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The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 29 Apr 1999

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (29 April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140446311
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140446319
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 304,730 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description

About the Author

E T A Hoffmann (1776 - 1822) was born in Konigsberg and became one of the best known and influential authors of his time. He exploited the grotesque and the bizarre in a manner unmatched by any other Romantic writer.

Jeremy Adler is Professor of German at King's College London.

Anthea Bell has received many awards for her translations including the Mildred L. Batchelder Award in 1979, 1990 and 1995.


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First Sentence
No book stands in more need of a foreword than the present work, since without some explanation of the strange way in which it is put together, it is bound to seem an oddly assorted hotchpotch. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By skotkacy on 30 Dec. 2010
Format: Paperback
In a word - fantastic. It is difficult to believe that this book was written in 1820. The novel is quite mad and surreal in a Bulgakov way: in fact there are many similar elements - a cat with human qualities and `the master' who seems to control everything. Once you get used to the language Murr is more laugh-out-loud than the Master and the Margarita. There are no weak patches in the novel and in its structure things are perfectly paced. I thought I might struggle to read it, particularly on a beach holiday, but once you adjust to reading the two narratives as fragments there is no problem. The musings of the cat are written on the back of a fictional biography of a musician named Kapelmeister. The cat has apparently ripped up the pages in a fit of piqué and so an episode breaks off and the other starts leaving much to the imagination. I have now realised that much of 20th century fiction was doing something begun 200 years before. One anecdote I read (via Norman Davies) was that Hoffman was an administrator for a time in Prussian Poland and was responsible for making sure all the population had surnames. Jewish and gypsy people would wait to be given names by him hoping that they would be receive something normal. If Hoffman had good fish for lunch then in the afternoon all the names would be fishy. Similarly, if dinner had been with a general then the names would be patriotic and martial. Apparently you wouldn't want to get him with a hangover. This is as strange and absurd as the episodes in his stories.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Depressaholic on 29 April 2006
Format: Paperback
The final book of Hoffmann's life is also one of the strangest of the nineteenth century. 'Tomcat Murr' is the autobiography of a self-educated cat, charting his growth and education as he tries to find his place in the world. We are told that Murr wrote his story on waste paper on which the story of a man, Johannes Kreisler, had been written, and that the printers to which Murr's story was sent had become confused and printed both stories. Consequently, 'Tomcat Murr' is actually two stories - those of Murr and Kreisler - told in large interspersed segments. There is no real overlap between the stories, although Murr and his owner appear in both. They are, nevertheless, both very enjoyable.

Murr's story focuses on his attempts to educate himself, both academically and socially. He attempts to master poetry and foreign languages, as well as social interactions and the pursuit of the opposite sex. All of his refinements are coloured by the fact that he is still, at heart, a cat, and Hoffmann derives a lot of humour from Murr's struggles against his own animal nature. Murr's attempt to save his mother from starvation by bringing her a fish head, for example, is ruined because halfway in his journey to her, he eats it himself. Murr's justification is that he is a cat, and he was hungry. Murr's story therefore addresses issues such as the effects of nature and nurture, and the breaking of social boundaries.

The other story follows Johannes Kreisler, a musician and artist who joins the court of Prince Iraneus. Kreisler is the epitome of the artistic soul, finding beauty in art and ignoring the niceties of court life. He is something of an eccentric, evidenced by his friendship with the mystical Master Abraham and his unorthodox involvement with the ladies of the court.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Grand Dizer on 6 Sept. 2007
Format: Paperback
Definately a contender for best fiction I've read. This is two books in one: one is by the Tomcat Murr and the other is by his master. The intelligent cat writes on his master's papers so we have both stories interrupting each other! The cat's story is amusing and simple - in many ways it is a coming of age parody. The other story - the master's - is an excellent one and my advise is to be careful when reading it. The master's story does takes a while to pick up but by the end when everything comes together you realise that you should have paid more attention rather than skim reading it to get back to the cat's recollections! The fact that the stories interrupt each other is another reason why this book is hard to put down. I certainly was unable to! This is a massively original book that is very well written. I am astonished that it is not well known and that it took me this long to come across it. Enjoy!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 1 Feb. 2009
Format: Paperback
This is not simply an usual and enjoyable book in its own right: in addition, Anthea Bell's translation is quite remarkable. Indeed it is so good that there is nothing to give away the fact that it is a translation at all. She conveys the humour and has adapted the poetry with extraordinary skill, and her learned, detailed notes add a further dimension to the original text.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Brownbear101 on 20 Nov. 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
This is really a very strange book, and fans or imitators of Derek and Clive, The Goons or Monty Python might read it simply as a comedy resource or to understand how love of the absurd did not begin with Spike Milligan. For anyone else however this is one to avoid, first because it is too silly for words, second because its satire about courtly manners must have seemed old fashioned even when it was written in 1820, and thirdly because it is unfinished and unresolved so that the reader is cheated a decent story line.

The idea - it has to be said - is brilliant: Tomcat Murr is a highly intelligent moggie that has taught himself to read and write and sets down his autobiography. However, at the publishers his work is muddled up with the life story of Johannes Kreisler, a court composer. As a result the narrative switches randomly between the two stories, which never quite touch. There's no doubt that Hoffmann is a skillful writer, and easily and convincingly conjures up the two worlds of Murr the cat and Kreisler the composer. He uses this platform to lambaste and lampoon 19th century German society and its norms of behaviour but unfortunately his target is so far away from our modern world that the subtlety of his approach and the nature of his attack goes straight over a modern reader's head. What's left is the tongue in cheek adventures of the cat and the building mystery and love story around Kreisler - which goes nowhere because poor old Hoffmann died before he could finish the story. What a shame that no modern German writer has been able to end the story.
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