Day: February 26, 2009

the Unsolved Mystery of Kaspar Hauser
by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

I came across this book when I was reading others about feral children. Unlike the stories of children abandoned in the forest or presumably raised by animals, Kaspar Hauser\’s neglect was intentionally inflicted upon him. He was a German boy who at the age of four was shut up in a castle dungeon, with very little human contact. When he was about sixteen, Kaspar was suddenly released and found wandering around the streets of Nuremberg, in 1828. At first he could barely speak and people assumed he was mentally impaired, but under the care of tutors Kaspar rapidly made progress and eventually gave his own account of being in the dungeon cell. A mere ten years after being found, he was suddenly murdered. The mystery behind Kaspar Hauser\’s identity, his imprisonment, and his death remained clouded. Lost Prince, a heavy but fascinating book, contains translations into English of an 1832 biography of Kaspar Hauser written by Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach (who investigated his case at the time); an account of the diary kept by Georg Friedrich Daumer, one of Kaspar\’s first tutors; and Masson\’s own essays and articles about the boy. Masson gives some analysis of Kaspar\’s dreams, reconstructs events in his life, compares his case to those of other feral children, and speculates that he was born of German nobility and heir to a throne. It was a bit difficult for me to get through this book- at times it almost felt like a homework assignment- and reading the details of the boy\’s suffering in the dungeon was very unpleasant. But I had never heard of his story before and was intrigued to the end. I looked up on wiki to find out more; apparently the idea that Kaspar was heir to a throne has been refuted, which makes his murder all the more mysterious.

Rating: 4/5                    272 pages, 1996

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All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

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