The Earthquake in Chili //
Kleist’s tale of forces of nature, anarchy, joy and lynching opens with two lovers, Jeronimo and Josephe. They share a »tender understanding« for one another, which unfortunately is inappropriate as Jeronimo is Josephe’s teacher and a bourgeois, and therefore, they are separated. Josephe is sent to a cloister, but its walls cannot prevent the couple from seeing each other. When Josephe becomes pregnant, their clandestine relationship is revealed. Jeronimo is arrested and Josephe is sentenced to death – which is postponed only until the child is born.
On the day of her execution, Jeronimo plans to end his own life as well. As he is tying the noose for his own suicide, a natural disaster occurs which changes the fate of all. The city is hit by a tremendous earthquake, levelling it to rubble and ashes. Countless inhabitants perish, but miraculously, amidst the chaos and confusion, the lovers find each other – and believe death has spared them and they are free at last. For one moment, they rejoice in a state of pure happiness. But the idyll doesn’t last long. Reality crashes in on them, and with it a new disaster.
In Kleist’s novella, written in 1806, he describes a utopia in which one may live in freedom and love, but in which a hysterical, merciless society can crush those whose lives do not conform to conventions.
After studying Shakespeare’s Illyria in »Twelfth Night«, Alice Buddeberg is now venturing into Kleist’s world to examine the underlying possibilities, potentials and limitations of present-day society.