Winner of the Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize 2005
Paul the Puppeteer
The Village on the Moor
(Pole Poppenspäler, 1874; Renate, 1878; Draußen
im Heidedorf, 1872)
‘My art as a writer of Novellen
... gives the reader the opportunity to picture the whole
destiny of a human being.’
The narratives of Theodor Storm are among the outstanding
achievements of classic German fiction. He has recently been described
as "a master of atmosphere, unique in his ability to endow
the details of realistic description with the fragile aura of transience."
This third selection in Denis Jackson's pioneering series of translations
contains three major works written in the 1870s:
Paul the Puppeteer is a magical portrayal
of the vanishing world of the marionette theatre; it also contains
sharp social comment in its contrast between solid, guild-dominated
society and the gypsy-like travelling puppeteers.
The Village on the Moor is an account, told through an
investigating lawyer's eyes, of the case of a mysterious death out
on the moor, the chief suspect being a girl of sinister aura with
whom the young deceased was in love.
The historical tale Renate, one of the most moving of
all Storm's narratives, records the memories of an eighteenth-century
Lutheran pastor and his love for a farmer's daughter who is persecuted
by the local community for alleged witchcraft.
‘Der Puppenspieler’ by Rudolf Hans Hartmann, 1932.
Paul the Puppeteer Selected
from “Dr. Faustus”,
with prince and princess of Parma, Faust and Kasper.
Courtesy of Fritz Frey, Theaterfiguren-Museum, Lübeck.
It was an overcast autumn day; occasional golden leaves had already fallen to the ground; overhead a few shore-birds
screeched in the sky as they flew out to sea over the tidal flats; there was no one to be seen or heard. I walked
slowly through the weeds which grew rampant over the narrow paths until I reached a small paved courtyard that
separated the garden from the house. I was right! Two large upper windows above looked down on to it; but behind
the small leaded window-panes it was dark and empty, no puppet was to be seen. I stood for a while; it felt eerie
in the surrounding stillness.
Then I saw the heavy back door below being opened a hand’s
width from the inside, and at the same instant a small head of black hair peered out.
“Lisei!” I cried.
Her dark eyes opened wide at me in surprise. “God forbid!” she said, “I’d no idea who was rummaging
about out here! Where’ve you come from?”
“Me? -- I’m out for a walk, Lisei! -- But tell me,
is your play on at the moment?”
She shook her head, laughing.
“Then what are you doing here?” I asked, as I crossed
the paved courtyard towards her.
“Waiting for father,” she said. “he’s gone to fetch some string and nails from the hostel; he’s
getting things ready for this evening.”
“Then you’re all on your own here, Lisei?”
“No -- you’re here too, silly!”
“I mean,” I said, “is your mother up in the assembly
1850. Courtesy of Verlag Boyens & Co. Heide.
No, her mother was still in the hostel mending the puppets’ clothes;
Lisei was here all alone.
“Listen,” I continued, “you can do me a favour; there’s a puppet called Kasperl in your collection;
I’d just love to see him really close up.”
“You mean little Hans Wurstl?” said Lisei, and appeared to be thinking it over for a while. “Well, all
right; but you’ll have to be gone before father gets back!”
We entered the house and quickly ran up the steep spiral staircase. It was almost dark in the large assembly room; for
the windows which all looked out on to the courtyard were blocked by the stage; just a few rays of light fell through the
gaps in the curtain.
“Come on!” said Lisei, pulling aside a screen of old carpet that hung by the wall; we slipped through, and there
I stood in the temple of wonders. Viewed from the rear, however, and now in the light of day, it looked rather shabby; a
framework of bars and planks over which hung some pieces of canvas daubed with paint; this was the set on which Saint Genovieve’s
life had so strikingly left its mark on me.
But I had been too readily disappointed; there on a wire, which stretched from
a coulisse to the wall, I saw two of the wonderful puppets hovering; but they hung with their backs towards me so that
I could not recognise them.
“Where are the others, Lisei?” I asked; I wanted see the complete collection at the same time.
“Here in the chest,” said Lisei, banging her small fist on a large chest standing in a corner. “Those two
there are ready for the show; but go over and have a good look; he’s there, your friend Kasperl!”
And indeed, there was Kasperl himself. “Is he in the play again this evening?” I asked.
“ ’course, he’s always in it!”
I stood with my arms folded and viewed my dear jolly friend.
There he dangled, hanging by seven strings; his head looked down so that his large eyes stared at the floor and
his red nose rested against his breast like a broad beak. “Kasperle,
Kasperle,” I said to myself, “how miserable you look hanging there.” The puppet answered in the same tone: “Just
wait, my little brother, just wait till this evening!” -- Was this just in my mind too, or had Kasperl really spoken
Renate Selected text:
"The Enchanted Castle” from
Pandaemonium by Richard Bovet (1684). Reproduced by kind permission of the British Library
While I was cautiously walking round the lonely farmhouse, first looking up at its begrimed windows, then up
into the branches of the old trees where a pair of magpies screeched from their nest, an old woman came round
the corner gathering fallen twigs in her apron. When I peered under the rough straw bonnet I recognised the sharp
brown face of the well-known ‘Mother Pottsacksch’ who went from door to door in the town selling
lilies of the valley and posies of woodruff or nuts and bilberries according to the season.
Mother Pottsacksch!’ I cried, ‘do you live here in this big house?’
Aye, young man,’ the old woman replied in her broad dialect. ‘I keep an eye on things around here!’
And on further questioning I learned the house had once been attached to a large farm, but that the land had
been separated from it some hundred years ago, and before long, it was said, the farmstead itself -- as it was
still called today -- was also to be sold for demolition and the trees felled.
I was sorry for the poor magpies which had carefully built their nest up in the trees. Then I asked her: ‘And
who was it who lived here then, a hundred years ago?’
‘Then?’ exclaimed the old woman, pressing her free hand against her hip. ‘The witch, she lived here then!’
‘The witch?’ I repeated. ‘Were there witches here then?’
The old woman waved a hand at me. ‘Oho! The gentleman should mind his words.’ By which she implied that I should
tread carefully, that there was still something sinister about the place even today.
When I asked if the witch had been burned, she shook her old head violently. ‘Oho! Oho!’ she cried again and
gave me to understand that the Amtmann and the Landvogt had simply wanted to avoid the issue; for -- well, I was sure to
understand; and amid meaningful nods of the head, she now made the gesture of counting money. The estate, in fact, had not
been broken up until after the witch’s death; she had run it herself with a firm hand, and had been a capable farmer.
How this witch had actually practised witchcraft, Mother Pottsacksch appeared not to know. ‘The Devil’s work,
sir!’ she said. ‘What such-a-folk do!’ This much however was certain: on Sundays, when other Christian
folk had seated themselves in church to hear the Word of God, she had mounted a horse and ridden north into the heath and
moorland; what she might have done there had given rise to many a dark speculation. But suddenly this had ceased, and she
never again left her large gloomy room on Sundays; Mother Pottsack’s great-grandmother had seen her pale face with
large burning eyes as she sat behind the small window panes.
More I could not get out of the old woman.
And was the horse she rode black?’ I eventually asked, to complete the rapidly sketched picture in my mind.
Black?’ shrieked Mother Pottsacksch, as though indignant at such a needless question. ‘Black as pitch! The gentleman
can be sure of it!’
The Village on the Moor Selected text:
I at once decided to inquire into the matter that very afternoon. In order to be less restricted I did without
a clerk of the court and simply took the court messenger for company. We drove in an open carriage; for it was
a mild autumn day, the kind that our region is always granted before the final onset of winter. The sturdy hedgerows,
which we had on both sides of the road during the first hour, still bore some of their foliage; here and there
between hazel and oak bushes a spindle-tree pushed itself forward, the graceful red priest’s-hood seedcases
still hanging on its slender branches. As we drove on, my eyes took in a scene that was both peaceful and sad;
yellow leaves, beneath the still warm rays of the sun, continually broke loose and sank to the ground, and from
time to time a late thrush, shrieking in alarm, would flutter through the bushes away from the snorting of our
But the landscape changed; the low hedgerows with cultivated
fields behind them ceased. Instead we were driving along by the edge of the so-called ‘Wild Moor’,
which at that time stretched to the north as far as the eye could see. It seemed as though the last rays of the
sun remaining on earth had suddenly been swallowed up by this gloomy steppe. Amongst the dark-brown heather,
often beside large or small pools, single stacks of peat loomed out of the barren expanse over which the occasionally
melancholy call of a solitary plover would sound out of the sky. That was all that could be seen or heard.
I was reminded of something I had once read --
I think about the original Slav settler tribes that still populated the steppe of the lower Danube.
At dusk a thing would rise up out of the moor there resembling a white thread, which they called the ‘white
demon’. It would move towards the villages, steal into the houses, and when night came, rest
on the open mouths of sleeping persons; then the initially thin thread would swell and grow to a monstrous
shape. There would be no sign of it the next morning; but when a sleeper opened his eyes, he had become
an imbecile in the night; the white demon had drunk the soul from his body. It would never return to
him; the dreadful thing had carried it far off into the moor into the dank deep ditches between the
heathland and the peat bog.
Not that the white demon was found in these parts; but the
mists of these moors would thicken into no less eerie things that sought to confront many a villager, especially
the older ones, at night and at twilight
- The latest in a unique series of translations of a classic German
writer who wrote far more than Der Schimmelreiter and Immensee,
and is being accorded an increasingly high ranking in world literature.
- None of these stories is otherwise available in English. The title-story
and The Village on the Moor, are translated into English for
the first time.
- The translator's lively introduction and end notes, and six pages
of maps provide absorbing background material for student and general
- Publication: 4 September 2003
- ISBN 0-946162-70-0