The Rider on the White Horse

By THEODOR STORM

Compositionally speaking, if a structural principle can be inferred from the eight stories that make up The Rider on the White Horse — a selection of writings by the German author Theodor Storm (1817–88) — it might well be this: Make it Old. Storm was an adept of the Novelle genre, in which the focus of a story inclined toward inspecting the ramifications of an event, whether it be an aborted love affair or, as in the case of the titular story, one man’s effort to oversee a village dam. In practice, the stories in this collection — with the exception of “A Green Leaf” and “Veronika” — build less toward epiphanous moments than toward moments of refracted quietude where a sigh is more likely to be educed from the reader than an exclamation. Resignation is the dominant note tolled throughout these stories, which are often steeped in the passage of time; as such, observations like these burgeon: “er childhood existed in a place far beyond the birth of all the others”; “It was an old volume?its leaves were yellow and coarse”; “We had hearts as true as yours?how can you young people know how it was then?” For those who find themselves at odds with our youth-obsessed zeitgeist, there is succor to be found in these rebelliously old-fashioned stories, which contain beautiful high points such as this, which comes from “Immensee”: “The moon no longer shown through the window; the full darkness had come; but the old man still sat, hands folded, in his easy chair, and gazed into the desolation of the room? Then he pushed his chair up to the table, opened a book, and buried himself in those studies to which he had once given all the best powers of his young manhood.”