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The Rider on the White Horse (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – January 27, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

The novella was a form beloved of nineteenth-century Germans, who favored the spooky variety. This, from 1888, is one of the greats. Hauke Haien, a young Frisian man, builds a new dike for his town, to shield it from the furies of the North Sea. The townspeople are against him; in the end, so is God, or nature. Like other novellas, “The Rider” is short on psychology but long on atmosphere; no one has ever described storms like Storm. (Hauke on his white horse, gazing at the sea: “Where was the other shore? He stood there face to face with sheer mountains of water.”) Hauke is defeated. Yet in the dark and stormy night outside the inn where this tale is told around the hearth, a ghost rider gallops past on a ghostly white horse. Storm is neglected. This republication of Wright’s gorgeous translation, with a selection of Storm’s other stories, should correct that.
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About the Author

Theodor Storm (1817–1888) was born in Husun, a town on the North Sea in the region of Schleswig, a German-speaking area that was then under Danish rule but is now part of Germany. His mother came from a rich family, and his father, whose people had been farmers and milliners, was a lawyer. Husun was notorious for its violent weather, and a sea storm devastated the town when Storm was a boy, an experience that would leave a deep mark on his writing. On completing his studies, Storm settled down as a lawyer in Husun (which he famously called “the gray town by the sea”), though his opposition to Danish rule led to an extended period of exile during which he wrote his celebrated story “Immensee” and made his name as a poet (often writing in response to the romantic complications of his personal life) and as the author of short fiction. In the 1864 Treaty of Vienna, which brought an end to the Prusso-Danish wars, Schleswig was ceded to Prussia, and Storm returned home where he served as a judge until his retirement in 1881. Suffering from stomach cancer, he completed his masterpiece, “The Rider on the White Horse,” in 1884 and died four months later. Storm refused religious rites, and by his request his funeral was conducted in silence.

James Wright (1927–1980) was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, the son of a factory worker. After graduating from high school in 1946, he was stationed with the United States Army in occupied Japan. He attended Kenyon College on the G.I. Bill, then traveled as a Fulbright fellow to Austria, where he studied the work Theodor Storm and Georg Trakl at the University of Vienna. In 1957, Wright’s first book of poems, The Green Wall, was chosen by W.H. Auden for the Yale Younger Poets Series. Wright was elected a fellow of the Academy of American Poets in 1971 and in 1972 he received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for his Collected Poems.
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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (January 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590173015
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590173015
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #573,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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If you've managed to pass several semesters of college German, you've almost certainly encountered Theodor Storm (1817-1888) in the original. He's as venerated a classic of German literature as Maupassant of French or Turgenev of Russian, and like those two masters, his finest works were 'novellas' -- long short stories with certain formal structural elements. Storm was extremely well-known to American and English readers in the 19th Century, but his fame has faded during the 20th. This translation of eight of his fifty-plus stories, including his acknowledged masterpiece "Der Schimmelreiter - The Rider on the White Horse", by the American poet James Wright, makes a convincing case that Storm's work is still worth reading.

Like Goethe, Storm spent much of his energy in public life. He was a jurist by training. As a young 'nationalist' on behalf of the German-speaking population of Danish-governed Schleswig, Storm was vociferous enough to get exiled to Prussia, and then to a mountain village in Thuringia, where he worked as a judge and wrote many of his novellas. In 1864, Prussia seized control of Schleswig and Storm hurried home to be acclaimed as "Landsvogt" in his native region, an administrative position responsible for civil order and justice. Eventually, despite personal tragedies, he rose to the position of Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals.

No one ever wrote love stories more redolent of spring blossoms and sunshine than Theodor Storm. His prose in such tales is as mellow as vintage Riesling. For a man with feet planted stoutly in the running of life in the present, Storm had a musician's ear for the language of nostalgia. The closest comparison in American literature might be to Washington Irving or Nathaniel Hawthorne, without the nagging Puritan guilt.
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I wish Amazon would list the contents of books containing short stories. Here are the contents of this NYRB volume:

In the Great Hall (1848)
Immensee (1849)
A Green Leaf (1850)
In the Sunlight (1854)
Veronika (1861)
In St. Jurgen (1867)
Aquis Submersus (1875-76)
The Rider on the White Horse (1868-88)
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Can a ghost story be realistic? Strictly speaking: only if ghosts really exist. That question is much debated, different parts of the world have different views on this.
Most cultural circles with a literary tradition based on folk tales have ghost stories among their classics. That is very much the case in Germany.

Theodor Storm, who died in 1888, was a practical man in real life. He was a judge and a public administrator. His mindset has been categorized as 'bürgerlicher Realismus', which reflects on his social status more than on his politics. Politically, one would classify him as a Prussian liberal.

Storm was interested in the sagas and fairy tales of his homeland in North Germany. His Schimmelreiter was his last work, his longest story, and in several ways his most lasting master piece. It is a story of the sea and of the people on the coast who struggle against the sea for their livelihood. Storm has most artfully combined elements of a ghost story with motives of superstitions and religious fanaticism. On the more practical level the story deals as much with engineering challenges as with commercial interests and questions of 'big' government.

The smart narrative device, that does the trick of combining a realist world view with a ghost, is a rational narrator, who reports the superstitions of his fellow men without quite believing them. He leaves us with a healthy impression of definitely maybe....
Like most Storm stories, it starts in a frame with himself. He remembers how he read a story as a child in his great grandmother ' s house. That takes us back to the early 19th century.

He can't find the book or magazine any more, but here is what he remembers: We shift to the next level of narration, in earlier times.
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One of my favorite books ever. A German author, and a good translation to English. Love the storminess conjured. Puts you there in the storm. Love it.
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