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Theodor Storm (1817–1888). The Rider on the White Horse.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Biographical Note

HANS THEODOR WOLDSEN STORM, usually known as Theodor Storm, was born in the small coast town of Husum in Schleswig-Holstem on September 14, 1817. His father was an attorney whose family had for generations been tenants of the old mill in Westermühler, and his mother’s family were of the local aristocracy. Influences from his ancestry on both sides and from the country in which he was brought up played an important part in the formation of his sentiments and character.

Storm was educated at schools in Husum and Lübeck, and studied law at Kiel and Berlin. At Kiel he formed a friendship with the historian Theodor Mommsen and his brother Tycho, and the three published together in 1843 “Songs by Three Friends.” In spite of his interest in literature, Storm went on with his legal career, and began practice in his native town. There in 1846 he married his cousin Konstanze Esmarch, and settled down to a happy domestic life.

When Storm was born, Schleswig and Holstein were independent duchies, ruled by the king of Denmark; but when they were forcibly incorporated into the kingdom of Denmark, Storm, who was a strong German in sentiment, felt forced to leave his home, and in 1853 became assistant judge in the circuit court in Potsdam. The bureaucratic society of the Prussian town was uncongenial, and three years later he was glad to be transferred to Heiligenstadt in Thuringia. In 1864 Schleswig-Holstein was conquered by Prussia, and though Storm was disappointed that it did not regain its independence, it was at least once more German, and he returned to Husum as “Landvogt,” or district magistrate, in 1865, and lived there till 1880. The last eight years of his life he spent at a country house in the neighboring village of Hademarschen, where he died July 4, 1888. Konstanze had died in 1865, and he married as his second wife Dorothea Jensen. Both marriages brought him much happiness.

Storm began his literary career as a lyric poet, and his work in this field gives him a high place among the best in a kind in which German literature is very rich. His story writing began with “Immensee” (1849), perhaps his best known work. His early prose shared some of the quality of his poetry in that it sought rather to convey a mood than describe action; but, as his talent matured, incident and character stood out more and more distinctly.

The progress can be traced from “Immensee” through “At the Castle” and “At the University” to the objective narrative of “In the Village on the Heath” and “At Cousin Christian’s.” In “Eekenhof” and “Hans and Heinz Kirsch” he is frankly realistic, and the complete evolution from his early subjectivity is seen in the dramatic depicting of human struggles in “The Sons of the Senator,” “Renate,” and, last and greatest of his works, “The Rider on the White Horse.”

In this masterpiece, Storm exhibits a man’s will in conflict, on one side, with unintelligent conservatism among his fellowmen and, on the other, with the forces of nature. The figure of the dike-master emerges from the double struggle with a fine impressiveness; and the tragedy which finally engulfs him and his family is profoundly moving. At the same time we are given a vivid picture of the landscape of the low-lying coast of the North Sea, with the ever-present menace of the flood tide; and the sternness of the action is tempered with glimpses of humor and a picture of warm affection. Here Storm’s art reached a pitch which places him beside the masters of the short novel.

W. A. N.