Authors: Theodor Storm

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

German novelist and poet.

September 14, 1817

Husum, Schleswig (now in Germany)

July 4, 1888

Hademarschen, Holstein, Germany


Hans Theodor Woldsen Storm (shtawrm) was one of Germany’s greatest writers of the Age of Realism. In addition to his well-constructed novellas, he also produced highly regarded lyric poetry. Storm was born in Husum, a small coastal town in the province of Schleswig, and much of his writing is closely associated with the area. After completing law school, he settled in his hometown, expecting to live there for the rest of his life. The Danish occupation of Schleswig-Holstein (1853–64) and his outspokenness against Danish oppression forced him into unhappy exile to Potsdam in 1853 and, in 1856, to Heiligenstadt, where he worked as the district judge. After the Prussians defeated the Danes, the author was again able to return to his beloved Husum in 1864.

Theodor Storm.

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Storm was married twice. He married his first cousin, Constanze Esmarch, in 1846; she died in 1865. Constanze was a major inspiration for Storm’s writing, and her sensitive critique of his work helped the author to achieve stylistic perfection. Even during his marriage to Constanze, however, the author was attracted to Dorothea Jensen, who loved him passionately even though he was already married. After Constanze’s death, Storm was free to marry Dorothea. The turbulent and sometimes tragic relationship with Dorothea and their search for happiness are the background to Storm’s 1874 novella Viola tricolor.

After Storm’s return to Husum, he was elected to various high judicial and administrative positions that he held until 1880, when he retired to nearby Hademarschen. The author remained preoccupied with his writing, which was closely connected to his personal experiences, the local environment, and local history. His lyric poetry was influenced primarily by folklore and by the poet Joseph von Eichendorff. The poems are, variously, joyful, restrained, descriptive of the native landscape, politically patriotic, impressionistic, and—later—mostly melancholy and tragic. They reach a high point of creativity in the poems written after his first wife’s death, works that reflect solitude, love, and death.

Storm corresponded with a number of other contemporary literary figures, including Theodor Fontane, Paul Heyse, Gottfried Keller, Eduard Mörike, and the Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev. By the middle of the 1860s, he began to write almost exclusively realistic prose, primarily novellas. His more than fifty novellas reflect a variety of subjects and moods. They deal with themes of solitude and isolation, lack of communication, superstition and religious bigotry, social problems such as alcoholism, family life, the dilemmas of artists, and love. Many of the novellas are based on ancient chronicles or local history, and although they are realistic, they are characterized by subtle lyricism and subjectivism. They give the reader insight into a human existence in which one sometimes finds joy or humor but mostly tragedy and despair.

Storm’s life and art are deeply connected to his native town of Husum, a small trade center on the North Sea, which he affectionately referred to as "the gray town of the sea." The patriotism reflected frequently in the author’s works derives from his deep love for his people, his town, and the native landscape. Storm’s nostalgic longing for the past and a vanished glorious history is based on the fact that Husum had lost its economic significance and, with the Danish occupation, even its political independence.

The transformation in Storm’s artistry is best exemplified by a comparison between his first novella, Immensee, and his last, The Rider on the White Horse. The former combines a deep joy of life with a gentle melancholy and resignation that can also be found in the works of many late Romantics. The nostalgic longing for the past combines joy and suffering; the present will never reach the beauty of the past. In contrast, the tone of The Rider on the White Horse, a story about an ambitious dike master who is destroyed by nature and a lack of support by his fellow men, is much harsher. The hero’s valiant battle against nature and superstition is powerfully and graphically described. There is little room for digressions in this realistically gripping tragedy.

It is somewhat surprising that Storm never tried to write a full-length novel or a drama. Most of his novellas are set in his native environment, which may be the reason for his image as a regional or provincial writer; it may also be why his work is not well known internationally and relatively little translated.

Author Works Long Fiction: Immensee, 1849 (Immensee: Or, The Old Man’s Reverie, 1858) Sommer-Geschichten und Lieder, 1851 (novellas and poetry) Im Sonnenschein, 1854 (In the Great Hall, 1923) Ein grünes Blatt, 1855 (A Green Leaf, 1964) Hinzelmeier, 1857 In der Sommer-Mondnacht, 1860 Drei Novellen, 1861 (includes Veronika [English translation, 1964]) Auf der Universität, 1863 Im Schloss, 1863 Lenore, 1865 Zwei Weihnachtsidyllen, 1865 Drei Märchen, 1866 Von Jenseits des Meeres, 1867 In St. Jürgen, 1868 (In St. Jurgen, 1964) Novellen, 1868 Sämtliche Schriften, 1868–1889 (19 volumes) Eine Halligfahrt, 1871 (Journey to a Hallig, 1999) Geschichten aus der Tonne, 1873 Zerstreute Kapitel, 1873 Novellen und Gedenkblätter, 1874 Viola tricolor, 1874 (English translation, 1956) Pole Poppenspäler, 1874 (Paul the Puppeteer, 2003) Waldwinkel, 1874 "Ein stiller Musikant," "Psyche," "Im Nachbarhaus links," 1876 (three novellas) Aquis submersus, 1877 (English translation, 1910; also known as Beneath the Flood, 1962) Carsten Curator, 1878 (Curator Carsten, 1956) Neue Novellen, 1878 Renate, 1878 (English translation, 1909) Drei neue Novellen, 1880 Eekenhof, 1880 (novella; English translation, 1908) Zur "Wald- und Wasserfreude," 1880 Die Söhne des Senators, 1881 (The Senator’s Sons, 1947) Der Herr Etatsrath, 1881 Hans und Heinz Kirch, 1883 (Hans and Heinz Kirch, 1999) Zwei Novellen, 1883 Zur Chronik von Grieshuus, 1884 (A Chapter in the History of Grieshuus, 1908) Ein Fest auf Haderslevhuus, 1885 (novella; A Festival at Haderslevhuus, 1909) Vor Zeiten, 1886 Bei kleinen Leuten, 1887 Bötjer Basch, 1887 Ein Doppelgänger, 1887 Ein Bekenntniss, 1888 "Es waren zwei Königskinder," 1888 Der Schimmelreiter, 1888 (novella; The Rider on the White Horse, 1915) The Rider on the White Horse, and Selected Stories, 1964 (includes In the Great Hall, Immensee, A Green Leaf, In the Sunlight, Veronika, In St. Jurgen, Aquis submersus, and The Rider on the White Horse) Poetry: Liederbuch dreier Freunde, 1843 (with Theodor Mommsen and Tycho Mommsen) Sommer-Geschichten und Lieder, 1851 Gedichte, 1852, 1856, 1864, 1885 Nonfiction: Der Mörike-Storm Briefwechsel, 1891 Briefe an Friedrich Eggers, 1911 Briefe an seine Frau, 1915 Briefe an seine Freunde, 1917 Heyse-Storm Briefwechsel, 1917–1918 Miscellaneous: Theodor Storms Sämtliche Werke, 1919–1924 Bibliography Alt, A. Tilo. Theodor Storm. New York: Twayne, 1973. Contains biography, literary analysis, a chronology, and a bibliography of primary and secondary sources. Artiss, David. Theodor Storm: Studies in Ambivalence—Symbol and Myth in His Narrative Fiction. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 1978. A study of Storm’s literary technique. Burns, Barbara. Theory and Patterns of Tragedy in the Later Novellen of Theodor Storm. Stuttgart, Germany: Heinz, 1996. Storm’s position as a tragedian is analyzed. Dysart, David L. The Role of Painting in the Works of Theodor Storm. New York: P. Lang, 1992. The visual aspect of Storm’s work is addressed. Jackson, David A. Theodor Storm: The Life and Works of a Democratic Humanitarian. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. A useful bibliography. Strehl, Wiebke. Theodor Storm’s "Immensee": A Critical Overview. Rochester, N.Y.: Camden House, 2000. A study of Storm’s novel.

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