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Plot summary[edit]

The action takes place in Paris during the reign of King Louis XIV of France. The city
is under siege by what is presumed to be an organized band of thieves whose
members rob citizens of costly jewelry in their homes or on the street. Some of the
street victims are simply rendered unconscious by a blow to the head, but most are
killed instantly by a deliberate dagger thrust to the heart. The murder victims are
mostly wealthy lovers who are on their way to meet their mistresses with gifts of
fine jewelry.
These are not the only terrible crimes plaguing Paris (a series of bizarre
poisonings is described in detail), and to combat them the King establishes a special
court, the Chambre ardente, whose sole purpose is to investigate them and punish
their perpetrators. The president of the Chambre, La Rgnie (probably based
on Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie), however, is consistently thwarted in his attempts
to stop the evildoing, and in his blind zeal and frustration he is seduced to commit
acts of terror and brutality. Because of his failures and cruelty, he quickly earns the
hatred of those he was appointed to protect.
In a poem exalting the King, the lovers of Paris exhort him to do something for their
safety. Mademoiselle de Scudri (the historical Madeleine de Scudry), who is
present when this appeal is presented, counters jokingly with the following verse:
Un amant, qui craint les voleurs,
N'est point digne d'amour.
[A lover who is afraid of thieves
Is not worthy of love.]
The elderly de Scudri is a well-known poetess who lives in a modest house in Paris
on the rue Saint Honor by the grace of King Louis and his lover, the Marquise de
Maintenon (the historical Franoise d'Aubign, Marquise de Maintenon). One night, a
young man bangs on the door of de Scudri's house and pleads urgently with her
maid to be granted entrance. The maid finally lets him in but denies him access to
her mistress, whose life she fears is in danger. The young man eventually flees at
the sound of the approach of the mounted police, but leaves behind, a small jewelry
box, which he begs the maid to deliver to the Mademoiselle. The next morning, de
Scudri opens the box and finds exquisite jewelry and a note in which the band of
jewel thieves thanks her for her support in the form of the verse quoted above.
Mademoiselle de Scudri is distraught by the contents of the jewelry box and seeks
the advice of her friend de Maintenon. The Marquise immediately recognizes the
jewelry as the work of the goldsmith Ren Cardillac. Cardillac is known not only in
Paris but around the world as the best artist in his field. He is also famous, however,
for a strange attribute: he creates the most beautiful pieces of jewelry but then

does not want to part with them. Only after much delay does he finally deliver a
piece to the customer who commissioned it, and then only under (sometimes
violent) protest.
Several months later, Mademoiselle de Scudri is riding in a glass coach over
the Pont Neuf when a young man forces his way through the crowd and throws a
letter into the coach. The letter adjures the Mademoiselle to find whatever pretense
necessary but to return the jewelry to Cardillac at once. If she does not, the letter
warns, her life is in danger. She is overcome by feelings that she is surrounded by
"strange events and dark mysteries" but decides to heed the letter writer's appeal.

Pont Neuf
Two days later, she travels to the goldsmith's house, only to arrive just as his corpse
is being carried away. Cardillac has been murdered, and Olivier Brusson, Cardillac's
assistant, has been arrested for the crime. Cardillac's daughter Madelon, who is
betrothed to Olivier, protests his innocence. Because of Madelon's suffering and
utter despair, Mademoiselle de Scudri takes pity on her and takes her to her house
to look after her.
Touched by and believing Madelon's avowals of Olivier's innocence, the
Mademoiselle tries to intercede on his behalf with La Rgnie. He receives her
graciously but is unmoved and presents her with circumstantial evidence that in his
view proves that Olivier is the murderer. The Mademoiselle hears the evidence but
cannot convince herself of the young man's guilt. La Rgnie grants her permission
to speak with Olivier, but when she meets him in prison she recognizes the young
man who had thrown the warning letter into her coach and falls to the ground
unconscious. She now is uncertain of Olivier's innocence and is torn inwardly. She
curses the destiny that had made her believe in truth and virtue but now has
destroyed the beautiful image she had made for her life.

