Nightwatches  

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First sentence: "Die Nachtstunde schlug. Ich hüllte mich in meine abenteuerliche Vermummung, nahm Puke und Horn zu Hand und schützte mich durch ein Kreuz gegen die bösen Geister geschützt hatte."

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Nachtwachen (English Nightwatches), which appeared late in 1804 bearing the publication date 1805) is a novel published under the pseudonym Bonaventura generally attributed to Ernst August Friedrich Klingemann. The novel presents a harsh indictment of social corruption, of lost values, and of illusory literature. The novel is an example of the German Bildungsroman. For generations scholars have ascribed the text to one of his contemporaries Jean Paul, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Clemens Brentano, F.W.J. Schelling or less Karl Friedrich Gottlob Wetzel.

From the publisher of the Gerald Gillespie translation:

a dark, twisted, and comic novel, one part Poe and one part Beckett. The narrator and anti-hero is not Bonaventura, but a night watchman named Kreuzgang, a failed poet, actor, and puppeteer who claims to be the spawn of the devil himself. As a night watchman, Kreuzgang takes voyeuristic pleasure in spying on the follies of his fellow citizens, and every night he makes his rounds and stops to peer into a window or door, where he observes framed scenes of murder, despair, theft, romance, and other private activities. In his responses, Kreuzgang is cynical and pessimistic, yet not without humor. For him, life is a grotesque, macabre, and base joke played by a mechanical and heartless force. ... Organized into sixteen separate night watches, the sordid scenes glimpsed through parted curtains, framed by door chinks, and lit by candles and shadows anticipate the cinematic. A cross between the gothic and romantic, The Nightwatches of Bonaventura is brilliant in its perverse intensity, presenting an inventory of human despair and disgust through the eyes of a bitter, sardonic watcher who draws laughter from tragedy.

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