Aesthetic Tension: The Text-Image Relationship in Heinrich Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter

Ben Parrot


Heinrich Hoffmann’s children’s book Der Struwwelpeter is frequently criticized as being unsuitable for children, yet it remains the most popular German children’s book of all time worldwide. This article accounts for this ambivalent reception by means of a dialectical approach to the text-image relationship at work in Hoffmann’s book which reveals that the images do not simply support the horrific events described in the text nor fully subvert them via comical depictions, but rather manage to do both at once. The analysis reveals that on occasion the images subvert the text precisely by supporting it too faithfully—that is, by depicting the exaggerated elements of the text in a literal manner. Such ‘conflicts of agreement’ explain how readers can simultaneously be amused and shocked by Hoffmann’s work, contributing to both its long-lived popularity and its notoriety. (BP)

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