“An Unexpected Reunion”: Death’s Dominion Disturbed

The third story for short story month is by Johann Peter Hebel, and it is called “An Unexpected Reunion.” Both this and the story by Goethe were part of a collection that I purchased back in the early 00s called Deutsche Erzählungen/German Stories: A Bilingual Anthology, which was edited by the stalwart Harry Steinhauer (I’m just guessing that he’s very stalwart, based on his name).

The précis for this story will be rather short because the story is rather short. It’s barely three pages in length and was originally collected in a book that Hebel published during his lifetime entitled Das Schatzkästlein des Rheinisches Hausfreundes. Rolls off the tongue, n’est pas? Cotta published it. That’s right, the famous publisher of Schelling’s Ausgewählte Schriften.

The story really has three parts.

First part: Destiny separates before vows

The reader learns of the beloved miner and his fiancée, which the narrator introduces through mentioning their kiss and vows to one another, that happened “vor guten fünfzig Jahre und mehr”—more than fifty years ago.

Only a few days separate them from the completion of their nuptials. But death intervenes and takes the miner one day, after he’s knocked on his betrothed’s door on his way to work, from which he will not return. She makes him a black handkerchief with a red border. After she learns that he dies, she puts it away.

Second part: History occurs

Time passes, by which the narrator means a host of historically significant events occur including Lisbon’s famous earthquake, the Seven Years’ War, the American Revolutionary War, Leopold the II dies (as do other heads of state of which we know not), the French Revolution, Napoleon’s imperial ambitions are pursued. But not Napoleon’s encounter with Kutuzov outside Moscow (this latter isn’t mentioned in the story).

Hebel unexpected return of the miner

Third part: the very much expected ‘unexpected’ reunion

in 1809, miners are digging a connection between two tunnels and come across the hitherto lost body of the miner. The miner’s kin have all departed but his betrothed remains, albeit having suffered old age. The miner’s body has not suffered old age because it was preserved by iron sulphate as it was the day that he died. So unexpected is, then, the reunion of the miner and his fiancée.

Alone she mourns him on the day of his interment and promises that she will join him shortly.

Would you like to know more about what I’ve read during this month of short stories?