Glass prevailed in nineteenth-century European culture as both material and metaphor. Its transparency, its ability to create optical illusions, and the sound of glass musical instruments suggested a presence that appealed to the senses even as it misguided them. In this article, I argue that glass helps to define an object that both resembles and yet contradicts humanity in E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Der Sandmann and J. Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann. Hoffmann and Offenbach referenced glass’s visual and sonic attributes to depict the artificiality of the automaton Olympia. They also drew on associations between glass and illusion to enforce the negative meaning of its artificiality. This reading reflects nineteenth-century authors’ and artists’ responses to visual perception’s susceptibility to external manipulation. It also reveals cultural anxieties over the definition of humanity.
KEYWORDS: glass, illusion, artificiality, humanity, Hoffmann, Offenbach