Popular ghosts: Heinrich Heine on German geistesgeschichte as gothic novel

Jorg Kreienbrock*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


On the road to the Harz Mountains, Heinrich Heine stops in the medieval town of Goslar. Although he is not superstitious, his reading of the story “Das warnende Gespenst” (The Warning Ghost) by Karl Varnhagen von Ense had already prepared him for an uncanny encounter that night: “Endlich öffnete sich meine Tür, und langsam trat herein der verstorbene Doktor Saul Ascher. Ein kaltes Fieber rieselte mir durch Mark und Bein, ich zitterte wie Espenlaub, und kaum wagte ich das Gespenst anzusehen” (At last my door was opened, and the deceased Dr. Saul Ascher entered slowly. A chill fever percolated through my very marrow; trembling like a leaf, I scarcely dared to look at the apparition). The dead Dr. Saul Ascher, author, translator, editor, and one of the most prominent members of the Jewish Reform movement, appears to Heine as a ghost. This essay discusses how, in his theoretical writings on the intellectual history of Germany, Heine instrumentalized various spectral figures such as the undead Ascher from Die Harzreise. Ghosts, specters, and revenants appear, especially in Heine’s philosophy of history as delineated in Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland (On the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany, 1835), in which haunted and haunting figures threaten the idea of history as a linear progress toward a clearly defined telos. Even the most enlightened and radical proponents of reason display an uncanny compulsion (“Wiederholungszwang”) to repeat or rehearse mythical violence in their writings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPopular Revenants
Subtitle of host publicationThe German Gothic and its International Reception, 1800-2000
EditorsAndrew Cusack, Barry Murnane
PublisherBoydell and Brewer Ltd
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781571138279
ISBN (Print)1571135197, 9781571135193
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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