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