Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Book: Undine
Author:  Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué
Edition:  ebook from Gutenberg
Read: Sept 15, 2015
96 pages
Genre:  Fiction, Myth
Rated: 3 1/2 out of 5

First, an Undine is the story name, a person in the story, and a species. More particularly on the species, it is a water-spirit without a soul. So often playful, they are volatile. The legend is that if they marry and receive love, they will acquire a soul. But if there love is untrue, the love dies. Also the water spirits have free access to the area where water flows.

Given that background, the story line is an old fisherman and his wife who have a baby in an isolated spot. The baby leaps into the water and never is heard from again, that is until later in the story. But on the same night, a child arrives at their cottage and they take in the child. She grows into a beautiful, but playful maid.

A knight arrives, lost, falls in love and they are married. In returning to civilization, they come meet up with Bertalda who was someone the knight, Huldbrand, was infatuated with before meeting Undine. Undine and Bertalda become friends until it is revealed who Bertalda parents are.  This turns Bertalda away from Undine, but Undine through her character wins her back again. They all move to Huldbrand's castle.

On a pleasure trip down the Danube River, Huldbrand scolds Undine. Undine is snatched back, sorrowfully by the other water-spirits. After a time, Huldbrand takes Bertaldaas his wife and Huldbrand dies.

On Gutenberg, there are at least two versions of Fouque's story. A children's version with illustrations and what I believe is the full version. The children's version is what I read first. It was more of a subset of the full version, not watered down. Also there was a different introduction. There is a third version, which I did not read.

From the Encyclopedia Britannica:
Derived from the Greek figures known as Nereids, attendants of the sea god Poseidon, Ondine was first mentioned in the writings of the Swiss author Paracelsus, who put forth his theory that there are spirits called “undines” who inhabit the element of water. A version of the myth was adapted as the romance Undine by Baron Fouqué in 1811, and librettos based on the romance were written by E.T.A. Hoffmann in 1816 and Albert Lortzing in 1845. Maurice Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas et Mélisande (1892) was in part based on this myth, as was Ondine (1939), a drama by Jean Giraudoux. Compare gnome; sylph. The myth was also the basis of a ballet choreographed and performed by Margot Fonteyn

Fouque, according to Charlotte M Yonge in her introduction to Undine, Undine is part of a quartet of stories based upon seasons:"Sintram", to winter; the tearful, smiling, fresh "Undine", to Spring; the torrid deserts of the "Two Captains", to summer; and the sunset gold of "Aslauga's Knight (Intro)

Also out of Yonge's introduction, she makes several comments. She notes that Fouque was a devout Christian and much of his writing reflects this quality.
  • ... he [Fouque] saw Christ unconsciously shown in Baldur, and Satan in Loki (Intro). This is in dealing with the old Northern mythology. I think a similar thing attracted Tolkein and Lewis. 
  • Thus he lived, felt, and believed what he wrote   (Intro). This should be the standard for all writers, shouldn't it? It should be based upon the truth as they know it and it should not be wavered from. Sort of like our lives. 
  • Evil comes to them as something to be conquered,   (Intro) Today, it seems like our characters tend to be something grayed out, not into doing right or correcting a wrong, but more just living. As we find out later, Huldbrand is someone who is real. He does good, but suffers from being a real person, not an ivory tower knight. So he meets his downfall by not being true. While Undine is true, meets with sorrow, but is shown to be good. 
  • Folko and Gabrielle are revived from the Magic Ring.   (Intro) Is there a connection with the Lord of the Rings? Probably not. They are a reference to characters in Fouque's Sintram tell. But Tavistock Books in Alameda has a page which indicates another of Fourque's books may have influenced Tolkein and his development of the Ring

Chapter One
  • he entertained scarcely any thoughts but such as were of a religious natures.  Is he using this as a metaphor for the Christian walk? This is describing when the old fisherman walks through the haunted forest. He sings hymns and meditates on scripture. From here the things which haunt the forest do not bother him. Shouldn't this be how I walk in this life? Having thoughts of Jesus in my heart, singing his praise, and trusting Him to keep me from harm. Strength through Christ, not in his arms.
  • they relished their beverage and enjoyed their chat as two such good men and true ever ought to do.  (Chp 1)  A relaxing picture of two men who feel comfortable around each other. There is goodness to this kind of friendship.
  • Christian influence.I did not for this murmur against our good God; on the contrary, I praised Him in silence for the new-born babe    (Chp 1)

Chapter Three
  • For there are times when a slight circumstance, coming unexpectedly upon us, startles us like something supernatural.  (Chp 3) Both where we get ghosts from, but also what scares us. The unexpected is what scares us.
  • Undine speaks these words to calm the priest into an understanding that we are all God's creatures. In this case, Undine has just said she does not have a soul. But she wants the priest to understand she is not a god-less monster. you see that I do not shrink from holy words. I too have knowledge of God, and understand the duty of praising Him; every one, to be sure, has his own way of doing this, for so He has created us (Chp 3) 
    • He is a minister of that Being who created us all; and holy things are not to be treated with lightness. (Chp 3) This is the conclusion: we should not treat anything God has made lightly.