In the hope that Olivier will confess, Desgrais, de Scudri's friend and an officer in
the mounted police, offers to arrange for a meeting with Olivier in her house. The
mademoiselle is filled with foreboding but nevertheless decides to obey the higher
powers that had marked her for the solution of some terrible mystery. Olivier is
brought to her house, and while guards wait outside he falls on his knees and tells
her his story:
Olivier tells the mademoiselle that he is the son of the impoverished young woman,
Anne, whom de Scudri had lovingly raised as her own daughter and from whom
she has not heard since she married an industrious and skilled young watchmaker
who took her and Olivier to Geneva to seek their fortune. Because of the jealousy of
others in his profession, Olivier relates, his father was not able to establish himself
in Geneva, and both he and his wife later died there in poverty. Olivier, who had
apprenticed himself to a goldsmith, eventually became so skilled in his profession
that he was hired as an assistant by Ren Cardillac in Paris.
All went well, Olivier tells the Mademoiselle, until Cardillac threw him out of the
house because he and Cardillac's daughter, Madelon, had fallen in love. In his
desperation and longing, Olivier went one night to Cardillac's house in the hope of
catching a glimpse of his beloved. Instead, he saw Cardillac slip out of the house
through a secret entrance and not far away attack and kill a man by thrusting a
dagger into his heart. Cardillac, who knows that Olivier has seen the murder, invites
him to return to his workshop and offers him his daughter in marriage. Olivier's
silence had been bought, he confesses to de Scudri, but he relates how from then
on he lived with intense pangs of guilt.
One evening, Olivier tells de Scudri, Cardillac told Olivier his own story. (The plot
here becomes a story within a story within a story.) Cardillac tells Olivier how an
experience involving a sumptuous diamond necklace (the necklace was worn by a
Spanish actor with whom she later had an adulterous affair) that his mother had
while she was pregnant with him had marked him for life with a love of fine jewelry.
This love caused him to steal jewelry as a child and later led him to become a
goldsmith. An "inborn drive," Cardillac told Olivier, forced him to create his
renowned works but led him also again and again to take them back from his
customers in thefts that often involved murder. Olivier tells de Scudri that Cardillac
stored the retrieved pieces, which were labeled with the names of their rightful
owners, in a secret, locked chamber in his house.
Eventually, Olivier informs the mademoiselle, Cardillac decided to give
Mademoiselle de Scudri some of his best work in thanks for the verse that she had
quoted to the King in response to the appeal from the threatened lovers. He asked
Olivier to present the gift, and Olivier saw in the request a chance to re-establish
contact with the woman who had loved and cared for him when he was a child and
to reveal to her his unfortunate situation. He was able to deliver the jewel box but
was not able to meet with the Mademoiselle.

Some time later, Cardillac again was overcome by his evil star, and it is clear to
Olivier that he wanted to retrieve by force the jewelry that he had given to the
Mademoiselle. To prevent this, Olivier relates, he threw the letter into de Scudri's
coach, imploring her to return the jewelry as soon as possible. Two days later,
because he was afraid that his master was about to attack Mademoiselle de
Scudri, Olivier secretly followed him when he left the house under cover of
darkness. Instead of the mademoiselle, Cardillac attacked an officer, who stabbed
Cardillac with his dagger and then fled. Olivier brought Cardillac and the murder
weapon back to his house, where the master died of his injuries. Olivier was
arrested and charged with the murder. His intention, he states, is to die for the
murder if he must in order to spare his beloved Madelon the sorrow of learning the
truth about her father. With this, Olivier ends his story and is returned to prison.
Because he continues to refuse to confess, an order for his torture is issued.
Mademoiselle de Scudri makes a number of attempts to save Olivier, including
writing a letter to La Rgnie, but she is unsuccessful. She even wants to plead his
case before the King himself, but a famous lawyer by the name of d'Andilly, whom
she has consulted, convinces her that at this stage in his case this would not be in
the young man's best interest.
Unexpectedly, an officer in the King's Guard by the name of Miossens visits her and
reveals that he is the person who, in self-defense, stabbed and killed Cardillac. The
astonished Mademoiselle says to him "And you have said nothing? You have not
made a statement to the authorities regarding what happened?" Miossens defends
himself by stating "Allow me to remark that such a statement, even if it did not
cause my ruin, would at least involve me in a most loathsome trial. Would La
Rgnie, who scents crime everywhere, immediately believe me if I accused the
honest Cardillac, the very embodiment of complete piety and virtue, of attempted
murderer?" Miossens refuses to consider Olivier innocent, accusing him instead of
being Cardillac's accomplice.
Under a pledge of secrecy, Miossens repeats his testimony to d'Andilly, and with this
information the lawyer is able to have Olivier's torture postponed. Subsequently, de
Scudri is successful in getting the King to review the case once again. After a
month of uncertainty, he reveals to the Mademoiselle that Olivier has been freed,
that he will be allowed to marry his beloved Madelon, and that he will receive 1,000
louis d'or as a dowery under the condition that they leave Paris. Olivier and Madelon
move to Geneva, where they live happily. The jewelry stolen by Cardillac is returned
to the rightful owners who still are living. The rest becomes the property of
the Church of St. Eustace.
Origins[edit]
Hoffmann got the idea for his tale from the seventh chapter of Wagenseil's chronicle
of the city of Nuremberg titled Johann Christof Wagenseil's Book on the Gracious Art

