Zettels Traum

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Zettels Traum cover
Cover of the 2004 paperback edition

Zettels Traum (ZETTEL’S TRAUM as the author wrote the title) is a novel published in 1970 by West German author Arno Schmidt. Schmidt began writing the novel in December 1963 while he and Hans Wollschläger began to translate the works of Edgar Allan Poe into German.[1] The novel was inspired by James Joyce's novel Finnegans Wake, particularly Schmidt's use of columns (his "SpaltenTechnik"), which Schmidt claimed was borrowed from the Wake.[2]

The gargantuan novel was published in folio format with 1334 pages. The story is told mostly in three shifting columns, presenting the text in the form of notes, collages, and typewritten pages.[3]


The title is an adaption from a character and a scene in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. At the end of Act IV, Scene 1, the awaking weaver Bottom says :

"I have had a dream, past the wit of man to
say what dream it was: man is but an ass, if he go
about to expound this dream. Methought I was—there
is no man can tell what. Methought I was,—and
methought I had,—but man is but a patched fool, if
he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye
of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not
seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue
to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream
was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of
this dream: it shall be called Bottom's Dream,
because it hath no bottom;..."

Christoph Martin Wieland translated the play in 1762 into German prose. His weaver Bottom (bottom = ball of yarn) bears accordingly a German term of weaving as his name : Zettel. Bottom's Dream = Zettel's Traum.


The novel is set in 1968 at 4 AM in the Lüneburg Heath in northeastern Lower Saxony in northern Germany. It follows the lives of Daniel Pagenstecher, visiting translators Paul Jacobi and his wife Wilma, and their teenage daughter Franziska. The story is concerned with the problems of translating Edgar Allan Poe into German.


  1. ^ Woods, John E. "Translator's Introduction." Collected Novellas: ix.
  2. ^ Langbehn, Volker Max. Arno Schmidt's Zettel's Traum: an analysis: 15.
  3. ^ http://www.camden-house.com/71132619.htm

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