Tag: writers

Interesting Women: Mechthilde Peto

She is born (1879) Mechthilde Christiane Marie Gräfin von und zu ARCO-ZINNEBERG (Ger., Eng., DNB),  was correctly addressed as Mechthilde Christiane Marie Fürstin LICHNOWSKY between 1904 and 1937, and finally lived and died (1958) as Mechthilde Christiane Marie PETO.
Mechthilde, a Urururenkelin of Empress Maria Theresia, has a nice childhood, spent on a castle in Niederbayern and in the family palais in Munich. Her catholic education is strict, what is not the worst, and “open” at the same time, among other things she learns French and English fluently (she will later write a novel in French).
In Munich she meets the young British military attaché Ralph HARDING PETO in 1901, they become engaged, but the family does not accept this mésalliance. In 1904 she marries Fürst Karl Max LICHNOWSKY (Ger., Eng.) (1860-1928), a man in his early forties then, 19 years her senior, who has just retired from his career in the ministry of foreign affairs. They have three children, the marriage is seemingly not an unhappy one. In those years until 1912, they live in houses belonging to Fürst LICHNOWSKY, mostly in Schloss Grätz (Ger.) and Kuchelna (Ger., Eng.) in Mährisch Schlesien (Ger., Eng.). Under her influence these places become gathering points for literates, musicians: People like KEYSERLING (Ger., Eng.), HOFMANNSTHAL (Ger., Eng.), C. STERNHEIM  (Ger., Eng.) and others show up; she works together with a certain Karl KRAUS (Ger., Eng.) on texts of NESTROY (Ger., Eng.), and the Viennese thunderer and the Tyrolian countess are linked in a lifelong friendship since these days, until his death 1936. Must have been carefree and happy times.

Her husband is always counted among those who would get an important job in the ministry of foreign affairs, and this becomes true – seemingly after the Kaiser has misunderstood an article the Fürst had written about British-German relations. LICHNOWSKY himself writes in his memoires that the first proposed candidate was found to be too old, two others turned the job down, so he became the  ambassador of the Deutsche Reich at St.James’s (Ger., Eng.). The last before the Great War.
Mechthilde was not a Mauerblümchen, but an ideal model for this role. As Alfred KERR (Ger., Eng.) put it: “The house of the German ambassador is the only place where not the buffet is the main attraction, but the hostess”. She collects art and has some paintings of this strange Spaniard PICASSO on the walls (blue phase), she writes books and establishes a salon: When she comes to London in 1912 she already has a lot of contacts in the cultural European scene of the day, and she uses them.
In August 1914 her husband – as one of the very very few of the elite in the Reich – stands the test of time: Fürst LICHNOWSKY – a man deeply rooted in the 19th century! – is the only one in the ministry of foreign affairs who seriously opposes war as means of politics, who actively works for peace: One of his last telegrams simply says: “There is nothing to win!”
They do not listen to him in Berlin. When he has to leave London the British give him an Ehrenkompagnie, a very fine gesture to a brave man, who had tried all his best to avoid the abyss. LICHNOWSKY is later (1917) expelled from the Prussian house of Lords, but this itself ceases to exist after just one more year – then there is no more Reich. The usual dickheads screamed “traitor”, but it is a sad fact: He stood the test, those in charge to make decisions, not. He dies 1928.

Mechthilde’s first book is published before WWI, a travelbook about Egypt. Later she writes novels and plays, and  in the 1920 establishes herself as a well-known writer with essays, newspaper work and so on. After the death of her husband she spends most of her time outside of Germany, notably in France, especially after 1933. 1936 Mechthilde should join the Reichsschrifttumskammer, what she plainly refuses to do. So her books are not published in Germany anymore and she is de facto verboten. She leaves and we find her among the expatriates who come together in Southern France in 1937 – an illustrious crowd, definitely good compagnie. In the late 1930s her first love, the young attaché from Munich, steps back into her life, and she marries Ralph HARDING PETO (scroll down) in 1937, they settle in London. Mechthilde goes back to Germany on family business in 1939, I have no idea what was so important to her. Despite the fact that she has a British passport she is not allowed to leave Germany – she will not meet her husband again: Major Ralph H. PETO dies in September 1946.
During the war she lives in Munich and in the house in Graetz, and as a foreigner has to show up at the local police station every week. She writes, but of course does not publish. When I piece it together correctly the end of the war finds her in Silesia, in the small part that comes to the new   Tschechoslowakei (Ger., Eng.). So she may have found herself in the midst of the expellation of  Germans (Ger., Eng.). She comes back to London at the end of 1946, some months after her husband’s death, the house in Graetz and other possessions of the family were confiscated by the new state.

