Places: The Devil’s Elixirs

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Die Elixiere des Teufels: Nachgelassene Papiere des Bruders Medardus, eines Kapuziners, 1815-1816 (English translation, 1824)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Fantasy

Time of work: Eighteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedHoly Linden

Holy Devil’s Elixirs, TheLinden. Remote monastery in Prussia in which the monk Medardus (whose given name is Franz) spends his first eighteen months. At its center is a linden tree whose silver-covered trunk is inscribed with an image of the Virgin Mary. The colorful decorations in its chapel are the work of a mysterious foreign painter. (Hoffmann’s own birthplace, Königsberg, was in Prussia).

B

B. Although this name is unexplained in the text, B. undoubtedly stands for Bamberg, the German town in which Hoffmann worked as a theater producer from 1808 to 1813, before bankruptcy forced him to move on. It is the location of two crucial religious establishments, the first being the Cistercian convent where Franz’s mother obtains refuge, near to which he spends the remainder of his childhood, and where Aurelia eventually takes the veil. The other is the Capuchin monastery where Franz becomes Brother Medardus under the tutelage of Leonardus, eventually assuming responsibility for the relic chamber, whose treasures include the diabolical wine acquired by Saint Anthony in the course of his temptation. The monastery’s chapel has an altar dedicated to Saint Rosalia, which bears the image of Medardus’ temptress. The monastery is the final destination of Peter Schönfeld as well as Medardus.

Baron F.’s palace

Baron F.’s palace. House situated in an Alpine valley where Medardus plays a dual role after seeing his doppelgänger, Count Victor, apparently fall to his death. There he encounters Aurelia again, recognizing her as Saint Rosalia’s double. In the painter’s narrative it is the location of the Blue Room where a mysterious portrait–allegedly of the Devil–hangs. When Medardus passes through the estate on his return journey he finds it neglected and decaying.

Devil’s Seat

Devil’s Seat. Projecting rock at the summit of an Alpine crag, which overhangs a black and seemingly bottomless pit, the Devil’s Gorge, from which poisonous fumes rise. It is from there that Count Victor apparently falls to his death.

Inn

Inn. Tavern in an unnamed town whose sign depicts a golden lion with wings. There Medardus first encounters the barber Peter Schönfeld, alias Pietro Belcampo, and hears more news of the foreign painter.

Gamekeeper’s house

Gamekeeper’s house. Forest residence where Medardus encounters his doppelgänger in the guise of a mad monk.

Prince von Rosenthurm’s palace

Prince von Rosenthurm’s palace. The town in which the prince’s relatively modest residence is located is much smaller, quieter, and more orderly than the city. The edifice is surrounded by a charming park decorated with numerous grottos, chapels, pavilions, and temples. Here Medardus plays faro, hears tales told by the physician which explain the origin of Count Victor, and is recognized by Aurelia as her brother’s murderer–although she is in a very different frame of mind when she meets him again in the park.

Prison

Prison. Room in which Medardus is confined following Aurelia’s accusation. The room is not uncomfortable, but its barred window is set high, and precautions are taken to prevent him from looking out. Before his release he is taunted by the mysterious voice of his doppelgänger and fettered to the wall, where he suffers nightmares of torture.

Hospital

Hospital. Religious establishment in Italy, administered by the Order of Hospitallers, to which Medardus is brought by Schönfeld after fleeing from his wedding, thinking that he has murdered Aurelia.

*Rome

*Rome. Italy’s leading city and center of the Roman Catholic faith, to which Medardus is sent on a pilgrimage by Leonardus. After he finally arrives there, he prays in Saint Peter’s and many other churches and sees Schönfeld acting in a puppet show in the Piazza du Spagna. However, he spends far more time in a Capuchin monastery outside the city, where he finds another portrait of Aurelia as Saint Rosalia; it is there that he makes his confession and does painful penance, that he reads the wild tale of hereditary misfortune and visitations from Venus recorded in the painter’s manuscript, and that he encounters his doppelgänger for the last time, during his return journey.

BibliographyCobb, Palmer. The Influence of E. T. A. Hoffmann on the Tales of Edgar Allan Poe. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1908. Includes discussion of the two authors’ use of the double.Daemmrich, Horst S. The Shattered Self: E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Tragic Vision. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1973. Explores the divisions of the self in The Devil’s Elixirs and Hoffmann’s shorter works.Herdman, John. The Double in Nineteenth-Century Fiction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. Chapter 4, subsection 2, is a detailed analysis of The Devil’s Elixirs.Negus, Kenneth. E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Other World. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1965. A study of Hoffmann’s use of the supernatural.Passage, Charles E. “E. T. A. Hoffmann’s The Devil’s Elixirs: A Flawed Masterpiece.” In Journal of English and Germanic Philology 75, no. 4 (October, 1976): 531-545. A detailed account of the novel.
Categories: Places