Olympia

In ‘The Sandman’ by E.T.A. Hoffmann the protagonist, Nathaniel, falls in love with Olympia; a beautiful girl who is revealed to be an automaton. Olympia is fascinating as she is both beautiful yet repulsive. Nathaniel can see only her beauty but his friends are unsettled by her movement and unnatural mannerisms which are uncanny and disturbing to them.

“It is strange that many of us hold more or less the same opinion of Olympia. Do not take it ill, brother, but she has appeared to us in a strange way rigid and soulless. Her figure is well proportioned; so is her face – that is true! She might be called beautiful if her eyes were not so completely lifeless, I could even say sightless. She walks with a curiously measured gait; every movement seems as if controlled by clockwork. When she plays and sings it is with the unpleasant soulless regularity of a machine, and she dances in the same way. We have come to find this Olympia quite uncanny; we would like to have nothing to do with her; it seems to us that she is only acting like a living creature.” (p116)   










“The minds of many esteemed gentlemen were still not set at rest: the episode of the automaton had struck deep roots into their souls, and there stealthily arose in fact a detectable distrust of the human form. To be quite convinced they were not in love with a wooden doll, many enamoured young men demanded that their young ladies should sing and dance in a less than perfect manner, that while being read to they should knit, sew, play with their puppy and so on, but above all that they should not merely listen but sometimes speak too, and in such a way that what they said gave evidence of some real thinking and feeling behind it.” (pp121-122)

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