This period with its “propensity of lyricism” (Gish 1964:

This
passage is a central extract from Joseph von Eichendorff’s Das Marmorbild, a novella published in 1819, at the
height of the German Spätromantik period. The tale can be
interpreted as a Bildungsroman in
which the young and noble protagonist, Florio, undergoes significant
self-development in his journey across Italy. This passage encompasses the masked
ball scene during which Florio is reunited with Bianka, ‘das schöne
Mädchen mit dem Blumenkranze’
(p14) from the celebratory feast on arrival in Lucca, but, incidentally, when
he encounters her double, who we later recognise as the temptress figure of Venus.
By adopting a thematic approach, this commentary will relate this passage as
well as the wider novella to the context of the literary epoch during which
Eichendorff was writing. It will also explore the novelist’s reconfigurations
of the two sexes and the extent to which he diverts from the gender conventions
of the early nineteenth century.

Eichendorff’s
depiction of Florio in this passage closely aligns the protagonist with the
overwhelmingly sentimental mood of the late Romantic period which was in full
bloom in the German-speaking countries between 1815 and 1830. His description
of Florio as ‘geblendet’
or ‘dazzled’ (line 1) immediately establishes a sense of being in touch with
his emotions, whilst this very poetic adjective echoes the tone of the Spätromantik period with its “propensity
of lyricism” (Gish 1964: 225) as increasing literacy and a newfound love for
literature, especially poetry, resulted in a much more extensive German
readership. Eichendorff crafts Florio as the Romantic Hero figure in Das Marmorbild by imbuing both language
and imagery with an undertone of wonder; as the extract progresses, Florio is
transported on a metaphorical ‘Meer von Lust’ (10), whereby his emotional
mindset intensifies from being ‘geblendet’ to ‘verwundert’ (8), then finally ‘curious’
– ‘neugierig’ (20) –
and determined to find his ‘niedliche Griechin’
(20) once again. Perhaps a sort of microcosm for his wider quest for discovery
in this Bildungsroman, the masked
ball scene within the wider plotline illustrates not only Florio’s introspective
nature, but also his ambition to discover his beloved among the bustling ‘rauschende
Menge’ (8). This determination
is closely linked to the blaue
Blume motif, a
prominent Romantic symbol associated with seeking the unattainable and
fulfilling one’s desires. Enchanted by the sight of Bianka, the ‘zierliches
Mädchen’ (2) and later
struck by the illusion of her double in line 28, Eichendorff refers to Florio
as ‘den Gedankenvollen’
(12), denoting him as an incarnation of his intense thoughts and emotions. Likewise,
the blaue
Blume motif is
prominent in line eight when we discover that ‘was er
heimlich gehofft, fand er nirgends’,
whilst the adverb ‘heimlich’ conveys the Romantic principle of Sehnsucht,
a ‘hidden’ inner yearning. A clear reflection of the ‘Blue Flower’ ideology,
Florio’s longing for the unattainable becomes clear as it is a fantastic figure
associated with an antique paradise, the ‘Griechin’ (20), that he seeks. Eichendorff
uses figurative language and rich natural imagery in the final paragraph of
this extract to describe how Florio desires more than an ordinary person; for
him, the idealised vision of Bianka-Venus is a ‘star’ among the ‘clouds’: ‘wie
ein heiteres Gestirn zwischen dem leichten, fliegenden Gewölk’ (31-32). If this
love is instead ‘a preoccupation with self’ (Radner 1970: 225) the intangible
nature and height of this constellation (‘heiteres Gestirn’) reiterates that it
is out of reach and thus unattainable, problematising Florio’s quest to find
his true identity, the overarching aim of the German Bildungsroman.

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Through
the emasculation of the young protagonist Florio, this passage within the wider
novel destabilises the authoritative male archetype epitomised by the
nineteenth century’s patriarchal sphere, frequently epitomised by the Hausvater figure in literature.
Eichendorff emphasises the emotional nature of his Romantic Hero, describing
him as not just sentimental, but indeed disillusioned by the intensity of his
feelings. An earlier suggestion of Florio as an effeminate character is rooted in
the simile ‘ritt wie ein träumendes Mädchen’ (page 12) prior to this passage,
whereby the adjective ‘dreaming’ – ‘träumend’ – a usually feminine quality, puts
his masculinity into question. This becomes clear in line 17 when we discover
that desires and passions are said to have ‘contaminated’ him: ‘so
hatte die allgemeine Lust auch Florio gar bald angesteckt’ (17-18). This is perhaps
Eichendorff critiquing man’s inability to perceive such intense emotion in this
era, or instead a potential critique of the Bildungsroman
which promotes a ‘state of awakening and openness to the world’ that, in Das Marmorbild, is ultimately threatening
as it ‘…brings with it the dangers of Venus’ (McGlashan 1959: 181). This
novella may therefore be interpreted as one which challenges Florio’s masculinity,
particularly in light of Radner’s criticism, which likens him to a female by implying
that Florio and Venus ‘are one’ (Radner 1970: 235). This idea is reflected in
the opening line of the extract when we read that Florio is very much ‘like a
charming image himself’, an inanimate, mirror image of Venus: ‘selber
wie ein anmutiges Bild’
(1). The doubling and dehumanisation here can be seen to further problematise
Eichendorff’s representation of Florio’s selfhood, coinciding with Webber’s
view that ‘the mise-en-abyme of emblematic figures… serves to cast the sign of
identity into abysmal or groundless nonentity’ (Webber 1996: 6). A Bildungsroman typically involves the
crisis of a youth, which leads to the eventual discovery of their identity; In Das Marmorbild, Florio’s identity crisis
takes place when he succumbs to the temptation of Venus, and resolve can only
be found by turning towards Christianity, embodied by the good-natured muse
Fortunato and the chaste Bianka.  Thus, if
he is indeed ‘a ‘Bild’, an image among images’ (Radner 1970: 238) as Eichendorff’s
mise-en-abyme technique successfully constructs, Florio stands for an
embodiment of impossibility. Venus is an illusion, a figment of his imagination,
yet also a reflection of the perfection he desires all at once; Eichendorff
therefore uses the figure of Venus in this extract to diminish not only the
protagonist’s masculinity, but crucially, to define his own identity.