewey as "The Tale of the Merchant's Son and His Servants" in The Lion Rampant anth 1969 UK; trans as "The Tale of the 672nd Night" in German Literary Tales anth 1983 US ed Frank G Ryder and Robert M Browning), is about a merchant's son who withdraws from the world; but a letter accusing his servant of a crime draws him back to experience the nightmare of the City and be killed. Its companion piece, Reitergeschichte (1899 chap; trans Basil Creighten as "Cavalry Patrol" in Tellers of Tales anth 1939 ed W Somerset Maugham; new trans Mike Mitchell as "Sergeant Anton Lerch" in The Dedalus/Ariadne Book of Austrian Fantasy anth 1993 UK ed Mitchell), tells of a soldier who sees his own Doppelgänger and, affected by the incident, hesitates to carry out his superior's command so is promptly shot. Both stories emphasize that death is sudden and inescapable, but their deeper meanings (> Allegory) have been the subject of discussion for a century.

Richard Strauss became attracted to HVH's work and the two began to collaborate in 1906 when Strauss chose HVH's tragedy Elektra (1904), the first of HVH's Oedipus trilogy, as the libretto for Elektra (1909); the partnership lasted 20 years. HVH was cofounder of the Salzburg Festival in 1917, and it was here that his play Jedermann (1911) was first performed in 1920. A religious parable, it explores a further confrontation with Death. HVH returned to his enigmatic study of life and death in Der Turm ["The Tower"] (1925; rev 1927), a symbolic historical play about the heir to the throne who is, for many years, imprisoned in a tower (> Edifice), wherein he passes through madness to worldly wisdom.

HVH's one other major fantasy, generally known as Andreas, was never completed. A first part appeared as Fragments eines Romans (1931 chap Germany) and an expanded version as Andreas oder die Vereinigten (1932 Germany; trans Marie D Hottinger as Andreas, or The United 1936 UK). Andreas's personality is split between the spiritual and the physical, but a series of encounters with mysterious individuals begins to rebuild him.

A literary maestro, HVH early discovered that language was inadequate to express the poetic experience, and channelled his creative energies into drama. His few attempts at the fantastic challenge the reader to explore with HVH the mystery and purpose of life. [MA]

other works: Der Kaiser und die Hexe ["The Emperor and the Spell"] (play 1900); Das Bergwerk von Falun ["The Mines of Falun"] (play 1933) based on the story by E T A Hoffmann; Selected Writings (coll 1963 3 vols US) trans/ed Marie D Hottinger, Tania Stern and James Stern.

Hugo Von Hofmannsthal


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.