We have recently bought a very rare Gothic novel, Die eiserne Maske or ‘The iron mask’ (AB.1.215.67). The reason why we acquired it is signalled in the subtitle Eine schottische Geschichte, ‘A Scottish tale‘. Ours is a copy the first (and only contemporary) edition. It was published in Leipzig in 1792.
The author of this tale was a Berlin schoolmaster, Friedrich Rambach (1767–1826). Writing under the pseudonym of Ottakar Sturm, Rambach was “a prolific writer of medieval adventures and horror stories and plays” according to the Oxford Companion to German Literature.
Among his pupils was the 18 year old Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853), who later found fame as a poet and translator, and as one of the founders of the Romantic movement in German literature. Tieck contributed at two Ossianic poems and more than a chapter of text to the novel.
The novel itself is inspired by Friedrich Schiller’s drama The Robbers, which was first published in 1781. Rambach transplants the action to the medieval Scottish Highlands. The characters are all given Ossianic names such as Dunkan, Malwina, Carno, Toskar, Linuf and Dunchomar, and the author revels in bleak and chilling imagery and depictions of the barren landscape of the Highlands.
The frontispiece engraving on the left gives you a very vivid impression of the ferocious action of the novel!
Although Die eiserne Maske proved enormously popular and was reprinted as recently as in 1984, it has never appeared in English translation.