During his student years, which (with the exception of three semesters in Berlin) were spent in Kiel, he became deeply attached to Berta von Buchan, an eleven year old girl, upon their first acquaintance. The courtship ended in frustration when she rejected his proposal of marriage in 1842. Soon after settling down as a lawyer (1843) Storm became engaged to his cousin Constanze Esmarch, whom he married in 1846. A year after her death and after the family's return to Husum, he married Dorothea Jensen (1866), a friend of long standing. Neither marriage was initially easy, but both grew happy, though Storm remained a stern father and tutor to his sons, the oldest of whom predeceased him as a result of alcoholism. Storm's literary work sprang from personal experience rather than political attitudes. He was impatient both of the privileged nobility and of Prussia, and this antagonism did not diminish during the years spent in Prussian service; his contacts in Berlin with the literary club 'Der Tunnel Über der Spree', and notably with Theodor Fontane, sharpened his northern individualism, though they stimulated his development as a writer. His strong personality was nurtured by his profoundly emotional sensibility and an increasing scepticism, which inclined him to determinism.
Storm's early production was fostered by the influence of Romantic writers and of Mörike, with whom he corresponded and whom he once visited. He commented (1882) that his prose narrative grew out of his poetry, to which he first devoted himself under the influence of Theodor Mommsen. Storm formed a friendship with Theodor and his brother Tycho Mommsen at school, and the three were joint editors of the Liederbuch dreier Freunde (1843). Storm's own contributions reflect the frustrations of his love for Berta, from which he sought to free himself by writing Immensee (1850), the Novelle which established his reputation as a writer and which has been the introduction to German literature for countless English readers. This lyrical Novelle aims at integrating song and narrative in a way which Storm admired in Mörike's Maler Nolten. Storm set store by the therapeutic effect of reminiscences, which characterize, with at times excessive melancholy, his narrative technique, especially in stories involving a frame.
In a number of poems Storm's creative vein and consciousness of form achieve the high standard which he set for himself in comments to friends and in his introduction to the anthology Hausbuch aus deutschen Dichtern seit Claudius (1870). 'Schließe mir die Augen beide' (set by Alban Berg), 'Trost' and 'Auf einen Kirchturm' demonstrate his mastery of epigrammatic brevity, 'Die Nachtigall' his reticent sensuality, and 'Die Stadt' and 'Meeresstrand' are examples of the local colouring indispensable to his peculiar portrayal of Husum and the North Sea coastal region. 'Oktoberlied' is his most exuberant song; 'Einer Toten' expresses grief at Constanze's death, as well as illustrating his recurring treatment of the transience of life in association with the permanently ticking pendulum of the clock. Storm sought to write poems born of the immediate moment and appealing to the senses by their musical quality, sound, and rhythm, and the unobtrusive employment of imagery. His theories grew out of what he recognized as the key to Goethe's intimate poetry. In his choice of images he confined himself to his personal and local heritage and environment, to which both his lyric poetry and his narrative work owe their plain but sincere authenticity. He was an admirer of Heinrich Heine, matching Heine's irony with his own brand of humour, which was to him a necessary antidote to the frailty of existence.
Particularly fruitful for his narrative work was his correspondence with Gottfried Keller and Paul Heyse. Periodicals such as Westermanns Monatshefte and the Deutsche Rundschau ensured the quick circulation of his stories. The Novellen of his age became almost a substitute for drama; Storm explicitly recognized this when calling the Novelle the sister of drama, since it presented human conflict in disciplined and closed form (1881). In Storm's historical Novellen (Chroniknovellen) Aquis submersus (1876), Renate (1878), Eekenhof (1879), Zur Chronik von Grieshuus (1884), Ein Fest auf Haderslevhuus (1885), the dramatic intensification is often motivated by inexplicable extraneous occurrences, rather than by a conflict within the characters themselves. Paul Heyse was one of the first to recognize the advantage of Storm's chronicle and framework technique for a narrative demanding shifting perspectives. In Pole Poppenspäler (1874), Carsten Curator (1878), Hans und Heinz Kirch (1882), Bötjer Basch (1886), Ein Doppelgänger (1887), Storm penetrates a seemingly secure narrow burgher (Kleinbürger) world to reveal human dependence on environment and heredity, for which he found little scope in patrician and professional family circles, in which he portrayed the delicacy of human relationships with humour, Die Söhne des Senators, (1880) and melancholy Viola tricolor, (1874).In one of his last Novellen, Ein Bekenntnis (1887), he grapples with the problem of euthanasia. The warmth of his humanity for those who stand apart shows likewise consistently in his treatment of themes relating to the artist, as in Eine Malerarbeit (1867) and Ein stiller Musikant (1875). The undercurrents of an age of change are caught in Auf dem Staatshof (1859), Im Schloß (1862), and Auf der Universität (1863).
In all Storm wrote more than 50 Novellen.
None is constructed on the expansive scale adopted for the portrayal of
the tragedy of the Deichgraf Hauke Haien in Der Schimmelreiter
(1888). Storm's work, especially in his later years, anticipates in
some degree the Naturalistic manner.
Gesammelte Schriften (19 vols.) appeared 1868-‑89; Sämtliche Werke (8 vols.) in 1898; (14 vols.), ed. A. Biese, 1919; (8 vols.), ed. K. M. Schiller, 1926 (reissued 1968); a critical edition by A. Köster, 1912-20 (8 vols., reissued 1939); by P. Goldammer, 1967 (rev. edn., 6th edn. 1986, 4 vols.); a new critical edition by K. E. Laage and D. Lohmeier, 1987-‑8 (4 vols.). Correspondence (4 vols.), ed. Gertrud Storm, 1915-17; and (2 vols.) ed. P. Goldammer, 1984 (2nd edn.). Other editions indude Storm's correspondence with H. W. Seidel, 1911; with E. Mörike, ed.Hildburg-Kohl Schmidt, 1978; with G. Keller, ed. K.E. Laage, 1992; with P. Heyse (3 vols.), ed. C. A. Bernd, 1969-74; with Th. Mommsen, ed. H.E. Teitge, 1966; with E. Schmidt, ed. K.-E. Laage, 1972; with Fontane, ed. J. Steiner, 1981; and with Klaus Groth, ed. B. Hinrichs, 1991.
In: Garland, Henry and Mary. The Oxford Companion to German Literature (Oxford, New York, 1997), 3rd edition by Mary Garland, 'Storm', pp. 805-6. By permission of Oxford University Press. (www.oup.com).