The ‘uncanny’, or ‘das Unheimliche’ in German, is a key theme that appears repeatedly both German and English literature of the Romantic and Gothic periods: it crops up in texts as well-known as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Matthew Lewis’ The Monk. In the modern age, however, the concept of ‘uncanniness’ has almost disappeared from view, apart from in the common phrase ‘uncanny resemblance’. But what does the term mean, and how does it interact with our understanding of literature?
The first of the four activity sheets in this resource looks at the term itself, and its associated meanings drawn from its German etymology (connected to the home, secrets and revelation). The second and third look at the term in context, focusing on the ramifications of ‘das Unheimliche’ in a novel by the ‘master of the uncanny’, E.T.A. Hoffmann. The fourth and final activity sheet focuses on Sigmund Freud’s later preoccupation with the concept and how he attempted to explain it using psychoanalytical methods.
With all the quotations and references provided both in English and German, this resource is accessible for students wishing to study German at any level, while also being appropriate for students interested in English Literature and Philosophy. It builds on a term that students will be familiar with from general conversational language, while offering an introduction to a central idea in literature studies that students are unlikely to have encountered at school.
During this resource, you will…
…learn more about the concept of the uncanny in general
…explore a work by a well-known German author, E.T.A. Hoffmann
…gain an insight into the application of psychoanalysis to literature