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Henry Von Ofterdingen: A Novel by Novalis

Henry Von Ofterdingen: A Novel (1802)

by Novalis

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The unfinished novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen is Novalis's best-known prose work. He only completed about half of it before his death, but it was intended as the first in a series of at least six major novels in which he would deal in turn with all the arts and sciences.

This first novel in the series deals with the most important art, poetry (i.e. "literature" in modern terms). It is set out as a classic Bildungsroman, a response to Goethe's Wilhelm Meister, dealing with the poetic education of the eponymous hero, the legendary 13th century poet who figures in the story of the Sängerkrieg at the Wartburg, and was sometimes credited with being the author of the Nibelungenlied, but is now generally considered to have been a fictional character.

In any case, Novalis doesn't pretend to be writing a realistic historical novel. Heinrich is moved to become a poet as a result of a dream in which he sees a mysterious, beautiful and unattainable blue flower, and he completes his poetic education in a series of encounters in the course of a journey from Eisenach to Augsburg and a one-day poetry workshop in Augsburg with the ubiquitous and equally legendary Klingsohr. During the coffee-breaks he meets, falls in love with and marries Klingsohr's daughter, Mathilde, who is identified with the blue flower image. Unfortunately, she has a child and dies offstage whilst we are busy with an allegorical story-within-a-story, and as Part Two opens, Heinrich is off on his travels again as a journeyman poet. And that's about as far as Novalis got.

Most of the text is taken up by the interpolated stories, songs and poems that Heinrich picks up in the course of his travels, and the foreground narrative consists of little more than short bridging passages. It's a book to read as a linked short-story collection, really, and each story adds a dimension to Novalis's vision of what literature should be and from where the poet needs to approach it. It's interesting to see how this isn't just a simple attack on the rationalism of the previous century, as we might expect, but a more complex invitation to the potential poet to study and learn as much as he can about the physical world, whilst being open to emotional and metaphysical ways of understanding and reacting to it.

Very interesting, and often also very entertaining (the first lesson Heinrich learns from his fellow travellers on the road to Augsburg is that the poet must be an entertainer), but what strikes you continually as a modern reader is how self-centred, even solipsistic, it all is. The poet isn't really meant to be interested in anyone except himself and his literary predecessors, with the possible exception of his love-object (who is anyway just a blank screen onto which the poet projects his idea of what a love-object should be). ( )
2 vote thorold | May 7, 2016 |
The most important novel of the early German Romanticism. Still readable today? Yes! – if you are able to forget for a couple of hours your mobile and everything of our engineered planet. Novalis introduced the symbol « Blaue Blume » to his oeuvre, a metaphor for the pursuit of self-knowledge. This coming-of-age novel may teach us, that nobody needs the help of a guru towards the inner world. And that this world is the only real one.
  hbergander | Dec 16, 2011 |
I have been curious about Novalis for about 40 years and tried reading something of hi out of Yale library about that long ago, but never got back to it., so this is my chance
  antiquary | Oct 3, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Novalisprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Frühwald, WolfgangEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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De ouders lagen al te slapen, de hangklok tikte in zijn eentonige ritme, achter de klapperende ramen gierde de wind; af en toe werd de kamer verlicht door het schijnsel van de maan.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0881335746, Paperback)

A strange, ingenious novel, the most representative work of early German Romanticism! This extraordinary fusion of novel, fairy tale, and poem, published posthumously in 1802, is the most representative work of early German Romanticism. It reflects, in part, events in the life of its author, who is best known for his Hymns to the Night. Young Henry, a medieval poet who seeks the mysterious Blue Flower with the lovely face of the yet unknown Mathilda, sets out on a journey that is interspersed with beautiful tales and exquisite songs. Henry's "education," as he catches first glimpses of the world, is of special interest to students of philosophy as well as literature, for ingeniously involved in literary form is the crux of Fichte's mysticism. Novalis, like Rouseeau, makes an interesting contribution to the "supreme realism" that transcends the ordinary. Henry von Ofterdingen is an important landmark in the history of literature and the most distinguished work of its brilliant and tragic author.

Titles of related interest from Waveland Press: Goethe, Gotz von Berlichingen: A Play (ISBN 9780881335415); Hauptmann, Three Plays [The Weavers, Hannele, and The Beaver Coat] (ISBN 9780881335408); and Plenzdorf, The New Sufferings of Young W. (ISBN 9780881338911).

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:07 -0400)

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