The German poet and novelist Theodor Storm (1817-1888) ranks as one of the finest lyric poets in German literature, but modern readers know him best for his novellas, a form in which he was a recognized master.
Theodor Storm was born on Sept. 14, 1817, at Husum, an old coastal town in Schleswig. His father, of humble origin, was an attorney, but his mother, whose interest in family life, art, and nature Storm inherited, had a patrician heritage. From 1837 to 1842 he studied law, principally at Kiel, where he became a friend of Theodor Mommsen, later a celebrated historian, and his brother, together with whom he published a volume of poetry in 1843. A volume of his own poetry, issued in 1852, was expanded through a seventh edition in 1885. In 1843 Storm began to practice law at Husum, and he married Konstanze Esmarch 3 years later. They had seven children.
All of Storm's works have a lyrical quality, but shifting emphases allow them to be divided into groupings. His first novella, Immensee (1850), is the most popular of his stories. A charming, romantic idyll, it is told through the technique of reminiscence, has little action, and projects a lyrical mood of melancholy and resignation. Storm treated the same theme in Ein grünes Blatt (1855) and in Späte Rosen (1861). The device of reminiscence also occurs in Auf dem Staatshof (1851), Im Schloss (1861), and Sankt Jürgen (1867).
When Storm's native province came under Danish dominion (1853), his staunch patriotism prompted his voluntary exile, first to Potsdam, then to Heiligenstadt (1856), where he became a district judge. Schleswig's liberation in 1864 enabled Storm to return to Husum. But the years of exile had been a harshly bitter experience. An additional blow was the death of his wife a year later. Though Storm soon married again happily, his tragic sense of life had been quickened. Most of his later stories reveal a certain pessimism, an increasingly deterministic conception of life, and a note of dismay in the face of life's transitoriness and enigmatic quality.
Realistic and Historical Novels
Until 1870 Storm's narratives dealt with sentimental situations that emphasized mood. A change in his style occurred during the following decade, beginning with Draussen im Heidehof (1871). The novellas of this period exhibit a greater realism of execution and logic of motivation. An element of drama in the action, which remains psychological in character, was also introduced. Representative stories include Viola Tricolor (1873), Pole Poppenspäler (1874), Psyche (1875), and Ein stiller Musikant (1875). Storm next turned to the production of a number of historical novels. This group includes Aquis Submersus (1875), thought by some critics to be his finest novella, as well as Carsten Curator (1877), Renate (1878), and Eekenhof (1879), all of which rank among his best tales. These stories show man in his lonely struggle against a dark and often tragic destiny.
Storm spent the years after 1880 in retirement. He died on July 4, 1888, at Hademarschen. Some of the finest of his more than 50 novellas derive from this period. These works are marked by the fullest realization of his powers as a narrator of man's conflicts with his fellowman. Outstanding among his late works are Die Söhne des Senators (1881), Hans und Heinz Kirch (1883), Ein Fest auf Haderslevhuus (1885), and Der Schimmelreiter (1888).
Further Reading on Theodor Storm
Two works in English on Storm are by Otto Wooley, Studies in Theodor Storm (1943) and Theodor Storm's World in Pictures (1954). Thomas Mann, Essays of Three Decades (1948), contains a chapter on Storm. For background see John G. Robertson, A History of German Literature (1902; rev. ed. 1970).
Additional Biography Sources
Jackson, David A., Theodor Storm: the life and works of a democratic humanitarian, New York: Berg: St. Martin's Press distributor, 1992.