of the Meistersingers [Johann Christof Wagenseils Buch von der Meister-Singer


Holdseligen Kunst]. This report attributes to Mademoiselle de Scudri the two-line
stanza quoted above:
A lover who is afraid of thieves
Is not worthy of love.
Using Wagenseil's brief account as a starting point, Hoffmann did extensive
research to ensure that his depictions of Paris at the time of Louis XIV would be
accurate in the minutest detail. A short letter from the author dated March 28,
1818, to a lending librarian in Berlin requests works that likely provided him with
historical material for his novella: Friedrich Lorenz Meyers's Letters from the Capital
and from within France under the Consular Government [Briefe aus der Hauptstadt
und dem Innern Frankreichs unter der Consular-Regierung] (Tbingen, 1802),
Eberhard August Wilhelm von Zimmermann's Paris as It Was and as It Is [Paris wie
es war und wie es ist] (Leipzig, 1805), and a translation of Voltaire's Times of Louis
XIV [Sicle de Louis XIV] (Dresden, 1778) (Feldges & Stadler, 1986, 158). It seems
certain also that Hoffmann also referred to Friedrich Schulzen's Of Paris and the
Parisians [ber Paris und die Pariser] (Berlin, 1791).
The realism created by Hoffmann's thorough descriptions of historical events,
persons, and places helps ensure the believability of the plot and the characters of
the story. With the exception of the Mademoiselle, the King, and the Marquise de
Maintenon, however, the characters of the novella appear to be Hoffmann's
inventions. It is possible that the Cardillac character was inspired by an
autobiographical account by the Italian goldsmith and sculptor Benvenuto Cellini,
where he writes of the cold-hearted way in which he contemplated and carried out
murders during his time in Paris:
"When certain decisions of the court were sent me by those lawyers, and I
perceived that my cause had been unjustly lost, I had recourse to a great dagger I
carried. [...] The first man I attacked was a plaintiff who had sued me; one evening I
wounded him [...] so severely that I deprived him of the use of both his legs."
Hoffmann knew of this account from Goethe's translation of Cellini's Vita (1558)
(Kaiser 1988, 76).
It is likely that Hoffmann drew on Chapter 1 of Wagenseil's chronicle for the
characteristics that he ascribes to the heroine of the title. Wagenseil reports that he
"had the honor of visiting Mademoiselle Magdalena de Scudery, a woman from a
most distinguished noble family and world famous for her virtue, great intelligence,
and multilingualism." Kent and Knight (1972, 173) write that
"Madeleine de Scudri (16071701) came to Paris in 1630 and became connected
with the salon of Mme. de Rambouillet (Catherine de Vivonne, marquise de
Rambouillet). Later she formed a literary circle of her own. [...] Highly artificial,

poorly constructed, flawed by pointless dialogue, her works were popular at the
court, primarily because of their anecdotes about public personages. They served
the parvenu well."

The historical Madeleine de Scudry


For his description of Olivier's legal proceedings, the jurist Hoffmann also drew on
his extensive knowledge of and experience with the law. A colleague wrote that
Hoffman's professional activities were without fault, but also commented that
"Only in a few areas of his criminal work could it ever be said that he allowed
himself to be led down a false path, e.g., in cases in which proof of guilt rested on
artificially intertwined pieces of evidence or on the assessment of dubious frames of
mind. In these areas he occasionally fell into constellations that reflected more his
ingenuity and fantasy than a process of calm deliberation. [...] His presentations of
the facts, however, were always impeccable and of a precision that cannot be
praised enough." (Schweizer ca. 1896, 231232).
Perhaps it was Hoffmann's tendency to lean towards the ingenious and fantastic,
even in his professional life, that allowed him to write the intriguing psychological
tale of crime that is Mademoiselle de Scudri.
Theatrical, operatic, and cinematic adaptations[edit]

1847 Otto Ludwig, author: Das Frulein von Scuderi, play in five acts

1911 Mario Caserini, director: Madmoiselle de Scudery, movie

1926 Paul Hindemith, composer: Cardillac, opera in three acts and four
scenes (libretto by Ferdinand Lion)

1950 Paul Martin, director: Die Tdlichen Trume, movie

1955 Eugen York, director: Das Frulein von Scuderi, movie

1969 Edgar Reitz, director: Cardillac, movie

1976 Lutz Bscher, director: Das Frulein von Scuderi, TV movie

Plot analysis[edit]
For many reasons, Mademoiselle de Scudri is considered one of Hoffmann's
greatest novellas, not the least of which is its splendid and exciting plot. From the
midnight knock on the door of the Mademoiselle's house at the beginning of the
story until the final resolution of the crimes and the exoneration of Olivier, the
reader is held in eerie suspense.
In his introduction to one of the earliest complete editions of Hoffmann's works,
Ellinger (1925, 3334) presents a cogent analysis of the plot of Mademoiselle de
Scudri:
"[Hoffmann's first goal was to remove] Wagenseil's report from the realm of the
anecdotal. The unusual step taken by the lovers of Paris to appeal directly to the
King for protection had to be motivated by an ominous supernatural force, i.e.,
something that lay completely outside the sphere of ordinary events. While
Hoffmann was engaged in this train of thought, the personage of Ren Cardillac
appeared to him. The powerful impression that this character creates can be
attributed, in part, to qualities that reflect basic elements of the author's soul:
firstly, Cardillac is the artist who can never satisfy himself; secondly, he is both
guilty and innocent, his fate having been sealed even before he was born by the
unholy demon that drives him from one crime to another. [...]
"Equal to the powerful impression made by the character Ren Cardillac is that
created by the compelling structure of Hoffmann's story. He has Cardillac appear
only once in living form; most of the novella takes place after his death. The plot is
carried forth by completely different characters, primarily the betrothed couple
Olivier and Madelon. The reader's involvement turns around the question of whether
Olivier will be successful in proving his innocence in Cardillac's murder. Even though
the author uses his story-telling ability to awaken the reader's interest in these
characters and that of Mademoiselle de Scudri, which now stand in the forefront,
the overall impression retained by the reader is determined for the most part by
[. . .] the shadow cast by the terrible personage and the cruel fate of Ren Cardillac.
It is precisely before this dark background that the purely human, endearing
qualities represented by Mademoiselle de Scudri and the young couple are made
to stand out."
Mademoiselle de Scudri is less dreamlike and surreal in its construction than most
of Hoffmann's other stories. The plot generally is carried forward by sharp, realistic
descriptions of people and events rather than by the seemingly irrational

occurrences generally associated with Hoffmann's writing in particular


and Romanticism in general. Against this realism, however, the relationship
between Olivier and Madelon seems stylized and idealistic. This aspect of the plot of
the story is certainly its most romantic in the sense of the 19th-century literary
movement. For Hoffmann (perhaps the arch romantic of German literature), it may
have been impossible to write about love in any other way.
Interpretations[edit]
As Kaiser (1988, 75) has pointed out,
"In its apparent simplicity, [Mademoiselle de Scudri] contradistinguishes itself from
those works in which Hoffmann himself was able to view the pinnacle of his
aesthetic achievement (The Golden Pot [Der goldne Topf] and Tomcat Murr [Kater
Murr], for example). Nevertheless, the various interpretations that the story has
inspiredas deserving of criticism as each may be in and of itselfhave shown
that, beneath the surface of a tightly organized text, the novella is truly a
multilayered work."
Some of these interpretations are reviewed below.
Mademoiselle de Scudri as crime fiction[edit]
The most frequently encountered interpretation of Hoffmann's novella holds that it
is an early example of crime fiction, perhaps the earliest in German
literature (Kaiser 1988, 7576). Crime fiction generally is divided into two main
categories: the detective story and the crime story. In the detective story, as
defined by The Oxford Companion to English Literature (Drabble 1985, 269), "a
crime (generally, though not necessarily, a murder) is committed [...]; the puzzle of
the criminal's identity is finally solved through a process of investigation,
observation, and deduction by an expert detective. In a crime story, the criminal's
identity is known from the start, and the interest lies in observing his psychology
and his attempts to escape justice [...]" .
Alewyn (1974, 353) argues that, with Mademoiselle de Scudri, Hoffmann created
not only the first German detective story but the first detective study in any
language (it appeared before Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841). He
writes that
"In this story we find, in addition to several subordinate motifs, the three elements
that constitute a detective novel: first, the murder, actually, a series of murders,
takes place at the beginning and is resolved at the end; second, there is the
innocent suspect and the unsuspected guilty party; and third, the detection, not by
the police but by an outsider, an elderly poetess."
Although on first reading Alwyn's thesis seems plausible, Conrad (1974, 109)
convincingly argues that it is weak. If Madmoiselle de Scudri is a detective, she is

an inept one. Her attempts at solving the mystery by deduction fail. It is not expert
detective work but the confession of Miossens that eventually reveals to the
authorities that it was Cardillac who committed the many murders and jewelry
thefts in Paris. de Scudri is helpful in freeing the innocent Olivier because of her
humanity, nobility of character, sympathy, and access to the king, not because of
an ability to investigate, reason, and draw conclusions from evidence.
A case can be made that Mademoiselle de Scudri is an example of crime fiction as
defined above, but this thesis also is weak (Segebrecht 2001, 1515). The story does
briefly deal with the psychology of the criminal (revealed in Olivier's back-story), but
Cardillac's pathology plays only a minor role in the plot. Furthermore, the criminal is
not known from the beginning. In fact, at least a third of the novella takes place
after his death. The reader's interest centers around the question of whether Olivier
will be exonerated and reunited with his fiance, not around whether the murderer
or murderers of so many Parisians will be discovered and brought to justice.
Sociopolitical interpretations[edit]
As Miossens's behavior clearly indicates, the Chambre ardente hinders rather than
facilitates the solving of the mysterious series of crimes that is plaguing Paris.
Indeed, La Rgnie and his henchmen spread as much terror among the citizenry as
does the criminal who strikes under the cover of night and leaves no trace of
himself. At first, the seemingly airtight case that the Chambre has built against
Olivier, which includes a suspicion of Madelon's complicity, convinces even
Mademoiselle de Scudri and the skeptical lawyer d'Andilly of the young man's guilt
in Cardillac's murder. As the reader knows, of course, the case is completely
groundless. It is only de Scudri's sensitivity and inner voice that lead her
eventually to believe once again in Olivier's innocence. The positive outcome of the
story results almost solely from her alliance and friendship with the King.
This aspect of Hoffmann's novella has been interpreted as a sharp critique of the
legal institutions of France during the reign of Louis XIV and, by extension, of the
reforms of the Prussian legal system of his own time (Ellis 1969, 349; Post 1976,
145; Reinert 1973, 46). These reforms (and their accompanying police practices)
had as their goal the abolition of the absolute right of the monarch to rule as he
sees fit in all legal matters. Before the reforms, the king stood completely above
and outside the law (Conrad 1974, 111). This interpretation sees Hoffmann as
legitimatizing to some extent (using the Ancien Rgime as an allegory) a system of
absolute rather than constitutional monarchy. Hoffmann appears to favor a legal
system based not on pure rationality but one that relies on a humanism that is
based on intuition and empathy.
Psychological interpretations[edit]

From a psychological standpoint, Cardillac seems much more interesting than de


Scudri. Perhaps this is why Hindemith named his opera (1926) and Reitz his film
(1968) Cardillac rather than Mademoiselle de Scudri.
Dissociation
Tlle (1997, A-1870) contends that Mademoiselle de Scudri contains the earliest
description of a double life in the sense of the abnormal psychological phenomenon
known as dissociation (segregation of a group of mental processes from the rest of a
person's usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, perception, and
motor behavior). This, the researcher points out, is by no means the same thing as
the disorder commonly known as a "split personality." Goldsmith Cardillac is one of
the most respected citizens of Paris but at the same time a serial killer. Tlle finds it
remarkable that Hoffmann had no model for this dissociative behavior and
concludes that it must have been of his own invention. As he notes, what the author
described can often be observed in ordinary life: for example, lady during the day,
prostitute at night; husband during the day, criminal at night; loving father on the
one hand and despotic boss on the other (or the reverse).

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