Peter Schlemihl

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About Peter Schlemihl

Peter Schlemihl is the title character of an 1814 novel, Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte (Peter Schlemihl's Miraculous Story), written in German by exiled French aristocrat Adelbert von Chamisso. In the story, Schlemihl sells his shadow to the Devil for a bottomless wallet, only to find that a man without a shadow is shunned by human society. The woman he loves rejects him, and he spends the rest of his life wandering the world in scientific exploration. The Yiddish word schlemiel—and its Hebrew cognate shlumi'el—mean a hopelessly incompetent person, a bungler. Consequently, the name is a synonym of one who makes a desperate or silly bargain. The story, intended for children, was widely read and the character became a common cultural reference in many countries. People generally remembered the element of the shadow better than how the story ended, simplifying Chamisso's lesson to "don't sell your shadow to the Devil." Peter Schlemihl and his lost shadow are mentioned in Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1844 short story, "The Intelligence Office" (in Mosses from an Old Manse). In Hans Christian Andersen's 1847 fairy tale The Shadow, the main character loses his shadow on a journey, and

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