Poetics of duplicity 

“The Serapion Brothers”

That’s the name of the literary circle which Hoffmann founded in Berlin on November 14th, 1818. Members are his friend and later biographer Hitzig, the doctor and writer Koreff, the author Contessa and, temporarily, Adalbert von Chamisso.

In Hoffmann`s story cycle Die Serapionsbrüder the narratives are framed by conversations of the poets’ circle. While they are having discussions about the art of poetry, it is claimed that “one can only truly and vividly unveil which one has just seen deep in one’s inside.” This connection of the inside and outside is the principle of duplicity.

„Everybody is to check carefully, whether he has really observed, what he is about to say in public, before he dares to proclaim it. At least everybody can seriously strive to capture the image, which has become visible in the inside with all its shapes, colours, light and shadow, and then, when he feels set on fire by it, carry the image into the exterior life…”

 A one-sided emphasis of the deep inside, spiritual stirrings and the fantasy, however, leads to madness: “Poor Serapion, what else was your insanity, than some hostile star that had robbed you your perception of duplicity, on which in fact our earthly being exclusively depends.”(from: The Serapion Brothers)


A doubling of the outside and inside, reality and fantasy defines a number of Hoffmann`s novels and tales. Der goldene Topf (“The Golden Pot”) is the most well-known example of the harsh juxtaposition of an everyday and a fairy-tale world. This world is only accessible for the one who has received a call and therefor can leave his limited sphere.


“Master Flea A fairytale in seven adventures of two friends” 

The city of Frankfurt in Hoffmann´s time reepresents „reality“. The other world, the „fantastic world“ is Master Flea’s realm. In addition to that, more strange figures appear: the two naturalists and magicians Leuwenhock and Swammerdamm, the thistle Zeherut or Cactus grandiflorus (identical to George Pepusch, Peregrinus friend), the princess Gamaheh, who is at the same time a purple and yellow striped tulip, behind which stands the Dutchwoman Dörrte Elverdink. Hoffmann gives the fairytale an (ironic) happy ending: Peregrinus Tyß, who has never been successful with women, gets Röschen Lämmerhirt as his wife and lives with her in bourgeois tranquility.

Across from the showcase you can “read minds”!  

Summary of Master Flea:

Peregrinus Tyß, a melancholic 36-year-old son of a merchant from Frankfurt, who is not really able to cope with life, lives alone with an old housekeeper after the death of his parents. After handing out of the gifts on Christmas Eve, strange things happen. Peregrinus is ensnared by Dörrte Elverdink who wants to get back Master Flea, king of the great flea kingdom, who Tyß brought into his house without being aware of it. The flea king asks Peregrinus to protect him from his flea tamer Leuwenhoek and gives him a microscopic thought-glass with which he can read the true thoughts of his dialogue partner. This is how a brilliant plot unfolds.