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Stopfkuchen (1891)

Literally: Stuff-Cake; English Title: Tubby Schaumann

Man hat so Stunden, wo einem alles übrige Leben und alle sonstige Lebendigkeit zu einem fernen Gesumm wird und man nur eine einzelne Stimme ganz in der Nähe und ganz laut und ganz genau vernimmt.

There are certain moments when all the other lives and all the vibrancy around becomes a distant hum and one only perceives a single voice, close by and very loud and clear.

According to Raabe’s own opinion, this is the best of his novels. As in Die Akten des Vogelsangs, it tells the main character’s story from a friend’s perspective. The narrator, Eduard, lives as a successful businessman in South Africa and had spent some time in Germany on a holiday. On the voyage back, he writes down the experience of his encounter with Heinrich Schaumann, an old school friend whom he had payed a short visit. Nicknamed ‘Stopfkuchen’ by his peers because of his portly stature, Schaumann never was a particularly popular or successful pupil. However, he did win the heart of Valentine Quakatz later on, daughter of a grumpy old man living isolated in his fortress-like estate, the Rote Schanze (Red Redoubt). The old Quakatz died, Schaumann married Valentine and now leads a quiet and secluded life on the estate with his wife but nevertheless keeps an eye on what goes on in the region.

Eduard learns from Stopfkuchen that his father-in-law, old Quakatz, was accused of murdering the parvenu Kienbaum and could never fully clear his name. On the day of Eduard’s arrival, the funeral of the old postman Störzer takes place in the small town nearby. Eduard recalls him as a restlessly working and rather poor man who, according to himself, had covered a distance equalling several times the earth’s circumference on foot delivering letters. In a lengthy and frequently interrupted soliloquy Stopfkuchen discloses eventually that it was Störzer who had killed Kienbaum as a spontaneous reaction to one of the latter’s numerous insults.

Although the novel is called a ‘See- und Mordgeschichte’ (A story of the sea and of murder), the reader anticipating an adventure will be disappointed. The ‘sea bit’ consists merely of the narrator’s current situation aboard the vessel, and the story of the murder clearly deviates considerably from classical detective stories. Stopfkuchen’s account of the events takes a long time to unfold. Furthermore, he chooses to reveal his knowledge only after the real culprit has already died so that the latter cannot be handed over to justice. Finally, given the victim’s cruel abuse of the perpetrator in the moment before the crime, the conveyed notion of guilt is far from unambiguous.

Accordingly, Eduard leaves in a state of slight confusion, similar perhaps to the feeling of the reader having reached the end of the novel. Although the story is told from Eduard’s perspective, it becomes clear that it is actually rather Schaumann who has a real understanding of the events. Eduard’s capability or reliability as a narrator therefore appears a little dubious, even more so given the somewhat ironic opening sentence of the novel when he introduces himself:

Es liegt mir daran, gleich in den ersten Zeilen dieser Niederschrift zu beweisen oder darzutun, daß ich noch zu den Gebildeten mich zählen darf.

In the very first lines of this account I feel I must prove or explain that I may regard myself as an educated person.

English Translation

Tubby Schaumann, trans. by Barker Fairley, revised by John E. Woods, in Wilhelm Raabe: Novels, ed. by Volkmar Sander, The German Library 45 (New York: Continuum, 1983), pp. 155-311

Further Reading in English

Katra Byram, ‘Colonialism and the Language of German-German Relations in Raabe’s Stopfkuchen’, in Wilhelm Raabe: Global Themes – International Perspectives, ed. by Dirk Göttsche and Florian Krobb (Oxford: Legenda, 2009), pp. 61-73

Eric Downing, Double Exposures: Repetition and Realism in Nineteenth-Century German Fiction (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000), Chapter 7 on Fatso (Stopfkuchen), pp. 216-59

Florian Krobb, ‘Enchanted Ground? Space and Place in Wilhelm Raabe's Stopfkuchen (1891)’, in Crossing Borders. Space Beyond Disciplines, ed. by Kathleen James-Chakraborty and Sabine Strümper-Krobb (Oxford and Bern: Peter Lang, 2011)

Further Reading in German

Michel Gnéba Kokora, ‘Die Ferne in der Nähe: Zur Funktion Afrika in Raabe’s “Abu Telfan” und Stopfkuchen”’, Jahrbuch der Raabe-Gesellschaft (1994), 54-69