The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr Paperback
Tomcat Murr is a loveable, self-taught animal who has written his own autobiography.
But a printer's error causes his story to be accidentally mixed and spliced with a book about the composer Johannes Kreisler.
As the two versions break off and alternate at dramatic moments, two wildly different characters emerge from the confusion - Murr, the confident scholar, lover, carouser and brawler, and the moody, hypochondriac genius Kreisler.
In his exuberant and bizarre novel, Hoffmann brilliantly evokes the fantastic, the ridiculous and the sublime within the humdrum bustle of daily life, making The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr (1820-22) one of the funniest and strangest novels of the nineteenth century.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 384 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
- Publication Date: 29/04/1999
- Category: Literary studies: c 1800 to c 1900
- ISBN: 9780140446319
Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.
Review by anna_in_pdx
When I was in college, majoring in Spanish literature, I had to read several works and poems that used a style I’d call “fierce satire.” They were, not to put too fine a point on it, mean. There were two Spanish poets who would write insulting sonnets back and forth to each other – Hilarious, but very dense in references, and so unkind that after reading them I had a bad taste in my mouth.This book is a happy, gentle satire. It was really a flash of brilliance on Hoffman’s part to use a tomcat to parody a self-satisfied person of his time, who follows trends in society and believes he is a setter of them. All cat lovers will tell you that he picked the perfect animal to represent self-satisfaction. The Kreisler story, or rather the discarded draft of the Kreisler story upon which Murr has written his autobiography, shows a very different character, one who actually has artistic genius and true depths of feeling, but who is paradoxically much less in control of his life than Murr, while being much more self-aware. The funny fake court in which the story takes place is the closest Hoffman comes to being fierce as he mocks all that must have been wrong with German aristocracy at the time. The book is intensely psychological and in this sense it seems way ahead of its time. Even with its humorous and satirical narration, I had a sense of understanding and empathy for “bad” characters such as Mme. Benzon that I would not have gotten from other books of the period. Mostly, the backstories for these characters are hinted, and not fleshed out, which makes the book really fun. I have found that the more I read the less I want the narrator filling in blanks for me. This is not to say that I liked the ambivalent ending. I want a sequel. Collette wrote a short story about a cat in which the cat supposedly was about to die, and she resurrected her at the very end, so that could be done again. Hint hint. Where is a modern Hoffman to carry on this tremendously funny fairy tale? A weary nation of book and cat lovers waits for you.
Review by solla
This was a very entertaining book. At first reading it left me feeling a bit nostalgic, because to me there was something old fashioned feeling about it, especially the part of the book which dealt with Kreisler, the musician, rather than Murr, the cat (I'll explain later). There was also something very modern about the way Hoffman is subtly poking fun at the world by looking at it from the persona of a cat. Perhaps the nostalgia part had to do with how long it has been since I read anything from the 19th century. I used to read a lot of Doestoevsky, one of my favorite authors. Now that I think about it, I believe it is the essential earnestness or sense of belief in it that reminds me of someone like Doestoevsky, even though they are very different types of writers. Hoffman pokes fun at the world, but he doesn't distance himself from it, and he has not lost faith with the world or with art (in the generic sense, art, music, etc), I think. And, in Doestoevsky, especially in the Brothers Karamotsov, or the Idiot, there is still belief, an innocence almost (although not an ignorant innocence).So, back to Tomcat Murr. The cat was supposed to have written his book on what he saw as waste paper while he was staying with the artist Kreisler - his master being away for a time. So, there are really three points of view in the book. There is the cat, Murr, who writes in the first person. There is the anonymous biographer of Kreisler who sometimes seems to be writing from his own point of view and sometimes from that of the musician, Kreisler, and sometimes in more of an omniscient third person point of view. I identify this person with Master Abraham who is the owner of the cat and also the friend of Kreiser, and has his own independent drama, so this thread of him seems to run through everything. However, I could be wrong in thinking the anonymous biographer is Master Abraham.The cat sections of the book seem pretty straightforward, an account of his sensations, accomplishments, and adventures. Murr begins, blatantly boastful, telling of his early life and how his genius reveals itself. He begins with his earliest sensations, not because they are anything special, but just because it is the early sensations of a genius, and he thinks some other budding genius might identify with it. He goes on to tell about how he learned to read, and then managed to write. He mentions several of his own works in the course of the book. Murr never questions his genius, or that genius is a good thing. Of course, we see him boasting about things that are not really so extraordinary (at least not for humans), and are able to draw parallels between him and others who also inflate their accomplishments. The Kreisler