Theodor Storm – Bulemanns Haus -The House of Bulemann

I often return to Storm’s short stories and novellas in autumn and winter. Not many know how to create an atmosphere like he does. His stories are either set in one or the other Northern town with their narrow, winding little alleyways, flanked by high houses with pointy gabled roofs and small, dark gardens or near the marshes and the dykes along the coast. His stories are realistic and eerie at the same time. Stories of unhappy love can be found as well as fairy tales or ghost stories. Many of his characters have become odd, whimsical and embittered through misfortune and loneliness. Two days ago, rummaging in my book shelves, I found a collection of short stories entitled “Katzen – Texte aus der Weltliteratur“, classic stories with a cat theme. When I looked through the contents I discovered a story by Storm called Bulemanns Haus. Should you like to read it in German here is the link Bulemanns Haus. I couldn’t find an English translation but it’s a very typical Storm story and can give you an impression whether you’d like to read him.

Bulemanns Haus is a story that reminded me a lot of A Christmas Carol only it is more sinister. In a German town, somewhere in the North, stands an abandoned old and dilapidated house. People pretend that they often see a face behind the dirty windows and at night they hear a scurrying sound as if huge colonies of mice were running through the house. The house used to belong to Bulemann, a bachelor who inherited the house from his father, a pawnbroker. He inherited the house, including all the objects people had left. Bulemann had been on a ship for many years and was said to have sold his black wife and their children and chosen to come back, accompanied by two cats only.

The first thing he did upon his return was selling all the objects in the house and making a fortune. The money was hidden everywhere. He was rich and avaricious and treated people in a mean and nasty way. Even his cats were frequently abused. When his impoverished sister turned up with his sickly nephew to ask for charity, he turned them down promptly and didn’t even care, some time later, when it looked as if the child was going to die. His sister who asked for help once more, was turned down again.  Before she left the house, she cursed her brother and soon afer her departure something weird was going on with Bulemann’s cats. It looked as if those two animals were growing. They got bigger and bigger daily and were finally capable not only of fighting back their master but of keeping him in check and finally imprison him.

The years went by, the cats were hunting mice at night and Bulemann was shrinking until he wasn’t much more than a helpless gnome, condemned to spend all eternity in an empty house with two giant cats.

Storm wrote a poem with a similar title In Bulemanns Haus which you can read here in German.

I thought this story was quite eerie, reminiscent of some of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tales. My favourite Storm story so far was Immensee. But The Dykemaster aka The Rider on the White Horse is equally good. Vishy reviewed them recently here and here and Lizzy has written a review of a lesser known collection Carsten the Trustee.

When it comes to 19th century German writers I would say that from a language point of view Fontane and Storm are two of the most accomplished writers, only surpassed by The Brothers Grimm who have written the most beautiful German you can find. Should you never have read anything by The Brothers Grimm, Mel U found a great online resource for 19th Century German stories which he shares here.

Do you have a favourite story by Storm?

Bulemanns Haus und andere Geschichten   Theodor Storm 32825 Blomberg Bild 1

27 thoughts on “Theodor Storm – Bulemanns Haus -The House of Bulemann

  1. I’ll have to check this one out – it’s probably quite short, no?

    I loved ‘Der Schimmelreiter’ when I read it, and most of his stories were good too. The ones I remember most are ‘Immensee’ and ‘Pole Poppenspäler’ 🙂

    • It was on the shorter side, 25 pages.
      I think Pole Poppenspäler is one that always did intrigue me but don’t have it my collection. I find this one very interesting because Bulemann (was wondering if that’s an allusion to Buhmann) is such a Scrooge type.

  2. Wonderful review, Caroline! I loved the fact that the cats grew big and fought back against their master 🙂 This is one more Storm story that I want to read. ‘Immensee’ is my favourite Storm story till now 🙂 I have a collection of the fairytales by The Brothers Grimm, and somehow I missed it for German literature month. Now after reading your post, I am remembering it. It is interesting that the most beautiful German can be found in it. Maybe I will do a readathon and try to read them in the next two days.

    • Thanks, Vishy, I liked that part a lot. Since I have too cats I find it awful to read about anything mentioning harming them or kicking and hitting like in this case. I will re-read Immensee sooner or later.
      The Brothers Grimm do have a wonderful German, very economical and precise, very lovely prose. People do not mention this very often as they only think of the famous stories but they were masterful writers.
      My favourite Grimm fairytale is Jorinda and Joringel. I hope you have it in your collection, if not, you can find it in the link on Mel’s page.

      • It is wonderful to know that the Brothers Grimm wrote beautiful prose. I just checked my edition of Grimms’ Fairy Tales and it has ‘Jorinda and Jorindel’ 🙂 Thanks for telling me about it. I will read it tomorrow.

        I think I should do a German Literature Month in December too, so that I can read all the German books that I haven’t been able to read till now 🙂

        • Me too. I haven’t finished the novel by Peter Stamm and also got a few others I’m looking forwad to reading. It will not be exactly the same though. It’s nice to know others are reading along.

        • I have read all of their fairy tales and I like quite a few but this one is very special to me. I’m glad you liked it. I hope the writing is as nice in Emglish as in German.

  3. I find I return to Storm on an autumnal basis too.
    I hadn’t heard of this one, so I’ll be sure to look it up.
    Naming a favourite by Storm is so hard. I have a major soft spot for “Der Schimmelreiter” closely followed by “Acquis Submersus” and “Hans and Heinz Kirch”.

