Thispassage is a central extract from Joseph von Eichendorff’s Das Marmorbild, a novella published in 1819, at theheight of the German Spätromantik period. The tale can beinterpreted as a Bildungsroman inwhich the young and noble protagonist, Florio, undergoes significantself-development in his journey across Italy. This passage encompasses the maskedball scene during which Florio is reunited with Bianka, ‘das schöneMädchen mit dem Blumenkranze'(p14) from the celebratory feast on arrival in Lucca, but, incidentally, whenhe encounters her double, who we later recognise as the temptress figure of Venus.By adopting a thematic approach, this commentary will relate this passage aswell as the wider novella to the context of the literary epoch during whichEichendorff was writing. It will also explore the novelist’s reconfigurationsof the two sexes and the extent to which he diverts from the gender conventionsof the early nineteenth century.
Eichendorff’sdepiction of Florio in this passage closely aligns the protagonist with theoverwhelmingly sentimental mood of the late Romantic period which was in fullbloom in the German-speaking countries between 1815 and 1830. His descriptionof Florio as ‘geblendet’or ‘dazzled’ (line 1) immediately establishes a sense of being in touch withhis emotions, whilst this very poetic adjective echoes the tone of the Spätromantik period with its “propensityof lyricism” (Gish 1964: 225) as increasing literacy and a newfound love forliterature, especially poetry, resulted in a much more extensive Germanreadership. Eichendorff crafts Florio as the Romantic Hero figure in Das Marmorbild by imbuing both languageand imagery with an undertone of wonder; as the extract progresses, Florio istransported on a metaphorical ‘Meer von Lust’ (10), whereby his emotionalmindset intensifies from being ‘geblendet’ to ‘verwundert’ (8), then finally ‘curious’– ‘neugierig’ (20) -and determined to find his ‘niedliche Griechin'(20) once again. Perhaps a sort of microcosm for his wider quest for discoveryin this Bildungsroman, the maskedball scene within the wider plotline illustrates not only Florio’s introspectivenature, but also his ambition to discover his beloved among the bustling ‘rauschendeMenge’ (8). This determinationis closely linked to the blaueBlume motif, aprominent Romantic symbol associated with seeking the unattainable andfulfilling one’s desires. Enchanted by the sight of Bianka, the ‘zierlichesMädchen’ (2) and laterstruck by the illusion of her double in line 28, Eichendorff refers to Florioas ‘den Gedankenvollen'(12), denoting him as an incarnation of his intense thoughts and emotions. Likewise,the blaueBlume motif isprominent in line eight when we discover that ‘was erheimlich gehofft, fand er nirgends’,whilst the adverb ‘heimlich’ conveys the Romantic principle of Sehnsucht,a ‘hidden’ inner yearning.
A clear reflection of the ‘Blue Flower’ ideology,Florio’s longing for the unattainable becomes clear as it is a fantastic figureassociated with an antique paradise, the ‘Griechin’ (20), that he seeks. Eichendorffuses figurative language and rich natural imagery in the final paragraph ofthis extract to describe how Florio desires more than an ordinary person; forhim, the idealised vision of Bianka-Venus is a ‘star’ among the ‘clouds’: ‘wieein heiteres Gestirn zwischen dem leichten, fliegenden Gewölk’ (31-32). If thislove is instead ‘a preoccupation with self’ (Radner 1970: 225) the intangiblenature and height of this constellation (‘heiteres Gestirn’) reiterates that itis out of reach and thus unattainable, problematising Florio’s quest to findhis true identity, the overarching aim of the German Bildungsroman.Throughthe emasculation of the young protagonist Florio, this passage within the widernovel destabilises the authoritative male archetype epitomised by thenineteenth century’s patriarchal sphere, frequently epitomised by the Hausvater figure in literature.Eichendorff emphasises the emotional nature of his Romantic Hero, describinghim as not just sentimental, but indeed disillusioned by the intensity of hisfeelings. An earlier suggestion of Florio as an effeminate character is rooted inthe simile ‘ritt wie ein träumendes Mädchen’ (page 12) prior to this passage,whereby the adjective ‘dreaming’ – ‘träumend’ – a usually feminine quality, putshis masculinity into question.
This becomes clear in line 17 when we discoverthat desires and passions are said to have ‘contaminated’ him: ‘sohatte die allgemeine Lust auch Florio gar bald angesteckt’ (17-18). This is perhapsEichendorff critiquing man’s inability to perceive such intense emotion in thisera, or instead a potential critique of the Bildungsromanwhich promotes a ‘state of awakening and openness to the world’ that, in Das Marmorbild, is ultimately threateningas it ‘…brings with it the dangers of Venus’ (McGlashan 1959: 181). Thisnovella may therefore be interpreted as one which challenges Florio’s masculinity,particularly in light of Radner’s criticism, which likens him to a female by implyingthat Florio and Venus ‘are one’ (Radner 1970: 235). This idea is reflected inthe opening line of the extract when we read that Florio is very much ‘like acharming image himself’, an inanimate, mirror image of Venus: ‘selberwie ein anmutiges Bild'(1). The doubling and dehumanisation here can be seen to further problematiseEichendorff’s representation of Florio’s selfhood, coinciding with Webber’sview that ‘the mise-en-abyme of emblematic figures… serves to cast the sign ofidentity into abysmal or groundless nonentity’ (Webber 1996: 6). A Bildungsroman typically involves thecrisis of a youth, which leads to the eventual discovery of their identity; In Das Marmorbild, Florio’s identity crisistakes place when he succumbs to the temptation of Venus, and resolve can onlybe found by turning towards Christianity, embodied by the good-natured museFortunato and the chaste Bianka. Thus, ifhe is indeed ‘a ‘Bild’, an image among images’ (Radner 1970: 238) as Eichendorff’smise-en-abyme technique successfully constructs, Florio stands for anembodiment of impossibility.
Venus is an illusion, a figment of his imagination,yet also a reflection of the perfection he desires all at once; Eichendorfftherefore uses the figure of Venus in this extract to diminish not only theprotagonist’s masculinity, but crucially, to define his own identity.