She publishes her first book after the war in 1949, Worte über Wörter, a Sprachkritik about style. Some say that it could be compared to KLEMPERERs Lingua Tertii Imperii – I have ordered her book via Fernleihe and am eager for reading it.
Since the beginning of the fifties new editions of her titles start to be published, she receives some honours: In 1950 she becomes a member of the Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste, the Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung and the Mainzer Akademie der Wissenschaften und Literatur. The brand new oh so democratic state and the old society want to adorne itself with those, who did not what they did in the twelve years. Mechthilde lives quietly and humbly in London: She did not visit again the house the German ambassador once had. A journey to Germany or to Munich is impossible, not for monetary reasons, but not after those times of Ungeist. There is a break, a fracture between the individual education and the general cultural decay she had to witness first hand, and the language mirrors it. Her prose is characterised as strict and rigid, dismissive even; she understands language as the tool for the Geist to express itself – the “expert” sees language as tool for domination, what is nothing else but oppression.
I think her writings earn to be rediscovered, an interesting woman.

Sources besides those in the text: Literaturportal Bayern (German only), Lesekost (German only), fembio (German only, with a bibliography and further sources), der SPIEGEL 1949 (German only).


Yeah. Plozk.
But why?
Because of E. T. W. HOFFMANN (1776-1822) (Ger., Eng., society, texts in English too). You may know him as E. T. A. HOFFMANN, with “A” for Amadeus, but he was born as Ernst Theodor Wilhelm into a Prussian family of jurists and officials. Some say that he himself changed the name to Amadeus for his love to Amadeus MOZART, but I read somewhere that his name simply was mis-written on a manuscript he had sent around, and that he liked it and did not want to correct this mishap.
HOFFMANN dutifully followed his ancestors in their footsteps and became a jurist, a pretty successful even, but on the other hand he had a love for the arts. He was multitalented as writer, composer, painter and caricaturist. He very often kept his wit under control, but sometime … and one of this occasions brought him to Plotzk (Ger., Eng. web).
From 1800 until 1802 the young Assessor was serving in Posen (Ger., Eng. web). After the second dividing of Poland (Ger., Eng.) in 1793 some areas found themselves as parts of the Prussian state, something called (since 1795) Neuostpreußen (Ger., Eng.). As his lifelong friend HITZIG  (Ger., Eng.) writes in HOFFMANN’s biography*, the positions in the new provinces were a bit dangerous for young officials: Hard work, but good pay and a lot of easy living. HOFFMANN was pretty much in the midst of the action, hanging around with all these dangerous artist types. And he was a talented caricaturist.
The high society of Posen held a masquerade and amidst them a italienischer Bilderkrämer (Italian picture-peddler ?) showed up and happily gave away nice coloured paintings. A huge success, until those caricatured recognized what kind of paper sheets were handed out for the general and public amusement. HOFFMANN was not the masked person, but it was clear that he had drawn the images. 
Unfortunately at this time in Berlin the papers were ready for the promotion of the Assessoren, a little mistake was made, and HOFFMANN was sent to Plozk.
He was two years on this post, in spring 1804 he’s allowed to came to Warschau (Ger., Eng., web).
His life can be called colourful. The last station was Berlin from 1814 until his early and terrible death. And even his dying was overshadowed by a “scandal” he triggered, because he did not control his wit, or maybe his frustration needed an outlet. More on this later, I’m tired.

* HITZIG, Julius Eduard: E.T.A. Hoffmanns Leben und Nachlaß, zuerst Berlin 1823. I used the shortened Insel-Edition: Mit Anmerkungen zum Text und einem Nachwort von Wolfgang Held, Frankfurt am Main 1.Aufl. 1986.


If you write the term “Goldmachen” into the search box of a German opac of a university library and then use Fernleihe, chances are that among the results the historical literature prevails, and that the names Johann Gabriel DRECHSLER (book), Daniel Georg MORHOF (1639-1691) (Ger., Eng., NDB) (book), and of course Wilhelm von SCHRÖDER (1640-1688) (Ger., ADB) (book) will pop up.
The title Goldmachen. Wahre alchemystische Begebenheiten, Heilbronn s.a. (ca. 1940), may not show up in large numbers. It seems to me that it was published in a very limited edition only and I am too lazy now to work myself through the catalogues to verify whether it was reprinted later.
Alexander von BERNUS (1880-1965) (Ger., bibliography) was a poet and an alchemist. As a toddler he is adopted by the childless brother of his mother, the family moves to Manchester. From 1886 they live in Stift Neuburg (Ger., Eng.) near Heidelberg, it comes into his possession after the death of his adoptive father 1908. Here his only son Alexander Walter, called Alwar (born 1903) has a deadly accident while playing in the chapel of the abbey. In the same year, 1911, the marriage with Alwar’s mother, the writer Adelheid von SYBEL (1878-1966) (Ger.,) is divorced. They had married 1902, while Alexander was a student of literature (Literaturwissenschaft) and philosophy in Munich. These years in Munich before the first world war are defining, because he comes in contact with people who will later play an important role in art, science and culture, like WOLFSKEHL (Ger., Eng.; who dies in exile in NZ), the great Richarda HUCH (Ger., Eng.); his first poems are published together with works of Stefan ZWEIG (Ger., Eng.); WEDEKIND (Ger., Eng.), HESSE (Ger., Eng.; works; film), Thomas MANN (Ger., Eng.) among others are regular visitors in Neuburg – until 1926, when he gives it back to the Benedictine order.
He marries the Baltic artist Imogen von GLASENAPP (1876-1939) in 1912, a daughter is born 1913, they split in 1929. He meets his third wife Isolde (“Isa”) (1898-2001) (Ger.), they have a daughter Marina in 1933,  and during the war they move to the small baroque house Schloß Donaumünster (Ger.) near Donaumünster. Marina marries Peter FULD (1921-1962), lives later in Canada.

