From Supernatural to Psychological: A Historical Study of the Concept of the 'Fantastic' in Hoffmann’s ‘The Sandman’ and Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’


  • Alan Ali Saeed Department of English, College of Language, University of Sulaimani, Sulaimani, Kurdistan Region – F.R. Iraq



Edgar Allan Poe, Psychology, E.T.A. Hoffmann, The Fantastic, The Sandman, The Tell-Tale Heart


This research paper explores how and why the existing tradition of supernatural stories about ghosts and other fantastical creatures, which located terror as an external factor in these unnatural and malignant beings, was transformed in the early to mid-Nineteenth Century into tales that are instead focused on fear in terms of the internal psychology of the narrator and the protagonist. It investigates two well-known examples of psychological horror, E.TA. Hoffmann’s “The Sandman” (1816) and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843).

The research paper deploys a contextual historical approach examining the impact of Romanticism as a philosophy focusing on the individual’s mental state and extreme psychological situations, as well as developing scientific ideas about psychology in the period. In my argument it is “madness” (which could affect anyone in society) that became the new fear that haunted and fascinated society, replacing the explicitly external supernatural. I also use Tzvetan Todorov’s structuralist theory and model of “the fantastic” and suggest it is possible for a psychological tale to be fantastic in a different way than he envisages, insofar as madness is itself an experience where the victim is never sure if what they experience is real or unreal.

Author Biography

Alan Ali Saeed, Department of English, College of Language, University of Sulaimani, Sulaimani, Kurdistan Region – F.R. Iraq

Dr Alan Ali Saeed is a lecturer in Modern English Literature in the English Department, College of Languages, Sulaimani University, Iraqi Kurdistan. He currently lectures on the modules: Introduction to English Literature of the Twentieth Century, Literary Criticism, and Stream of Consciousness associated with the Modernist Movement. Alan holds a BA in English Language and Literature (Sulaimani University - 2004), an MA in National and International Literatures in English (Merit) (University of London - 2009), a Ph.D. in Modern English Literature (Brunel University London - 2016), and a PGCHE (University of Falmouth - 2021) in University Teaching. My Ph.D. at Brunel University – London, was on modernist British women writers and the philosophy of Henri Bergson and William James. Sections of my Ph.D. have been already published in various journals and more will follow.

My Ph.D. research sought to explore and scrutinize the influence of William James and Henri Bergson on the role of selected British modern female writers of the early decades of twentieth century mainly from 1918 – 1929. The research provides a new interpretation of the way texts are framed and formed, writers' and characters’ inner perception of the outside world, and how the identity of women’s writing practice altered fluidly and aesthetically.

I am also now very interested in writing in English about Kurdistan, whether by Kurds or by non-Kurds; as well as various forms of modernism and contemporary British literature. I also like films and graphic novels, so don’t be surprised to hear me talk about these. Please see my publications for examples. I am available on linkedin,, and ORCID.



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