section, on the other hand, is disjointed in presentation, and moves in point of view from person to person. It doesn't always begin again at the point where it breaks off, although, it does seem to be mostly in chronological order, except for the first bit where it breaks in with what we later learn, is chronologically towards the end. It is Master Abraham telling his friend, Kreiser, about a birthday celebration that Kreisler has missed that included Master Abrahams machinations and magic. The celebration happened at the court of the prince, which is the center of drama and intrigue throughout the Kreiser sections of the book, even when Kreisler is not there. At the court is Julia, a friend of the prince's daughter, with whom Kreisler seems to be falling in love. Besides the intrigue, there is also a heightened emotional sensitivity in Kreisler and some other characters in the court. This sensitivity is related both to madness and to genius. Unlike Murr, Kreisler doesn't refer to himself as a genius, instead he and his music are described by others, and often the others are, at the same time, cautioning him not to let himself be too overtaken by his strange dreams and emotions.But even though the styles of the two sections are so different, there are parallels throughout. For instance, Murr is found by his mother, and she warns him not to let his master know of his abilities because she is afraid he may be exploited for them. And Kreisler is at the court of the prince because he walked out on a position where he was supposed to be allowed to compose, but was asked to subvert his work in order to be of service to dilletants.In the midst of all this interaction, I have the feeling that Master Abraham somehow holds the strings to everything, just as he planned the fireworks and disembodied voices at the party. To the cat he is a well respected man, who has saved him, and who trained him to curb his impulses. For Kreisler, he provides the means to thrwart the bad intentions of the evil Prince Hector towards his beloved Julia. But in the end, Master Abraham is not just the puppeteer who manipulates and creates, but is also lost in the center of his own drama. Even more interesting.
Review by PekoeTheCat
This book was a delight, for no sooner had I started to read the first entry by the delightful Tomcat Murr than I realized that I had stumbled upon my soulmate, my doppergonger, so to speak, or as close to one as male and female can become. Why, I too love the race across rooftops under the wide and starry sky, have a heart that stirs at the very thought of the warmth of pigeons, and took to seeing as if I had never been a blind little kitten. And the memories this chapter brought back of my kittenhood. I was a skittish kitten and my mistress went to great lengths to show me I had nothing to fear from her. How she petted and love me, and played this delightful game with a stuffed fish tied to a stick with a piece of yarn which she twirled so I could run and bat it about.I too had to learn to curb my impulses, though my mistress only resorted to a water bottle for my lessons. Alas, there was one couch that was sacrificed to my education. But it had a rough texture which just called out to my claws, and the new red one is so much prettier anyway. I read with interest the struggles that Murr went through to learn to read. Technology has advanced so much that I needed only to snuggle in the lap of my mistress while she brought up pages of material. Of course my dexterous paws took to the keyboard easily. How much simpler it might have been for Murr could he have made use of the Gutenberg Audio Books Project as I did, listening to the spoken text as I read along. Perhaps he could have soared to even greater heights, were that possible.How moving was the reunion of Murr with his mother after their cruel separation. How my breast filled with emotion at his fine impulse to share his fish with her. How tragic the instinct that overwhelmed and shamed him. To read of such experiences is to be reminded of the depths of our common cat nature.But there is yet more to evoke the communion of felines, for any cat who has ever loved will be charmed by the youthful affection of Murr and Ponto. One can't help but be drawn into the turmoil and confusion of his adolescence or the triumph and heartbreak he experienced in love.Finally, I was so moved by how Murr, this learned poet and philosopher, was yet able to be that simple, honest Tomcat who communed with his fellows under the moon and filled the night with song. And how he mourned in common with them over the untimely death of the good cat, Muzius.Have you picked up the subtext of this review, the emotion that spills out from my heart despite my best efforts to contain it. Yes, life is sometimes so difficult in this modern world for a single female like myself, who struggles to maintain the faith that she will, one day, find a mate worthy of herself, a match for her intelligence and passion. And then to read such a work, about such a cat. To find him in a book nearly two centuries old, how cruel this truth, how can I not but mourn, "Alas, all the best ones are already dead."
Review by StevenTX
This is a delightful and inventive novel combining the literary inventiveness of Tristam Shandy with the social commentary of The Marriage of Figaro. It is a dual narrative, being the memoirs of the Tomcat Murr accidentally intermingled by the printer with fragments of a "biography" of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler. The author parodies the aristocracy, academia, and the stuffiness of authority in general. Both narrative lines are saturated with direct and indirect references to the works of Shakespeare, Rabelais, Rousseau, and many other authors less well-known today. If you like Sterne and Diderot, then Tomcat Murr will probably appeal to you.
