These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community. As a child, his family was forced to migrate to Berlin as a consequence of the French Revolution. In his new home, Chamisso found a passion for the sciences, devouring the wealth of information in textbooks and articles. He took up botany during his university years and became involved in research post-graduation. While he was primarily a scientist, he also possessed a love for literature, and he often wrote prose when he found the time. The bits and pieces he wrote in his free time led to the publication of his first novel entitled Peter Schlemihl in
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Peter Schlemihl’s Remarkable Story
Later in the story Schlemihl acquires a pair of seven-league boots which enable him to travel quickly wherever he wants to go. In what they enable to happen the gold-producing purse and the seven-league boots correspond to the inexhaustible purse and wishing hat of the late medieval German story of Fortunatus , which, though employing various magical devices, is thought of as an ancestor of the modern novel for its realistic accounts of people, events and places. Fortunatus unfolds a profoundly moral and thought-provoking view of the world, illustrating the problems that the possession of great wealth is apt to bring and showing how human desires untempered by reason lead to self-destruction. It proved popular both in Germany and abroad. In Germany it circulated as a Volksbuch right up to the nineteenth century. In Britain there were translations, a verse play by Thomas Dekker, several chapbooks and adaptations for children from the mid eighteenth century onwards.
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In the story, Schlemihl sells his shadow to the Devil for a bottomless wallet the gold sack of Fortunatus , only to find that a man without a shadow is shunned by human societies. The woman he loves rejects him, and he himself becomes involved in guilt. Yet when the devil wants to return his shadow to him in exchange for his soul, Schlemihl, as the friend of God, rejects the proposal and throws away the bottomless wallet besides. He seeks refuge in nature and travels around the world in scientific exploration, with the aid of seven-league boots. When overtaken with sickness, he is reconciled with his fellow men, who take care of him, and in regard for his sickness do not look for his shadow. Finally, however, he returns to his studies of nature and finds his deepest satisfaction in communion with nature and his own better self.
File:Chamisso Peter Schlemihl 1814.jpg
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