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Kleist's Kaleidoscopic Irony in Betrothal in Santo Domingo | Directory of Open Access Journals
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The Betrothal In Santo Domingo. English View all editions and formats Publication: Marquise of O- and Other Stories: Find a copy online Links to this item gateway.
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What lifts The Foundling beyond being just a masterclass in suspense, however, is Kleist's determination in pursuing the corrupting effects of such actions to their grotesque ends. Similarly, The Betrothal in Santo Domingo exerts an extraordinary page-turning force while transcending mere gruesome entertainment, this time playing on racial prejudice. Written shortly after the Haitian Revolution, where the slave population overthrow their French rulers, it uses the love story of a mestiza and a European to subvert the idea of a hierarchy of race-based virtue.
It also features another prominently Kleistian trope: This theme surfaces in several of Kleist's major works, and casts an interesting light on his repeated assertion that reality is ultimately an unfathomable hall of mirrors. It is perhaps this fact that gives his stories, so dark in their obsessions and often ending in death or despair, their magnificent impact. Nihilism, one comes to realise, is an easy option when compared with the agony of a repeatedly thwarted humanism.
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Such agony is plainly displayed in The Earthquake in Chile, which alongside The Foundling stands as perhaps Kleist's most striking story. It opens with a young man about to hang himself in prison, and concludes with a mob believing they are doing God's work by tearing two lovers and a baby to pieces outside the only church in the city left standing by the earthquake. It could not be said to be short on incident, and neither could its brevity be taken as a sign of a lack of ambition, struggling as it does with the most devilish knots in theological, moral and philosophical debate.
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It also foregrounds the hope Kleist expressed twice in letters in that, despite the evidence, the world is not in thrall to an evil deity, only a misunderstood one. At its end a survivor looks at the child he will now raise as his own and concludes, "it almost seemed to him that he had reason to feel glad.
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