The majorat

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The Majorat is a short story by ETA Hoffmann that appeared for the first time in 1817 in the two-part collection Night Pieces . Edited by the writer of the Fantasy Pieces in Callot's manner. Berlin: Reimer 1816 f. (The first part of the night pieces contains the stories "The Sandman", "Ignaz Denner", "The Jesuit Church in G.", "The Sanctus", the second "The desolate house", "The Majorat", "The Vow", "The stone heart".)

Content and narrative organization

The text presents itself as a two-part first-person narration , the narrated time extends from the last decade of the 18th to the second decade of the 19th century and thus includes the period of unrest that had gripped Europe after the French Revolution until about the end the Napoleonic Wars. While the first part feeds on the personal experience of the first-person narrator Theodor, the second part contains, as a flashback to the year 1760, the chronicle of the Freiherrlich von R. family from the time the majorate was established until the death of the last Freiherr von R. ., which occurs around 1800. This chronicle is reproduced as it was reported to the first-person narrator by his great-uncle, who was the legal advisor of R.'s family throughout this period . The analytical narrative style, which initially offers a fragmentary excerpt from the depicted world in order to then provide an explanatory context, is not atypical for Hoffmann. It can be related to his experience in the production of legal texts: the judges of the contemporary inquisition proceedings first determined the immediate facts of a crime, which they then incorporated into a larger, explanatory context - the so-called 'storytelling', which became the basis of the judgment .

In 179_ the then still young first-person narrator was asked by his great-uncle V. to accompany him in the function of a secretary on one of his regular trips to the ancestral castle of the von R. family on the Curonian Spit . This trip has all the characteristics of an introduction to the world of adults, which is characterized by professional and societal demands, by social - here still class - differences and by gender differences. The castle, in which they are staying with the autumn hunting party of the Majorate Lord, already bears the signs of decay, and it is the place of disturbing apparitions from the past, which the great-uncle knows how to 'banish'. But social life also holds trials in store for Theodor: he proves himself lucky in the hunt and he falls in love with Seraphine, the wife of the major councilor, so that his great-uncle has to protect him as a mentor from the consequences of his youthful madness. All in all, the experiences and encounters on the trip remain a mystery to him, so that the great-uncle sees it as his task to initiate him into the wider context of the following summer, ie into the history of R.'s family.

The old Roderich von R. had established a majorate for the ancestral seat of his family in order to bind at least the oldest sons and their families to one place and in this way to give the family a permanent place. Such dynastic intentions already appeared anachronistic and dangerous to the contemporary and jurist V., because they disadvantage all subsequent siblings. The majority gives the cause and form to the brotherly conflicts and thus promotes the downfall of R.'s house, which then also occurs in the grandchildren. Old Roderich died in 1760 while the tower collapsed, in which he had devoted himself to astronomical and possibly also astrological studies. His eldest son Wolfgang becomes the new Majorate - and promptly murdered by the servant Daniel, with the consent of the younger brother Hubert. Hubert now takes over the inheritance, knowing full well that Wolfgang has a son from his marriage, which he had to keep secret from his father. When Hubert dies, his son appears as a candidate, but the legal advisor V ensures that the true successor, Wolfgang's son Roderich, is put in his right. His marriage to cousin Seraphine remains childless; Seraphine dies shortly after meeting Theodor, and the sex goes under with Roderich (the grandson). The Majorats property fell to the state, which built the lighthouse from the ruins of the castle, which old Roderich had asked to build in his will. The story ends with a melancholy comment from the narrator: “Poor old, short-sighted Roderich! what evil power you conjured up that poisoned the trunk, which you intended to plant with firm roots for eternity, in the first germination to death. "

Characters of the act

Family of R .:

  1. Roderich von R. ('the elder', founder of the majority, † 1760)
  2. Wolfgang von R. (eldest son of 1, † after 1760,), 'secret' (as "Born") married. with Julie from St. Val.
  3. Hubert von R. (second son of 1, † 'several' years later), married. with NN, 2 sons (Hubert and NN, who falls in Russian military service); 1 daughter (Seraphine).
  4. Hubert von R. (son of 3, pretender, † in Russian military service).
  5. Roderich von R. (from the 'secret' marriage of 2), married. with Seraphine (daughter of 3), † probably after 1810.

The servants: Daniel (with Roderich the Elder and Hubert), Franz (with Wolfgang and Roderich the Younger).

The bourgeois observers: Justitiar V. and Theodor, grand-nephew of the Justitiar and first-person narrator.


