Despite Language: Adalbert Stifter’s Revenge Fantasies

Erica Weitzman


Adalbert Stifter’s short story “Turmalin,” from the collection Bunte Steine, centers on a failed act of revenge. Having been cuckolded by his wife with the actor Dall, the victim—known in the story only as the “Rentherr”—suffers a second blow when his plan of retaliation falls flat, sending him into a wounded retreat from society. And yet in this retreat, a displaced or proxy revenge is effected, in the form of the physical, mental, and linguistic stunting of the Rentherr’s young daughter. This article examines the well-known linguistic deformation of the girl at the center of Stifter’s story in terms of its both analogical and causal relationship with the Rentherr’s miscarried efforts at requital. Building on heretofore overlooked textual evidence, the article further argues that Stifter’s story constitutes an attempted revenge on the uncertain fidelity and rationality of language itself, in which not merely the adequacy of representation, but the very substance of thought and the idea of human reason is at stake. (EW)

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