    • I’m sure you would like it. You will have to read it German though, i couldn’t seem to find a translation.
      Thanks for reminding me of Aquis Submersus. I’ve ordered it especially for this month but been looking for the small booklet for days and then forgot about it. I must hunt it again.
      I’ve never herad of “Hans and Heinz Kirch” . Thanks.

  4. I have a couple of Storm volumes I haven’t got to yet. Looks like I’ll be getting to Mann’s Man of Straw in December, but that’s the point isn’t it? To get us jumpstarted and keep on reading German Lit?

  5. He does sound dark! I don’t think I’ve read any Brothers Grimm–maybe ever but am familiar with the fairy tales. I should really read some actual stories rather than the children’s retellings of them. My library has quite a few of Storm’s books–though most of them are in German. We do have Immensee, so I might at least go take a peek at it. Another author to add to my list.

    • I’m absolutely sure that you would love Storm, he would be right up your alley. He has a few very atmospherical gghost stories. This is by far the darkest I’ve read of him. The Grimms fairy tales are all very short. You can just pick one here and there and see whether you like them. I often re-read them.

  6. I seem to be the only one who’s never heard of him before. But as I look for him in French on online bookstores, I see he isn’t translated much.

    The month comes to its end and my feeling is that you shouldn’t come to France if you want to discover German lit.

  7. I loved Immensee which I read several times in my teens and early twenties, but I don’t think I’ve read him since then. I must look around for a collection of his works. I do love the German novella!

    • There are some outstanding German novellas, I agree.
      The Dykemaster should be a story you would like, I’m sure.
      But he has also written a lot of shorter ones that are geat and there is quite a wide range of atmospheres and thems as well.

  8. Pingback: German Literature Month 2011: Author Index « Lizzy’s Literary Life

  9. It sounds very good. From the description he reminds me of writers like Poe or HP Lovecraft, both of course great cat lovers and authors of tales in which cats exact rather bloody vengeances.

    I love my two cats, but one of them at least on occasion makes me very glad it’s me who’s big and her who’s small, and not the other way around.

    It also reminded me rather of the classic SF film The Incredible Shrinking Man, which features a marvellous scene in which the eponymous shrinking man is hunted through his house by his own housecat. He hides in a doll house. Fantastic scene in a B movie that’s actually worth watching.

    Still, a shame Storm’s not translated. That whole Northern vibe sounds extremely enticing. Emma, I hadn’t heard of him before either.

    On another note, Caroline, I’ve finally added you to my blogroll. I tend to be very slow about these things but it’s definitely long overdue. Sorry for not doing so before.

    • I was not very clear, maybe, but Storm has been translated – you must try him. He is fantastic. The Dykemaster and Immensee are outstanding. He has written many others that are great but those two are his best. I reviewed this because it’s a bit darker than his ususal books and for the cat theme.
      I have one very gentle cat and one fierce little fighter. It’s lucky for everyone she is a small cat. They are both from a shelter but he was a kitten and she was older and a stray, quite difficult and a bit on the mad side. Before I had her I wasn’t even aware that a cat could be very dangerous when she is so fearless.
      I’m not sure I’ve seen The Incredible Shrinking Man but that scene sounds familiar. Thanks for the recommendation.
      Thanks for me adding me, that’s very nice of you. I’m also often slow in this regard.

  10. I’ve found a translation of Immensee, not sure who by as yet. It’s one of the free ones, which can vary quite a lot.

    One of our cats flips moods. Sometimes nervous, anxious, but affectionate, and at other times she goes into almost psychotic frenzies. She’s perhaps a little mad too. The other is curious, also affectionate but happier on her own too, utterly without fear. She likes drinking from the tap and has no dislike of getting wet, unusually.

    Ours are also small, and also rescue cats (as kittens). Apparently rescue kittens often grow to be smaller than usual. Not sure why but the rescue home seemed to find it quite normal.

    Home, as I’m sure you’ll understand, is where the cats are.

    That scene in the film is terribly famous so you’ve probably seen it as a clip at some point. The whole film is well done though. One of those few B-movies that made up in imagination what it lacked in budget. Then again I think Richard Matheson was involved, and he was of course a very talented writer of the fantastic.

    • I haven’t heard anything about the translations, I’m also not sure whether he is one of those authors who has been newly retanslated. Immensee isn’t a ghost story, btw. but I liked it a lot. It will give you a good impression of his style. I think The Dykemaster or Rider on the White Horse, depending on the translation, is his longest. It’s not a bad start first, Storm and then Fontane, you will understand the ghost stoyr much better. Fontane rooted Effi Briest in the folktales, atmosphere of Northern Germany although the book in itself isn’t a ghost story at all. I’m especially interested to see what you think of Effi Briest as Madame Bovary is one of your favourite novels, right?
      My male cat is very big. He weighs 7kg but is slim, so you can imagine, how tall he is. He has very long legs. He is terribly anxious unlike her. She does also love water, will even stand in buckets. I saw all sorts in that shelter.
      Definitely, home is where the cats are.
      I’ll try if I can find the movie.

  11. Madame Bovary is absolutely one of my favourite novels. An extraordinary work.

    I’ll see what my Immensee translation is like. Hopefully it will be good.

    7kg? Mine are both around the 3.5 mark. He must indeed be tall. On that note, I have always liked your blog’s name. So very true after all.

    • Thanks, Max.
      I read Mme Bovary a few times although I don’t like re-reading much. It is extraordinary but I can’t say I “liked” it. I admire it but it didn’t move me like La Princesse de Clèves which is probably my favourite book ever. I hope the Immensee translation is good.

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