Chapter Four
  • remember betimes so to attune your soul that it may produce a harmony ever in accordance with the soul of your wedded bridegroom. (Chp 4). This is true-the wife must understand her husband for a marriage to succeed. She must be willing at times to re-tune her thoughts and desires to assimilating his. But it is equally true that he must do the same. He must understand her and be willing to want the best for her and to have her joy be his. 
  • But when a person has no soul at all, how, I pray you, can such attuning be then possible? And this, in truth, is just my condition. (Chp 4) Undine says this in reference to being married and in love. Fourque seems to be saying, it requires a soul to love. Is it true then that those who have little love, have little soul? Does it matter what kind of love it is? 
  • were it not better that we never shared a gift so mysterious? (Chp 4) the it in this statement is a soul. The reference goes withe the next statement: Heavily must the soul weigh down its possessor (chp 4) there is pain in feeling as well as joy. There is hate as well as love. Even more so there is the responsibility to do good and avoid evil. Undine sees this before gaining a soul. Humans are never to be taken lightly, this leads us to CS Lewis' statement in his address called The Weight of Glory that we have never met a mortal, but someone who will live out eternity. 
  • I can discover, there is nothing of evil in her, but assuredly much that is wonderful. What I recommend to you is—prudence, love, and fidelity (Chp 4) all good Christian virtues we need to concentrate on.
  • In chp 4, he brings in the four elements: fire, earth, wood, water.  Almost the same same as the classic view, except air instead of wood.
  • Thus we have no souls; (Chp 4). The we is the water-spirits, the Undine species. That is the essence of this chapter. Undine does not have a soul, but gains one and is transformed by love into a new creature.  The race to which I belong have no other means of obtaining a soul than by forming with an individual of your own the most intimate union of love (Chp 4)

Chapter Six
  • mysterious connection (Chp 6)  with Undine and Bertalda. This was before it was known whose parents were Bertalda. It refers to how there seemed to be an eerie relationship between the two of them. Does this happen in real life? Of do we get coincidences?
  • The old fisherman had meanwhile folded his hands, and offered up a silent prayer that she might NOT be his daughter. (Chp 6) Sometimes you just feel that way about a person-I hope I do not know them. But if it is a father towards his daughter, that is pretty hideous. Especially since the father was such a gentle person as shown earlier in the story.
  • inward feeling with which truth never fails to make itself known to us (Chp 6) Does truth always follow our inward feelings? I think our desires get into too much of the way to let this be a true guide to us. Only when we can bypass our desires, can these feelings be trusted.

Chapter Seven
  • The servants of the castle were as happy in obeying their gentle lady, as in opposing the haughty spirit of Bertalda (Chp 7) Soft words carry big results, if spoken by the right person.
  • he possesses no soul, being a mere elemental mirror of the outward world, while of the world within he can give no reflection. (Chp 7) he being Kuhleborn, Undine's uncle, the water spirit from around the lake where the old fisherman lived.
  • His poor nature has no idea that the joys and sorrows of love have so sweet a resemblance, and are so intimately connected that no power on earth is able to separate them (Chp 7). This goes unsaid about why a soul is so great, vs the  thoughts Undine was having in chapter 4
  • For if you should, my relations would acquire a right over me (Chp 7). This is if Huldbrand, her husband speaks in anger towards her in the presence of a water spirit.
  • At the time (Chp 7)... throws the story way back from the 1820's when this story was written.

Chapter Eight
  • She learnt nothing more about either of them; and what would she have gained from more knowledge? (Chp 8) Bertalda retains her ways of ignoring anything which disagrees with her,. But she is changing in that she picked up being grateful, humble and timid instead of haute. But. even with this, she does not learn why Undine wants a giant rock cover plugging up a spring in the center of the court, at least until it is too late.
  • This comes when like marries not like—when a man forms an unnatural union with a sea-maiden. (Chp 8)  It is not wide for a husband to focus on things which diminish his wife in his eyes. When that happens, love starts to be lost and the wife becomes a hated sight.
  • only remain true, (Chp 8) Undine tells Huldbrand, be true to her, even if she loses him. Reason? He will die. You know what will happen here.
  • was doubtful to his mind that the mere disappearance of his beloved child could be properly viewed as her death.  (Chp 8) This is the old fisherman, Undine's foster parent, Bertalda's real father. He favors Undine, but gets convinced that since Undine is gone, Huldbrand should marry Bertalda. This has deadly consequences.

