Influence, Coincidence or Harmonious Connection?: The Tragedy of the Misunderstood Artist as represented in E.T.A. Hoffmann's "Ritter Gluck" and V.F. Odoevskij's "Opere del Cavaliere Giambattista Piranesi"

Ellen Scaruffi, Columbia University

Vladimir Odoevskij is sometimes referred to as the Russian Hoffmann because the themes and style of his fantastic short stories bear a strong resemblance to those of the popular German author. Some critics have even gone so far as to dismiss his story about the Italian artist Piranesi as little more than a retelling of"Ritter Gluck." Odoevskij himself vehemently denied imitating Hoffmann, maintaining that although "every genius is unique in his own way" similarities will inevitably occur because "all manifestations of genius are related." This paper will look at the problem of artistic influence and coincidence from a variety of different perspectives. First, I will discuss the ways in which the similarities and differences between the two stories have been accounted for in the literary criticism published to date. Next, I will propose an alternative explanation for the connections between the stories, one that is based upon Odoevskij's own mystical theory that "all artists speak the same language." Using this theory as a starting point I will go on to examine the various ways in which both Hoffmann and Odoevskij deliberately borrowed techniques from the visual arts, transforming them into words in order to construct what Odoevskij described as a "wonderful" kind of art that would simultaneously defy analysis and amaze the reader. I will conclude by making the case that Odoevskij was a literary original whose unique prose style ultimately owes as much, or more, to the etchings of Piranesi than the prose of Hoffmann.