Review by MeditationesMartini
1. Upon finishing this book I find that librarything user TomcatMurr, previously envisioned by me as a genial eccentric, erudite herring-lover, and key member of Le Salon Litteraire du Peuple pour le Peuple (currently leading a reading of <i>The Brothers Karamazov</i>; check it!), but under all circumstances as all human and expressing his love for Hoffmann in the traditional way with an internet handle, has been reworked and refurbished in my mind and has become, unequivocally, a mansized tomcat who types with his paws. <i>This book literally turned a man into a cat</i>.2. I really am torn on the ending. It rolls along at this leisurely, Danubian pace, and you chuckle and take it slow, and then <i>things</i> start happening and you get involved in the story and the coming and goings of not one but several mysterious somebodies and it starts to seem less novel-of-ideas and more action-packed, almost in the mould of Dickens or Hugo in some ways (except! talking cat!), and then it's over. Books that were never finished can be so upsetting, in particular when they're great. But then you realize that Hoffmann stopped writing because his cat Murr died, so how could he possibly have any more adventures? And that is adorable and worth a lot of forgives.3. And while the adventures are great and all, sometimes Gulliverian, and you really like that making Murr all smart just means he gets into twice as many feline scrapes, they're not the best part--the best part is the encounters, the character scenes. Everybody has an agenda in this book and nobody is what they seem, and good guys and bad guys are very much shifting and relative. The first scene with Hedwiga and Julia, living their idyll and just <i>asking</i> for intrigue to drop into their lives; the tete-a-tete between Prince Irenaeus and Madame Benzon where we start to get a sense of just how deep the hidden story goes; Kreisler's intense confrontation toward the end with the monk Cyprian, and Murr's roughly contemporaneous duel with that tomcat that stole his woman--all crisp and ready, but I think my favourite scene of all might be the eulogy for Murr's friend Muzius, where that lazy cat Hinzmann gets up and gives a desultory, yawning, ever so self-satisfied little arch-and-shake of a eulogy, and Murr is all exercised for his friend but then deep down knows he wouldn't have been any less self-satisfied, and then eats a bunch of fish and falls in love with his daughter. Cats! You know Hinzmann thinks of himself as a magnificent and regal figure too.4. The intro tries to sell us Hoffmann as the missing like between Cervantes and Rabelais on the one hand and the magic realists on the other, and while I see what it's getting at I think Hoffman's magic touch is a lot lighter, and that's to the book's benefit. I love when everything goes along, and you know it's not magic central up in this piece so you have to engage with the characters on a human level--if you're going to go into transports of ecstasy or inertnesses of catharsis from <i>Tomcat Murr</i>, it's going to be because of Kreisler's Romantic light, the strangeness and the magnetism of him--almost schizophrenic-seeming at moments, but in such an appealing way (and no wonder, since he was based on the author); or it's gonna be from watching Ponto the poodle glide through life like a thug, a snoop doggy dogg who wouldn't melt ice cream if he was licking it up off the street; or it's gonna be from the slow realization that Prince Irenaeus is mendacious enough to qualify as very likely the villain of the piece (we'll never know!) and Master Abraham as our Settembrini, our puppetmaster-on-the-side-of-good, whom we love but don't trust. What I'm trying to say with all of that, though, is that you're not in the right frame of mind if you're coming to this looking for Gargantua or heads full of perfume (maybe Cervantes works, or something on the realism side of magic r.--<i>The Baron in the Trees</i>, say). You're not going to put this book down thinking "that was awesome when the dragon vampire turned out to be a feyborn dragon vampire demilich!" And so when the magic starts happening slowly, subterranean and then tendrilly and like they're setting up for a production of <i>A Midsummer Night's Dream</i> with DVD commentary by Shelley and Goethe and score by Ludwig van, you get excited and a slow and real way that feels so nice, the way Christmas feels better than Talk Like a Pirate Dragon Demilich Day. And then it ends! Sans, or pre-climax. You know it woulda been so good, Who were ALL THOSE mystery figures? What machinations lay still in store? How would Murr have ultimately ruined/saved the day? That darn cat.5. And but so even if I do feel the mineral tang of disappointment and pique at the lack of a conclusion (evidently, since I can't stop talking about it), I still have to acknowledge that more often than not this book out-Tristrams Shandy (TALKING CAT) and out-Pusses Boots. Next time I read it it's with a jar of soused herring by my side.