The elemental spirit

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The elemental spirit is a story by ETA Hoffmann , which appeared in Leipzig in 1821. The author leads the reader into the world of books - into a world of beautiful appearances. The title elemental is the salamander representing the element fire . Hence, its appearance is associated with leaping flames. Directly from this salamander fire spirit shines wonderfully, as if painted, the aurora - a bewitching woman. The poetic hero Viktor, a man of poor health, cannot break away from the wonderful image of the “self-made lover” for a lifetime.



Autumn 1815 : The battles are over. Napoleon has his Waterloo . The Prussians fought near Charleroi on the Sambre , stormed the village of Plancenoit , then pursued the enemy beyond the village of Issy and thus forced the surrender of Paris in the Treaty to St. Cloud .


ETA Hoffmann has taken the material from Jacques Cazotte's Spanish novella Le Diable amoureux . The probably used translation "Devil Amor" comes from the year 1780: The Sukkuba Biondetta enchants the young officer Alvarez.


On November 20, 1815, the Prussian lieutenant colonel Albert von B. rides on the military road from Liège to Aachen . Five hours before Aachen, the rider meets old Paul Talkebarth. This is the groom of his friend, Colonel Viktor von S. The chatty Talkebarth leads Albert to the estate of Baron von E. There, friend Viktor is lovingly cared for by Baroness Aurora von E. Viktor's horse had shied away from the country house. The rider sustained a head injury in the fall. Albert laughs at his friend. Because Viktor fell in love with Aurora - the elderly, fat landlady - on the sick bed. The convalescent tells the newcomer about his youth. Back when Viktor was still a lieutenant, he was deeply impressed by Schiller's Ghost Seer and Great Genius . During an encounter with the Irish- born Major O'Malley, there was also talk of a book of mystical content. Such conversations had continued in the presence of the captain of T. - one of Viktor's cousins. The captain had ridiculed O'Maley's reading suggestions on the subject of mysticism. The major had suggested the "good books" by Cardanus , Justinus Martyr , Lactanz , Cyprian , Clemens von Alexandrien , Macrobius , Trismegistus , Nollius, Dorneus , Theophrastus , Fludd , Wilhelm Postel , Mirandola , Joseph and Philo . Since "the Mr. Ghost Banner" O'Malley had allowed the mocker "a look into a dark realm". The captain still had over O'Malley's exclamation “Incubus! - Incubus! Nehmahmihah Scedim! ”And his magic book, the French grammar by Pepliers from 1689 laughed. The cousin should have been taken aback when the major suddenly appeared in complete uniform as if by magic. O'Malley had led the two young officers into a secluded abandoned vaulted cellar in the darkness of the forest and Viktor had seen a "shapeless figure". There are no words for Viktor to describe the phenomenon more precisely. When the men came out of the forest again, Viktor had seen a second O'Malley with deep horror. The blow hit the captain. He had remained unfit for duty, could no longer scoff and had to say goodbye. After a while Viktor had read Cazotte's Devil Cupid and found his own personal magic mirror in the book.

Viktor tells Albert this story: O'Malley appears again. Viktor wants to duel with him because of the cousin. He's no match for the major. He advanced to become a pupil of his master O'Malley and was introduced to the elementals - as there are Sylph , Undine , Salamander and Gnom  . The major tells the student that one of those ghosts is vying for the favor of the new student. A teraphim is made. It's a two-inch doll. With its help, the salamander - those of the four ghosts are involved, the major assures - are conjured up. Paul Talkebarth bursts in and spoils the appearance of the mysterious lover from the fire figure of the salamander.

On his sick bed in the country house, Viktor did have the apparition after all. The mysterious lover is Aurora, the baroness. The beauty is in league with O'Malley. Its spirit is suddenly there again. But the devil has no chance against Paul Talkebarth, who bursts through the door a second time, this time with a fully loaded rifle. Because Paul shoots at the "Major Satan and Mamsell Beelzebub". Albert understands his friend's story. Finally Viktor had injured his head. Nevertheless, the apparently not quite convalescent calls out the formula "Nehelmiahmiheal!" - turned against the baroness. Aurora falls to the ground, unconscious.

On the way to Aachen, Albert succeeds in "tearing his friend out of the dreamy state". It seems to the narrator that after a while Albert thinks his mystical adventure is “a long, bad dream”. But he remains unmarried, because he will not find a woman like the one that appeared to him from the fire on earth.


  • What you look far, you find close.


Of the two narrative levels, Viktor's “retrospective life story” with Albert as the listener dominates. The level with the “plot” on the estate of Baron von E. only frames the text and is also sometimes inserted briefly in the “middle section”. Towards the end of the story, the “carefree reader” can only with difficulty distinguish the two levels, especially since all the human incarnations of the salamander in both levels are called Aurora. ETA Hoffmann has artfully wrapped his punch line in the final frame: The “dear salamander girl Aurora” is the baroness (see also above at the end of the “Contents” section).


