Caroline’s Review of Des Amtmanns Tochter von Lüde:
Eine Wertheriade für Aeltern, Jünglinge und Mädchen
Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1797) 334 (Friday, 20 October 1797) 175–76
Bremen: Wilmans. Des Amtmanns Tochter von Lüde: Eine Wertheriade für Aeltern, Jünglinge und Mädchen [by Johann Gottfried Hoche]. 1797. 272 pages. 8vo. With a title engraving. (1 Rthlr. 4 gr.).
Only from the aesthetic perspective can we deal with the content and execution of this extremely sad and, unfortunately, probable story, one allegedly based on a real event. For although the author initially maintains that his is solely a moral purpose, one nonetheless senses the effort put into elevating and embellishing it through art.
One might even adduce the title itself as an example of the extent to which he succeeds. The initial part [“The Magistrate’s Daughter in Lüde”] is quite simple, and yet seems, perhaps through its similarity with the title [of Gottfried August Bürger’s] “The Pastor’s Daughter in Taubenheim” , simultaneously to contain a emotional intimation. By contrast, the addition [“A Wertheriade for Parents, Youths, and Young girls”] seems superfluous and tasteless.
In the book itself, the initial appearance of the unfortunate daughter, several details of her current circumstances and confused emotional state, and the father’s entire narrative thus seem quite commensurate with the subject matter. But then the interspersed declamations, prayers, and moral applications; the excessive lingering with the character of Eduard, who really should have narrated in first person, since he is to be, as it were, the organ through which the reader learns of these unfortunate episodes; the excessive accumulation of natural description that provide a complete topography of the area around Ellrich [on the southern edge of the Harz Mountains] — these are all tiresome and irksome ingredients that weaken the impression of the whole.
Considering also that had the tenor of portrayal been kept simpler and more straightforward to allow the story to speak more movingly for itself, the admixture of adverse elements accompanying this impression admittedly still would have evoked a reality that cannot possibly abide with an aesthetic form. To wit, we are led all too deeply into the realm of human misery; this has nothing to do with the struggle of passion and nature against circumstance out of which, to use the author’s own expression, there emerges “what the world calls vice.”
The following is instead the case. A father of two maturing daughters secures for them a tutor because he himself can think of nothing else to do for their education in his restricted rural circumstances. Both girls fall in love with the young man, who gives in to their inclinations and deceives and seduces them both. The youngest plunges into a river, ending thus both her own and another creature’s existence.
[A common topos during the time; illustration from Penelope: Taschenbuch für das Jahr 1815 der Häuslichkeit und Eintracht gewidmete; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung]
The unfortunate young man shoots himself to death in the presence of her sister. The mother dies of fright and grief. The father departs with his remaining daughter and arrives in the area where Eduard meets him. And finally, after the girl gives birth, she is buried alongside her infant. —
The parents’ blindness, and especially the utterly contemptible weakness of the seducer — phenomena one doubtless encounters all too often in human nature — fill the reader with seething indignation, indignation, however, that is directed not at all toward individuals or even fate and as such devours any gentler emotional reaction. The disaster here emerges neither from passion nor even from thoughtlessness. The seducer is guided not by his heart, but rather by the limpest sensuality. One can neither feel sorry for him nor take any emotional interest in him; one can only despise him. Hence as a fictional character he can only be rejected, and since the fate of all the others is initiated by him, his pernicious influence infects everyone. [Frontispiece.]
We sincerely hope that what the novel lacks, morality will provide, and that parents, youths, and young girls will embrace this warning.