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"The Blue Flower" (Novalis)

HEINRICH VON OFTERDINGEN. This fragmentary romance by Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg [better known as "Novalis" (Latin, new land, from the name of a family estate), b. 1772]), written 1799-1800 and published by Tieck after the author's death (1801), is the masterpiece of early German Romanticism, the supreme representation of Romantic thought and feeling. The novel was planned consciously to be both a supplement to Goethe's Wilhelm Meister and a refutation of it; the tendency of Wilhelm Meister seemed to the Romanticists to be too prosaic and practical. Heinrich von Ofterdingen was to be the glorification of the poetry of life; poetry and life are actually identical; poetry is the pathway to all wisdom. Novalis presents his theme in a symbolic tale, which relates the life of an ideal poet; indeed, the whole substance of the story is included in the two phrases, substantially identical in meaning: "Heinrich becomes a poet", and "The world becomes a dream". Various experiences are provided for the shaping of the hero's gifts; the culmination of the first period is reached in love and grief, these experiences being directly connected with Novalis's love for Sophie von Kühn and his sorrow at her death.

Heinrich von Ofterdingen is divided into two parts: "Expectation" and "Fulfillment", but pathetically enough the author died leaving the second part a fragment; the continuation, so far as we know it through Novalis's notes and Ludwig Tieck's account of his friend's plans, presents a strange but fascinating medley of miracle, symbol, and mysticism.

In the first chapter of the novel the hero related a dream, the vision of the Blue Flower, and the romance consists essentially in the symbolic quest for this flower, which Heinrich ultimately plucks. Through the influence of Heinrich von Ofterdingen the Blue Flower became the symbol of romantic longing, the realization of the poet's dream, the union of the dream world and the real world.

The hero has only his name in common with a legendary poet of the Middle Ages, who appears in a Middle High German poem Der Wartburgkrieg (The Wartburg Contest); the name is also used by Richard Wagner in Tannhäuser and elsewhere in modern mediaevalistic literature by Friedrich Lienhard, Kastropp, and others.

Harvey W. Thayer

Source: The Encyclopedia Americana, 1954.

Related page: Harvey Hewett-Thayer, author of Hoffmann: author of the tales (1948), a visit to Princeton University (1985).

Last revised: 23 February 2006 : 2006-02-23 by Robert [Wesley] Angelo.

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