July 24, 2012


ELISABETH KATHARINA LUDOVICA MAGDALENA BRENTANO, one of the outstanding women writers in modern German literature, memorable not only for her books but also for the personality they reflect. All of her writtings, whatever their ostendible themes, are essentially self-portraits.

Gifted women played a prominent role in the German Romantic movement, and Bettina von Arnim was a Romantic par excellence. Sehe was unconventional to the point of eccentricity; wayward, yet a loyal wife (she married Achim von Arnim inn 1811) and a devoted mother to her seven children; susceptible and passionate, but healous of her personal freedom; capable of enthusiastic devotion, yet absorbed in a cult of her own personality, which verged on narcissism.

These paradoxes in her nature she projected into her books. Her three best known works purport to be records of her correspondence with Goethe (Goethes Briefwechsel mit einem Kinde, 1835; "Correspondence Between Goethe and a Young Girl"), with Karoline von Günderode (Die Günderode, 1840), and with her brother Clemens Brentano (Clemens Brentanos FRühlingskranz, 1844). The original letters have been rearranged and retouched, the result being a peculiar blend of documentation and fiction, written in a brilliantly vivid, uninhibited style.

Her mother, Maximiliane, née von La Roche, and Goethe had been friends before and after Maximiliane´s marriage; this friendship ended abruptly when it aroused her husband´s jealously, and 35 years later her daughter took her place. Bettina idolized Goethe (who was 57 when she first met him); she had frequently visited Goethe´s mother in Frankfurt and recorded the old lady´s tales of the poet´s childhood. (Goethe later used her notes when he was writting his autobiography, Dichtung und Wahrheit). Bettina pursued Goethe with her attentions until in 1811 a public quarrel between her and Goethe´s wife, Christiane, caused Goethe to disown her.

She stated her political views, which were sympathetic to the underprivileged, in two books written for the special benefit of the king of Prussia, Frederick William IV: Dies Buch gehört dem König (1843; "This Book Belongs to the King") and Gespräche mit Dämonen (1852; "Conversations with the Devil"). Bettina was also a gifted sculptor and musician. In the diversity of her talents and interests, she exhibited the universality that has been regarded as the hallmark of the German Romantic spirit.

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