reading other people’s mail (stieglitz)

i must say that i find charlotte stieglitz an interesting character, the way she comes across in her letters, the way she presents herself to one person or the other – her beloved heinrich, her brother, her sister, her mother, heinrich’s rich uncle (baron l. stieglitz) to whom they are much indebted, and to others. since she and her husband both traveled, and not to the same places at the same time, these letters form a vital connection between their then separated lives. 

a “typical” biedermeier family
(detail) (artist unknown)

charlotte’s letters give some impression of what kind of relationship the two had. in her letter dated 22. of july 1833 she teases him with a mock-outrage about his adventures as a young man, which she just barely heard about from an old friend of his, and makes up a bunch of interesting compound words (mostly nouns, some adjectives):

Aber warte nur, du böser Mensch, was muss ich alles von dir hören? Du Ball-Flatterherz! Du Cotillon-Aufführer! Du Hengstchen-abgesattelter Rittmeister! Du wilder Rapierjunge! Du Thüringer-Wald-Durchstreifer! Du Musikbanden-Anhängsel! Du Dorfschenken-Flötist! Du früh-vorkonzertierender Demagoge! Du Klosterjungfraun-Ständchenbringer! 

she explains she wants to find out all his old stories and then seek her own kind of revenge:

[…] dann lach ich mich halbtot über all die tollen Streiche, die du närrischer Kerl, warum nur? mir noch gar niemals erzählt. Hältst du mich denn für so einen eingefleischten Philister? – Ja, ja, ich armes Kindlein! keinen Ball vor deiner Ära mitgemacht, kein Stammbuchblättlein geschrieben, keine Locke abgeschnitten, keinen Kuß gegeben – wart, warte nur, den bösen Mund, den früh so küssedurstigen, will ich strafen wenn er mir wieder unter die Augen kommt, strafen mit so heißen Küssen, daß er gar nicht zur Verteidigung kommen soll und ihm das Blut bis hoch an die dunklen Rabenschwingen steigt. 

my favorite word here is “rabenschwingen” = raven’s wings, assumably referring to his dark hair. in these lines she shows she is quite the writer herself, with an acute sense of the different tones and layers of language, and the seductive nature words can have.

she gives him feedback on his letters and his writing, telling him first to be more mindful of the world around him, then later to put more of himself and his thoughts into this letters as she and all others who read them (letters are passed around for the whole family and friends, as appropriate, to read) find him missing from his latest letters. (29. july 1833) in the same letter, she advises him to take everything in – the good and also the grime – and not let his innate aversion steer him away from that which is not pure or pretty. to learn about life, she believes, he needs to look at all things and places, even the ugly, dusty, hidden corners. she assures him that he himself will not be tainted by this, but rather become more pure in mind and understanding. 

where in letters to heinrich she fashions herself as “the poet’s wife” or (as in several of her poems for him) “the poor child”, her correspondence with theodor mundt shows her as a clear thinker, an intellectual who, while showing some deference toward those like mundt who write literary criticism and critique “serious” writers, has a mind of her own and is not shy to express her thoughts. (see letters dated 7. and 8. of november 1833, for example)

charlotte grows more and more open in writing to baron l. stieglitz, heinrich’s uncle (and sponsor), after they visited him in russia. clearly, she found her time with his household very enjoyable: in a letter not too long after the trip she complains to him about the lack of intellectual stimulation she experiences when visiting with “certain people” back in berlin. she has certain expectations that they just do not meet – they are intellectually not their equals – but what makes the whole thing nearly unbearable for her is their trying to be what they are not, which is (she explains) unenjoyable and tiring for everyone involved:

Eine solche farblose kalte Glaceehandschuh-Unterhaltung, die vornehm sein soll, eine solche aufgesteifte Puppenhaftigkeit ohne Saft und Blut, deren Atmosphäre in Dunst aufgelöste Langeweile, alle echte Lebensregung schon im Vorraus erstickt, flieht man doch wohl weit lieber als daß man sie sucht! (20. december 1833)

she also explains that they stay home on fridays to receive their friends and (interestingly enough, i thought) those who were referred to them by their friends. those evenings were spent reading, singing / playing music, and conversing. reading this, i had to think (fondly) of the open mic nights at the windsor girls’ place when i attended the u of utah – about once a month all sorts of interesting people would congregate at their house, bring their own instruments / songs / poems / texts, and of course the odd snack or two, and everyone would share. it was great. (thanks, girls!) 

now while i am sure jello-based snacks and maracas probably did not play any important role in the stieglitz’ “open mic nights”, i can see how they would find them intellectually stimulating and highly enjoyable. and to be honest this is something i miss – the direct exchange, the contact with other creative minds, writers, musicians, artists – and something i am looking forward to having more of once i get back into university. so keep those fingers crossed for me! 

in a letter to baron stieglitz on the 20th of december 1833, charlotte speaks about writers’ correspondence being published and made available for all to read (specifically, the letters between zelter and goethe). having seen herself from the very start of her involvement with heinrich, years ago, as “the poet’s wife”, has she been writing all this time with the idea in mind that one day the public would read her private letters? but this is not what she comments on. rather, she is concerned that soon, the value of a book – the monetary price of a book – might be determined by how interesting (read: scandalous) the writer himself is, rather than the actual quality of the work itself. 

one last bit i want to share is an intriguing image charlotte uses in her letter to mundt on 24th of january 1834 – i really like it and i think i may play with it before long. here goes:

Eine auf dem Tisch liegende Brille hatte schon von Kindheit auf etwas etwas Unheimliches für mich, und ich habe oft gedacht: welche Augen mögen schon durch diese Glasaugen gesehen haben! — Eine geerbte Brille eines Menschen, den man nicht gekannt, denken Sie sich, wie schauerlich! —

A pair of glasses on the table, ever since childhood, has been something uncanny for me, and I have often thought: which eyes may have seen through these glass eyes! — An inherited pair of glasses from a person one never knew, just think, how frightening! — (my translation)

so, i think i have sufficiently introduced you to charlotte stieglitz. i think some more poetry reading is in order – which is good, because i am waiting for some to come in the mail soon. 

some things never change…
(detail from above painting)

click here to read my first post on charlotte stieglitz (including one of her poems).

btw if you are curious to find out about her husband, heinrich stieglitz, the poet she needs for her self-definition as “the poet’s wife” and “muse”, you can find his autobiography here: (scanned text)


About annette.c.boehm

words escape me.

One comment

  1. Pingback: Of the Amours of Bosvil and Galesia (Barker) | Outside of a Cat

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