Repressive Politics and Satire in E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Fairy-tales, “Little Zaches Acclaimed as Zinnober” and “Master Flea”

Val Scullion, Marion Treby


This article sets two of Hoffmann’s satiric fairy-tales, “Little Zaches acclaimed as Zinnober” (1819) and “Master Flea” (1822), in their socio-political context of post-Napoleonic Europe. It identifies them as political allegories through which Hoffmann comments on the instability of western European politics in the early nineteenth century. We demonstrate how Hoffmann’s position as a Prussian state judge informed his propensity for satirical observation couched in the genre of fairy-tale and variations thereof. We explore his scrutiny of hypocrisy, pride and nepotism, together with his particular focus on received ideas, such as Enlightenment rationalist principles. Concomitantly, we examine how he reworks familiar fairy-tale motifs in order to expose the effects of political repression. We compare the lampoon of his contemporary, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (founder of the Open Air Gymnasium Movement) in “Little Zaches”, with his satirization of Privy Councillor von Kamptz (Director of Prussian Military Police) as Councillor Knarrpanti in “Master Flea”, the first fairy-tale causing wry amusement, but the second leading to a high profile libel case. We align with Zipes’s argument that Hoffmann’s fairy-tales demonstrate connections between history, politics and the fairy-tale, and we show how Hoffmann’s revisioning of fairy-tale motifs mediates political satire. We extend Zipes by emphasizing Hoffmann’s use of the increasingly popular Oriental, and especially Arabian, tale. This article concludes that Hoffmann contributed significantly to the critical acclaim of the satiric fairy-tale, and that his loss of literary judgement in “Master Flea” accounts for the legal consequences which he suffered.

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Journal of Politics and Law ISSN 1913-9047 (Print) ISSN 1913-9055 (Online)  Email:

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