Statements in the 19th century

  • In the Jenaische Allgemeine Literaturzeitung the text was stamped as insignificant in 1821.
  • In 1822 Heine scoffed that there was no spirit in the “elemental spirit”.
  • In the Heidelberg Yearbooks of Literature in 1821, the ironic is noted alongside the creepy: O'Malley recites spells from an old French grammar.
Recent comments
  • In 1912, Hofmannsthal incorporated the elemental spirit into his German storytellers . This story is alluded to several times in Hofmannsthal's equestrian story.
  • Hans-Georg Werner wrote in 1962 (more precisely: in his dissertation submitted in 1959): “One of the artistically inferior products that Hoffmann has ever written is the story 'Der Elementargeist'. In it such motifs as hypnosis, necromancy and the like are only used to keep the reader at least superficially in tension. "
  • Peter von Matt considers the text, based on Hofmannsthal, to be significant. In 1971, he says that the secondary character O'Malley is all about what she does to the hero Viktor. Von Matt emphasizes ETA Hoffmann's direct incorporation of Cazotte's Biondetta, Viktor's first love. Basically, the hero doesn't love a girl, but rather a literary figure who appears flawless to him. With his renunciation of marriage, Viktor ranks himself worthy of the “autumnal, cheerful celibates ” of the literary 19th century - which would be led by the founder Hagestolz .
  • In 1983, Kruse noticed a resemblance to the magnetizer . In the paperback for the year 1823 Elise Freiin von Hohenhausen had the sequel The Salamanderin. Explanatory counterpart to Hoffmann's "Elementaryist" published.
  • As they read the haunted story, Safranski and Kaiser think of Napoleon, who is still haunted in Viktor's head.
  • Balzac's related story Sarrasine was written around 1830 without knowledge of the elemental spirit.
  • Kaiser names works by Buchmann (1910), Julius Haupt (Leipzig 1923), Köhler 1972 and Hans Toggenburger (Bern 1983). Kilcher and Burkhard cite works by Walther Harich (Berlin 1920) and Markus Winkler (1988).


First edition

The elemental spirit. A story by ETA Hoffmann . In: Pocket book on social enjoyment for the year 1822 . Vol. 32. Johann Friedrich Gleditsch and Carl Gerold, Leipzig 1821, p. 10-79 .

Used edition

ETA Hoffmann: The elemental spirit . In: Hans-Joachim Kruse (Ed.): ETA Hoffmann: Collected Works in Individual Editions (12 volumes) (=  last stories. Small prose. Gleanings ). tape 8 . Aufbau-Verlag, Berlin 1983, p. 170-218 .

Other issues

Secondary literature

  • Hans-Georg Werner: ETA Hoffmann. Representation and interpretation of reality in poetic work . Arion Verlag, Weimar 1962, p. 106 , 15. Zvo .
  • Peter von Matt : The eyes of the machines. ETA Hoffmann's theory of imagination as a principle of his storytelling . Max Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen 1971, ISBN 3-484-18018-8 , p. 93-105 .
  • Rüdiger Safranski : ETA Hoffmann. The life of a skeptical fantasist. 2nd Edition. Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2001, ISBN 3-596-14301-2 (Licensor: Hanser 1984)
  • Gerhard R. Kaiser: ETA Hoffmann. Metzler, Stuttgart 1988, ISBN 3-476-10243-2 . (Metzler Collection; 243; realities on literature)
  • Andreas B. Kilcher , Myriam Burkhard: The elemental spirit (1821) . In: Detlef Kremer (Ed.): ETA Hoffmann. Life - work - effect . Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-11-018382-5 , p. 371-377 .

Individual evidence

  1. Kilcher and Burkhard, p. 371 above and Kruse, p. 726 middle
  2. Kilcher and Burkhard, p. 371, 10th Zvu
  3. by Matt, p. 94, 17. Zvo
  4. by Matt, p. 96, 9. Zvo
  5. Edition used, p. 171
  6. Le Diable amoureux .
  7. Kilcher and Burkhard, p. 372, 23. Zvo
  8. Kilcher and Burkhard, p. 373, 11. Zvo and Kruse, p. 726, 11. Zvu
  9. William Hess  Nollius, Henry . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 23, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1886, p. 759.
  10. Pepliers
  11. Edition used, p. 173, 17. Zvo
  12. by Matt, p. 95, 5th Zvu
  13. by Matt, pp. 104, 18. Zvo
  14. by Matt, p. 104, 5. Zvo
  15. Kilcher and Burkhard, p. 374, 1. Zvo
  16. Kilcher and Burkhard, p. 374, 5. Zvo
  17. Kilcher and Burkhard, p. 374, 12. Zvo
  18. by Matt, p. 94, 1. Zvo
  19. by Matt, p. 95, 21. Zvo
  20. by Matt, p. 105, 3. Zvo
  21. Kruse, p. 727, 13. Zvo and 12. Zvu
  22. ^ Safranski, p. 295.
  23. ^ Kaiser, p. 97, 4. Zvo
  24. ^ Kaiser, p. 96 below
  25. ^ Kaiser, p. 105
  26. Kilcher and Burkhard, p. 374, 11. Zvu