A German Classic 2019: E.T.A. Hoffmann's Der Sandmann
Oxford German Network's essay competition for sixth-formers was created through the generous sponsorship of Jonathan Gaisman, QC, and aims to stimulate interest in great German writers and influential literary works in German.
Our set text in 2019 was Der Sandmann by E.T.A. Hoffmann (1816), one of the most captivating short stories in German literature and a masterpiece of Gothic fiction. Hoffmann's eerie and mysterious tale centres on a young, impressionable student called Nathanael, who becomes convinced that he is pursued by a shadowy figure called Coppelius. Filled with Doppelgänger, mechanical dolls, alchemistic experiments, inexplicable fires, uncanny optical toys, and misaddressed letters, Der Sandmann explores the power of the imagination as it erupts into a dark obsession.
We recorded a series of four video podcasts with a number of professors and students at Oxford, which have gathered 4,000 views on YouTube. We also decided to offer physical study packs to sixth-formers interested in participating, and had more than 100 expressions of interest in the competition, which led to 55 essay submissions in September. We were thrilled about these very encouraging numbers, and, even more importantly, about the quality of the entries. We were also very pleased to see that the competition attracted entries from across the school sector.
We are pleased to announce the following prizes:
First Prize (£500): Rebecca Scholefield (Highsted Grammar School)
Second Prize (£300): Ciara Beale (St Bartholomew's School) and Saul Samuels Moselle (Forest School)
Third Prize (£100): Clara Wittmann (Hills Road Sixth Form College)
The essays by Anna Cooper (St Martin's School), Maddie Hazelden (Norwich High School for Girls), and Joe Wald (Alleyn's School) were awarded Highly Commended by the judges, and the essays by Ellie Cole (Monmouth School for Girls), Ewan Gomersall (The Billericay School), and Rory Price (King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys), were awarded Commended by the judges.
Head Judge, Professor Ritchie Robertson, commented: 'The 2019 competition, asking for essays on E.T.A. Hoffmann's Romantic tale of terror Der Sandmann (The Sandman), attracted 55 entries. The quality of the entries was impressively high. The great majority of the entrants engaged closely with the text, making good use of the information pack provided by the organizers. They showed due attention to the nuances of Hoffmann's language and the implications of his imagery. They showed an appreciation of the subtlety and frequent ambiguity of the text, of the irony with which Hoffmann presents his characters, and often also of the puzzles arising from the story's conflicting narrative perspectives. What also came across pleasingly was the entrants' sheer fascination with Hoffmann's tale.'
Congratulations to all the winners and to all the entrants. The essays were a pleasure to read. As in the past, we'll continue to make the resources on Der Sandmann prepared and curated for the competition freely accessible on our website. Here they are:
- Our podcast series on 'Der Sandmann': we recorded these four conversations between Oxford professors and students especially for this competition.
- An introduction to Hoffmann: this is a great website about German literature with very readable, short entries written by scholars.
- The German text of 'Der Sandmann' online
- Audiobook in German
- Audiobook in English
- Sommers Weltliteratur to go: this is a popular German YouTube channel that retells famous books in short videos using action figures. Don't worry if you can't even begin to keep up with Michael Sommer's German - he speaks extraordinarily fast and uses slang and specialised allusions. But you should be able to work out who the Playmobil figures are!
- The Royal Opera’s introduction to their production of Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann
- Mark Kermode’s introduction to Powell’s and Pressburger’s The Tales of Hoffman
For all details about eligibility, study packs, essay questions, submission, judging criteria, and more to do with the 2019 edition of this competition, see here.