The attempt to determine the future of the family with the establishment of the Majorate and to give it a duration has failed, if only because it cannot take into account social change (which was unmistakably accelerating during the French Revolution). Majority gives the inevitable conflicts between fathers and sons a form that always connects them to the future of the family. The dynastic principle strengthens the power of the fathers and prevents the competition of the sons so that it has to turn into hatred and anger for destruction. In a certain way, Hoffmann's text provides a rational and socio-historical commentary on the catastrophic development of the conflicts between the father and the sons in Schiller's play The Robbers (1781), which he cites several times. At the same time, however, Hoffmann also mentions an alternative, namely the establishment of family continuity in the bourgeoisie, which no longer has to be based on the direct succession of generations: In a decisive phase of his development, legal advisor V., who knows himself at the end of his life, takes , the upbringing of his great-nephew and brings him on the path of life that leads him to overlook the misfortune of the noble family and to be able to judge it as inevitable (therefore melancholy). Duration is not achieved through a ruling on power , but through the imparting of knowledge and values ​​that enable life to be successful; Justitiar V does not forbid his pupil to have an impossible love for Seraphine (like old Roderich his son Wolfgang's connection with Julie von St. Val), he gives him - ironically, casually - the insight that this love is impossible. In this respect, Hoffmann's text makes a contribution to the upgrading of the bourgeois family and bourgeois education that will be characteristic of the 19th century. It is not for nothing that the citizens are able to banish the ghosts of the noble past - and who are able to give their future its own legal (legally informed) form.

In bourgeois education - that would be a second topic - literary storytelling plays an important role. But if this storytelling is to develop educational functions, then the traditional attitudes of reception must also be overcome. Hoffmann's text makes this clear when Theodor projects his nocturnal reading in Schiller's Der Geisterseher directly onto his surroundings, so that fear and inability to act arise, which can only be overcome by talking to his great-uncle. Against this background, one should understand the harmful effect that the 'enjoyment' of trivial pieces of music has on Seraphine; they bring out the symptoms of a 'disease' that can no longer be cured.


  • Stefan Diebitz: "A hateful thing in general". ETA Hoffmann's story "Das Majorat" as a poem of hubris and wickedness. In: Communications from the E. T. A. Hoffmann Society. Based in Bamberg. 32, 1986, ISSN  0073-2885 , pp. 35-49.
  • Lee B. Jennings: The anatomy of "Spuk" in two tales of ETA Hofmann. In: Colloquia germanica. 17, No. 1/2, 1984, ISSN  0010-1338 , pp. 60-78.
  • Peter König: The poetic character of law. "The Majorat" from ETA Hoffmann. In: International Archive for the Social History of German Literature (IASL). 31, Issue 2, 2006, ISSN  0340-4528 , pp. 203-217, doi : 10.1515 / IASL.2006.2.203 .
  • Carsten Lange: Architectures of the Psyche. Representation of space in romantic literature. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-8260-3259-2 , pp. 169-180 ( Epistemata. Series: Literaturwissenschaft 562), (At the same time: Oldenburg, Univ., Diss., 2004).
  • Karl-Ludwig Löhndorf: ETA Hoffmann's novella “Das Majorat” and its references to Marmontel and Kotzebue. In: Karl-Ludwig Löhndorf: Marmontel as an intermedial source. News on the reception history of Jean-François Marmontel's “bestseller novel” Les Incas, ou la destruction de l'empire du Pérou. Lang, Frankfurt am Main et al. 2009, ISBN 978-3-631-59062-1 , pp. 147-183.
  • Kenneth Negus: The Allusions to Schiller's “The Ghost Seer” in ETA Hoffmann's “Das Majorat”: Meaning and Background. In: The German Quarterly. 32, 1959, ISSN  0016-8831 , pp. 341-355.
  • Peter Philipp Riedl: The signs of the crisis. Inheritance and property in Achim von Arnim's “Die Majoratsherren” and ETA Hoffmann's “Das Majorat”. In: Aurora. 52, 1992, ISSN  0341-1230 , pp. 17-50.
  • Ulrike Vedder: Majorates. Inheritance Law and Literature in the 19th Century. In: Sigrid Weigel , Ohad Parnes, Ulrike Vedder, Stefan Willer (eds.): Generation. On the genealogy of the concept - concepts of genealogy. Fink, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-7705-4082-4 , pp. 91-107.

Web links

Wikisource: Das Majorat  - Sources and full texts