E.T.A. Hoffmann and Alcohol. Biography, Reception and Art

Victoria Dutchman-Smith
19 February 2010
196 pp
Hardback: 978-1-906540-23-4

Throughout critical debates on E.T.A. Hoffmann, discussions of alcohol, and in particular its influence on and significance within E.T.A. Hoffmann's creative output, have been recurrent, impassioned and frequently divisive. Portrayals of the artist as tortured alcoholic, such as one finds in Offenbach's Contes d'Hoffmann, continue to capture the public imagination, but have fallen out of favour with critics wishing to bolster Hoffmann's status as a landmark writer. Victoria Dutchman-Smith uses the specific fate of alcohol as a topic in literature, biography and criticism as a prompt for the re-evaluation of Hoffmann's changing identities over the past two centuries: as artist, critic, Romantic, pre-emptive modernist, canonised great and, not least, as drinker. The role of alcohol in Hoffmann's life and works cannot be separated from wider cultural and critical narratives, and Dutchman-Smith's enthusiastic exploration of these sheds dramatic new light on the use and abuse of categorisation, not just in past and present responses to Hoffmann's works, but in the very structures of literary debate.