Chapter Nine
  • I may weep, little as you can know what such tears are. They are blessed, as everything is blessed to one gifted with a true soul. (Chp 9) Undine speaking as she perceives Huldbrand will be dying soon. also she thinks Huldbrand has lost his love for her since he is marrying Bertalda now that Undine is gone. Huldbrand assumes that since Undine is a water spirit, she cannot have human emotions, but Fourque has given her love and all the hurt which goes with it.
  • I thoughtfully planned all this. (Chp 9) Even though Huldbrand has married Bertalda, Undine still protects him, because she loves him.

Other Comments:

HP Lovecraft- Supernatural Horror in Literature, from the chapter called "Spectral Literature on the Continent":
Most artistic of all the continental weird tales is the German classic Undine (1814), by Friedrich Heinrich Karl, Baron de la Motte Fouqué. In this story of a water-spirit who married a mortal and gained a human soul there is a delicate fineness of craftsmanship which makes it notable in any department of literature, and an easy naturalness which places it close to the genuine folk-myth. It is, in fact, derived from a tale told by the Renaissance physician and alchemist Paracelsus in his Treatise on Elemental Sprites.

George McDonald - The Fantastic Imagination:
  Were I asked, what is a fairytale? I should reply, Read Undine: that is a fairytale; then read this and that as well, and you will see what is a fairytale. Were I further begged to describe the fairytale, or define what it is, I would make answer, that I should as soon think of describing the abstract human face, or stating what must go to constitute a human being. A fairytale is just a fairytale, as a face is just a face; and of all fairytales I know, I think Undine the most beautiful.
CS Lewis from a letter to Arthur Greeves on March 6, 1917:
I am now (in German) at 'Sintram' a tale by Fourque. It has some good eerie touches in it, but none of the homely beauty of   'Undine' - indeed 'tis rather tawdry as a whole. The edition is so horrible that it ought to emanate from 'Satan& Co' & sometimes I have a ghastly suspicion that it is 'scripted': for these school editors are absolutely without conscience & wouldn't hesitate to mutilate a book and then publish it with a word of explanation.

Undine is a tightly written fairy tale-type story, with many twists and turns in a pretty small container.  As a note, they do not live happily ever after. There is very few places which leaves you hoping the book ends, but you want to find out how things will work out in the end. The best way for me to describe the contents is to say the story line is strange, particularly to our modern ears. I heard about the story through George McDonald and CS Lewis and even they held the same thoughts.  But it is gripping, better than many of our modern stories.  Fouqué tells this story without much fluff  and with little commentary, which is the proper way of telling a good story. But along that lines, there is not many memorable lines. So if you read it, prepare to ponder and enjoy, let the story line give you thought rather than Fourque's words.

New Words:
  • inditing (Intro): write; compose
  • Korner (Intro): a municipality in the Unstrut-Hainich district of Thuringia, Germany.
  • sylphs (Intro): a mythological spirit of the air. The term originates in the 16th century works of Paracelsus, who describes sylphs as invisible beings of the air, his elementals of air.
  • portentous (chp 1): of or like a portent or done in a pompously or overly solemn manner so as to impress
  • sumptuous (chp 1): splendid and expensive-looking
  • Kuhleborn (Chp 3): Uncle of Undine, and the instigator of many of the incidences in Undine
  • affianced (Chp 3): be engaged to marry.
  • menials (Chp 6): a person with a menial job, domestic servant
  • Suabia (Chp 6): a cultural, historic, and linguistic region in southwestern Germany. The name is ultimately derived from the medieval Duchy of Swabia, one of the German stem duchies, representing the territory of Alemannia, whose inhabitants interchangeably were called Alemanni or Suebi.

Good Quotes:
  • First Line:Undine! thou fair and lovely sprite, Since first from out an ancient lay I saw gleam forth thy fitful light, How hast thou sung my cares away!
  • Last Line: Even to this day, the inhabitants of the village point out the spring; and hold fast the belief that it is the poor deserted Undine, who in this manner still fondly encircles her beloved in her arms.
  • There must be something lovely, but at the same time something most awful, about a soul (Chp 4)
  •  all beings aspire to rise in the scale of existence higher than they are (Chp 4)
  • Happy art thou if thou hast received the injury, not inflicted it; for in this case it is more blessed to receive than to give. (Chp 7)
  • Besides, marrying and mourning are by no means so very unlike; as every one not wilfully blinded must know full well." (Chp 9)
  • it is very difficult to give up a thing which we have once looked upon as certain; so all continued as had been arranged previously. (Chp 9)

Table of Contents (Different versions have different contens. This is from the F.E. Bunnett translation)


No comments: