E. T. A Hoffmann is a German Romantic author. If I had to compare him to another Romantic, it would be E. A. Poe. In particular, the imaginary world created in the Golden Pot reminded me of Poe’s The Domain of Arnheim. This is a lesser known Poe story about bliss, to put it in one word. It contains over-the-top dreamy descriptions of nature and landscape. Although not his most celebrated story, it’s the one Poe work that truly stayed with me, along with Landor’s Cottage. One of the reasons was the beauty of the setting, the other the ideas in it. The author’s philosophy is that the attainment of true happiness is possible if we have something that is our life’s work. A project we can constantly add to and perfect, something that never runs out or becomes completed. In this story, it was a landscape garden. But it could be anything. A farm, an epic novel, a fantasy world, a sculpture. Something one creates. It resonated with me very much, as I too have experienced that “the only thing worse than not getting what one wants is getting what one wants”. Having everything you ever dreamt of has rarely made anyone happy long-term. There has to be something you spend your whole life walking towards, but I suppose, there also has to be belief in its final attainment. Otherwise, it cannot be a happy pursuit.
What connects The Golden Pot and The Domain of Arnheim is that they both describe a paradisal dream world and show imagination and creativity as the keys to the magic. But, cutting the idle meanderings of the mind short, on with Hoffmann only.
I really got into the novella when the allegory behind it revealed itself to me. It happened some time in the middle. At the beginning, I was unsure of who were the villains and who the heroes, whether the witch-applewoman was right and the salamander was up to no good with Anselmus, or vice versa. I also didn’t know what to make of Anselmus as he did seem quite unstable to me at the start. I mistrusted the salamander and had more faith in Veronika.
But then – the allegory unfolded itself to me – it was a battle of idealism and imagination versus rationalism and common-place living. Anselmus got shown the magic world because he was sufficiently pure-hearted and capable of believing in magic and love. When his faith waned, he was denied the entry, but since he could not exist in the ‘real world’ either, he regained his faith and was returned to magic and beauty.
What I consider praiseworthy and fresh is the portrayal of the down-to-earth people who have no faith in otherworldly things. Typically, in a story with such opposites, the fantasy world is elevated and the ‘real world’ and its inhabitants are ridiculed and shown as inferior. In Hoffmann’s story, however, Veronika, her father and his friend are depicted more as distinct, but not necessarily lesser humans. Even Veronika’s love for pretty earrings and status didn’t strike me as a harsh criticism. She was very young, and young girls have silly fancies. She seemed quite brave to me in her efforts to win back Anselmus’ love (and possibly his sanity). So overall, I really this aspect.