The Rider on the White Horse
by Theodor Storm, translated from the German and with an afterword by James Wright
“The Rider on the White Horse” begins as a ghost story. A traveler along the coast of the North Sea is caught in dangerously rough weather. Offshore he glimpses a spectral rider rising and plunging in the wind and rain. Taking shelter at an inn, the traveler mentions the apparition, and the local schoolmaster volunteers a story.
The story is both simple and subtle, and its peculiar power is to surprise us slowly. It is a story of determination, of a young man, Hauke Haien, living in a remote community (Storm depicts the village with the luminous precision of a Vermeer), who is out to make a name for himself and to remake his world. It is a story of devotion and disappointment, of pettiness and superstition, of spiritual pride and ultimate desolation, and of the beauty and indifference of the natural world. It is a story that opens up in the end to uncover the foundation of savagery on which human society rests.
Theodor Storm’s great novella, which will remind readers of the work of Thomas Hardy, is one of the supreme masterpieces of German literature. It is here limpidly translated by the American poet James Wright, along with seven other shorter works, including the lyrical love story “Immensee.”
"German short fiction of the 19th century" may sound like the title for a college course...In fact, the stories of Ludwig Tieck, E.T.A. Hoffmann, and Heinrich von Kleist are among the glories of world literature, being at once suspenseful, eerie and sometimes humorous, albeit usually in a macabre way. Many of these 19th-century Novellen, as they are called, are clearly related to fairy tale and legend. Arguably the greatest of them all is "The Rider on the White Horse"....While [it] represents Theodor Storm as a writer of prose, he is equally revered as one of Germany's finest lyric poets. So it seems right that the material in this handsome reissue...should have been translated by the poet James Wright, who also contributes a superb introduction.
— Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
Like Theodor Fontane's Effi Briest, Storm's book combines a story of societal pressures with a touch of the supernatural...There is plenty of eerie Germanic mood here, but there is also a fine and tragic story of a man who follows his own path to its final, terrible end and people who fail to recognize sacrifice.
— Publishers Weekly
A new translation of a famous 1888 novella...This is a marvelous work, effortlessly lifted to eerie supernatural heights...Storm's mastery of the details of dyke-building and bourgeois political intrigue ground it firmly in recognizable reality. There is nothing better in German fiction prior to the work of Thomas Mann.
— Kirkus Reviews
Theodor Storm, master of the 19th-century novella.
— The Spectator
This is an excellent...translation.
— Independent on Sunday (UK)