Much has been said about E.T.A.Hofmann’s The Sandman. Interpretations abound. Even Sigmund Freud used this story to illustrate some of his theories. Hoffmann was part of the so-called dark romanticism that explored the uncanny in all its forms. Be it as it may, for me this is and will always be one of the spookiest stories I have ever read. I remember that it haunted me quite a bit when I read it for the first time years ago but I did not expect it to have the same effect after all these years. But it did.
It is a mysterious story, many interpretations are possible. Nathanael lives away from his beloved and his family in a student town when, one afternoon, he sees a person who reminds him of someone who visited their father when he was a child. These memories are very dark and scary. Whenever the old man, Coppelius, appeared the children had to go to bed as fast as they could. They were told that the Sandman was coming and that he was after their eyes. Nathanael being the most curious of the children sneaked into the study of his father one night and hid behind the curtains. Unfortunately he got caught and what followed shocked him so much that he came down with a fever that lasted for weeks. Shortly after this evening Coppelius came one last time during which they all of a sudden heard a big bang from the father’s study. Upon entering the family finds him dead, with a completely blackened face.
It is this very Coppelius that Nathanael believes to have seen. Once again he feels the same terror as in his childhood. I do not want to further spoil this story. It does get scarier and darker from then on. We never really know if these things happen or if Nathanael has gone mad. Is Coppelius the devil? Did he and Nathanael’s father do some alchemical experiments? There are a lot of mysterious elements the strangest of which is Nathanael’s falling in love with Olympia who doesn’t seem human.
Hoffmann has written quite a lot. Novels and short stories. Many are very famous and were influential. The Sandman is the most famous of his stories. In Jacques Offenbach’s opera, The Tales of Hoffmann, one part is dedicated to The Sandman. There is also a movie based on the opera including many ballet scenes. I attached a video for those who like opera or ballet.
Hoffmann who was very talented at drawing illustrated some of his tales, as you can see above.
You can find a link to the story here, if you would like to read it.
You don’t need to be a knitter to enjoy this book. I am not. Still I liked this book for many reasons. It is a memoir in which Nora Murphy takes us on a personal journey on which she starts and finishes a difficult sweater for her son and explores the manifold meanings of knitting, yarn and clothes. Now is the perfect time to read it as the memoir starts in October and ends three months after All Soul’s Day. Her style is very evocative.
A woman sits in her comfy chair. Two needles and a ball of yarn keep her company. She is knitting away at something. Maybe a scarf? Socks? She enjoys the sound of her needles beating like a soft drum. She inhales the smell of the waxy yarn. She exhales the satisfaction of watching a single strand transform into an object of beauty. She is perfectly present, in perfect bliss. (Epilogue, Darkness Falls p. 3)
And another teaser:
October is a bit like the last dance in Minnesota. We know it’s the first month of darkness, but we don’t want to acknowledge it. We’d prefer to keep our attention on the sunlight dancing off the red and orange and yellow and gold and brown mosaic in the trees overhead. But we know better – a long winter awaits us. (Leaves p. 13)
Nora introduces us to herself, her family and her friends and the people she meets on her journey. She opens up her house and her heart for us. We are allowed to catch a glimpse of her cozy little home and the life she lives with her two sons and Diego her friend and lover. Through her we meet a woman who owns a yarn shop, an owner of a sheep farm and all of her animals, and many other people. We get to know Minnesota through several seasons. And we learn a lot about yarn. Nora Murphy combines history and cultural anthrolpogy. I did not know, for example, that King George’s Wool Act of 1699 might have been responsible for the American Revolution. England felt its wool industry was threatened by the colonies and forbid to export sheep to America. But some animals had been smuggled in and where already quite numerous by 1665. At some time, anyone found guilty of trading in wool faced severe punishment. The cutting-off of hands is mentioned. However, unlike Ireland, America was too far away from England to be threatened for long and the way to independence could not be blocked forever.
Nora’s book is also a lesson in values. Cherish the moment. Learn from the past. Try something new. Remember the simple things. In a world that spins in confusion she tries to build stability and conveys this to those around her and her readers. I felt very comforted, enchanted and energized by this book.