Peter Schlemihl Background

Peter Schlemihl Background

Adelbert von Chamisso is a German writer born on January 30, 1781 in Ante, Champagne. As a child, his family was forced to migrate to Berlin as a consequence of the French Revolution. In his new home, Chamisso found a passion for the sciences, devouring the wealth of information in textbooks and articles. He took up botany during his university years and became involved in research post-graduation. While he was primarily a scientist, he also possessed a love for literature, and he often wrote prose when he found the time. The bits and pieces he wrote in his free time led to the publication of his first novel entitled Peter Schlemihl in 1814.

Peter Schlemihl tells the story of the titular character, a man who sells his shadow to the Devil in exchange for an endless amount of riches. Allured by the prospect of unlimited money, Peter makes the deal, only to find out that he is ostracized by the rest of society for his lack of a shadow. Peter must learn to cope with his decision and come to terms with his permanent solidarity.

Upon its publication, Peter Schlemihl garnered positive feedback from critics and audiences for its unique depiction of human greed. Publishers Weekly describes it as a “delicate blend of comedy and tragedy, with symbolism carefully tempered by exact observation.” Chamisso's acclaimed novel is still studied and discussed in classrooms to this day.

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