Monday, June 01, 2009

'The King's Bride'

by E.T.A. Hoffmann
Translated from the German by Paul Turner
Fiction/Classic/Fantasy, 1821
Oneworld Classics, trade pb, 105 p.
Happily engaged to the poet Amandus, Fräulein Anna is horrified to discover that a beautiful ring, mysteriously deposited upon her finger whilst tending her kitchen garden, forces her into marriage with the gnome Corduanspitz. Can Anna find any way of removing the ring? Will her poet lover shake off his passive demeanour and come to her aid? And has Corduanspitz truly relinquished all ties to his gnome heritage?

Around a love story very much of its time, Hoffman arranges a narrative that brings to mind the most successful elements of contemporary magical realism and surreal comedy. Always entertaining, yet capable of a focused though subtle morality, The King’s Bride brings disparate elements into a masterful harmony.
I’m always interested in reading international literature, so I was thrilled to be contacted by a representative of Oneworld Classics, an independent publisher in the UK with an aim “to expand the literary canon in the English-speaking world through a series of mainstream and lesser-known classics, often by commissioning new translations.” I have to admit that I’d never heard of E.T.A. Hoffmann before but I’m so glad I had the chance to read this novella. What a perfectly delightful fairy tale!
Amandus had convinced himself that he could never in his whole life love anyone but Fräulein Ann. In the same way Fräulein Ann knew for a certainty that it would be quite impossible for her to feel the slightest partiality for anyone but the brown-haired Amandus. They had therefore agreed that the sooner they got married and became the happiest couple in the whole wide world the better.
In the introduction by the translator Paul Turner, he writes that The King’s Bride contains Hoffmann’s “characteristic blend of fantasy and realism, pathos and impish satire, buffoonery and magic.” Indeed! It was certainly all of those. I couldn’t help myself from smiling, frequently, while reading this short book.

There were several little touches that added to the charm. Like the beginning of each chapter, which addressed the reader, for example the start of chapter one:
In which various characters are introduced and their circumstances described, and the stage is pleasantly set for all the extraordinary scenes that will be enacted in the following chapters.
Or the somewhat fanciful correspondence between Anna and Amandus.
The poet’s sword is his pen. I will have at my rival with Tyrtacean war songs, run him through with pointed epigrams, cut him down with dithyrambs full of passionate love. Such are the poet’s true weapons, which, eternally triumphant, secure him against every assault, and thus armed and accoutred I shall appear and do battle for your hand, my Anna!
Or Anna’s father and his amusing rantings. The story’s quirky characters and playful narrative made it a complete joy to read!

Regarding the translation, I think Paul Turner did a fabulous job. Of course, not having read the original I can’t compare it, but it read very smoothly and included clever turns of phrase that I can only guess stay true to the original. Quite impressive were the few rhyming poems that were part of the story.

As for the author himself, I was surprised to learn that Hoffmann wrote the story that was the inspiration for Tchaikovsky’s The Nutracker. Since I enjoyed his style so much in The King’s Bride, I’m very curious now to read The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, as well as some of his other work.

Final verdict: A delightful, charming, humourous, and thoroughly entertaining fairy tale that will bring a smile to young and old alike.

Read the first chapter of The King's Bride (click on the link about halfway down the page)

Thank you to Clémence Mahéo and Oneworld Classics for the opportunity to read this book.

Buy this book at: The Book Depository | Amazon.co.uk
Or pre-order your copy at: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca

My Rating: 4/5
(#34 for 2009, Orbis Terrarum Challenge, Lost in Translation Challenge, Once Upon a time III Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
A Common Reader
Let me know if you've reviewed this title too, and I'll link to it here.

12 comments:

  1. Oooh, this sounds absolutely wonderful! I read The Nutcracker and Sandman a few years back and I've been meaning to read more by him ever since. Also, fairy tale! I'm so there :D

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  2. Chris - It was so much fun to read!

    Nymeth - I thought of you while I was reading this actually, since I know how much you love fairy tales of all kinds. I think you'd enjoy this. :)

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  3. Like Nymeth, I've read and loved The Nutcracker and have been coveting this for a while now. It sounds like great fun, so I will have to order a copy.

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  4. Sarah - I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I'm definitely going to have to read The Nutcracker this year.

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  5. I have never heard of this book, but it sounds just wonderful!! Thank you so much for bringing it to my attention. (maybe I'll have time in 2015 to read it!)

    Awesome review!

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  6. Sounds like a wonderful book and I quite enjoyed your thoughts on it.

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  7. Sounds like a wonderful story! I've had a chance to check out the Oneworld Classics site and they have so many yummy sounding books don't they? Must add to the list :)

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  8. I know that I don't read enough international books so thanks for bringing this one to my attention!!

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  9. Stephanie - I know what you mean! I have enough unread books to keep me busy for a few years! LOL. It's very short, and a super quick read though so maybe you'll get a chance to fit it in sometime. :)

    Heather - It was a wonderful book, and it still makes me smile thinking about it.

    Iliana - They do have lots of great titles! I have a feeling I'll be coveting quite a few of them. :)

    Staci - Even though I love reading international books, I don't always do so as often as I'd like. There are always plenty of American and British titles to tempt me too.

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  10. Sounds like a great read! thanks for recommending :-)

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  11. Kim L - You're welcome. :)
    It was a lot of fun to read. I hope you enjoy it if you get a chance to read it.

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