The plays and stories of Heinrich von Kleist seem particularly modern, in that they show a world in which the individual can no longer rely on the institutions of society, the discoveries of science, or the revelations of religion. Instead, his characters can trust only in their intuition of some higher, though unknowable, providential purpose. At a time when the writers of German classicism counseled moderation and restraint, Kleist excelled in depicting elemental passions. He differed, however, from the writers of both Storm and Stress and romanticism in the austere character of his language and the almost clinical detachment of his narrative prose. Kleist was born into a distinguished though impoverished Prussian family. In 1799, he broke with family tradition by refusing to pursue a military career. For a while he wished to study natural science, but, in 1801, a reading of Kant precipitated a crisis by convincing him that knowledge was impossible. The rest of his tempestuous life was marked by generally unsuccessful attempts to establish himself in various vocations, including journalism and politics. He achieved some moderate success with his play Katchen von Heilbronn in 1810, but most of his work remained unappreciated. Prince Friedrich von Homburg, now his most celebrated play, was not to be discovered and published until 1821, a decade after the author's death by suicide. The suicide of Kleist brought him the attention that had been denied him in life. He was, almost immediately afterward, recognized as a significant writer, and his reputation has grown steadily ever since. David Luke and Nigel Reeves have written, "It is precisely Kleist's vulnerability and disequilibrium, his desperate challenge to established values and beliefs, that carry him further than Goethe and Schiller across the gap between the eighteenth century and our own age." Despite the great attention now given to the work of Kleist in Germany, he remains largely unknown to the American public. In Japan and Korea, however, in part because of cultural affinities, he is extremely popular.
While many representatives of the romantic movement in Germany led short, troubled lives, often burning themselves out in a period of frenzied creativity, the robust Ludwig Tieck lived to become a patriarch of German letters. He not only wrote in a vast variety of forms, but also acted as a publicist for his more temperamental friends such as Wilhelm Heinrich Wachenroder and Novalis. In addition, he helped call attention to the literary value of previously neglected German chapbooks and fairy tales. During his lifetime, Tieck was often celebrated as the successor to Goethe. Much of his work has now fallen into neglect, and he is remembered above all as the author of literary fairy tales such as "Fair-haired Eckbert" (1797) and the "Runenberg" (1804). Thesestories convey the sort of terror which the romantic tradition has often associated with insight into the nature of reality. In addition, they anticipate Freudian psychology, particularly with respect to defense mechanisms such asrepression.
German writer, composer, and painter ErnstTheodor Amadeus Hoffman was born in Konigsberg, Prussia in 1776. After beginning a career in the law, Hoffman turned to music, working as a conductor, music director, and critic, and later composing a ballet, an opera, and other works. He established himself as a writer with the four-volume story collection Phatasiestucke in Callier Manier (Fantasy Stories in the Manner of Callot), which was published in 1814-1815. Even though he published several novels and story collections, including Nachtstucke (Hoffman's Strange Stories, 1817) and Die Serapionsbruder (The Serapion Brethren, 1819-1821), Hoffman continued to support himself as a legal official in Berlin. This struggle between artistry and bureaucracy is played out in many of his works. Hoffman died of progressive paralysis in 1822.