After 1911 von BERNUS becomes a member of the theosophical (Ger., Eng.), later the anthroposophical society (Ger., Eng.; Goetheanum), STEINER (Ger., Eng.) is a guest in his house and seems to have had an influence on BERNUS’ alchemistical work.
von BERNUS turns either already 1908 or after Alwar’s death 1911/12 towards alchemistic work and starts to develop spagyric remedies (Ger., Eng.; patent) in his laboratory in the abbey (SOLUNA; extensive German article). Basically he follows Paracelsus (Ger., Eng.) and works himself through the old Iatrochemie (Ger., Eng.) of the 16th and 17th century.
After his death Isa keeps his heritage together in the crumbling mansion. Alexander von BERNUS left behind circa one thousand poems, a large number of translations, some plays. And of course the laboratory and his receipts and formulae: As I understand it, they still produce today what he started to develop well before WWI.

A. V. Thelen

As  I read somewhere, THELEN was told that he was no “real” emigrant when he came to Western Germany and met the writers of the “Gruppe 47” (Ger., Eng.) – that must have been 1953, when he took part in the group’s meeting in Bebenhausen; also the critic F.[ritze] J.[arnich’ drauf hören!] RADDATZ (Ger.) wrote that THELEN  went to the South for the warm weather and the cheap living costs only, and in no way was a political writer an did not fight against nazism. RADDATZ is wrong, as usual.
Albert THELEN (1903-1989) (Ger., Eng., long interesting German article) choose as alter ego the name Vigoleis, as he says himself a reference to the “Wigalois” (Text, pictures sadly gone from castle Runkelstein – you gotta love this name!) by Wirnt von Grafenberg (Ger.). He quits the Gymnasium in 1919 and learns the profession of a fitter (Schlosser) in a weaving mill, works briefly as technical draftsman, and in 1925 starts to study in Cologne (German studies, philosophy, history of art). Later he visits the university of Münster and in 1928 he works as assistant to Prof. Karl D’ESTER (1881-1960) (Munzinger; a not uncontroversial man) at the Internationale Presse-Ausstellung Pressa (Ger., article), where he meets his later wife Beatrice. From 1928 until 1931 THELEN works on the poultry farm of his brother Julius to make ends meet, 1929 his first small article is published.
1931 he leaves Germany and lives together with Beatrice on Mallorca (Ger., Eng.). This time of their lives is documented in THELEN’s main oeuvre Die Insel des zweiten Gesichts. They marry 1934 in Barcelona, nearly starve and only narrowly escape the falangists (Ger., Eng.) in 1936, reaching an English ship last second. Vigoleis and Beatrice were on the to-be-shot-list of the German consul. From 1934 until 1940 THELEN writes for the Netherlandish newspaper Het Vaderland in Den Haag under the pseudonym Leopold Fabrizius. This connection seemingly was made possible through his friend Hendrik MARSMANN (Ger., Eng.). Together with MARSMANN Vigoleis translates works of the Portuguese poet and mystic Teixeira de PASCOAES  (1877-1952) (Ger.) – a text of this author fell in Vigoleis’ hands in the beginning of the thirties, in an adventurous translation; the two men start an intense exchange of letters in November 1935, after the death of Vigoleis’ father.
The escape from Mallorca leads them via Marseille to Auressio (Ger., Eng.) in the canton Ticino (Ger., Eng.), where the couples MARSMANN and THELEN now and then live and work together. This ends with the beginning of the war. THELEN receives an invitation by Teixeira de PASCOAES to come to the vineyards of his family in Sao Joao de Gatao near Amarante (Ger., Eng.) in Northern Portugal (pics). Here Vigoleis and Beatrice arrive on the 2nd of September 1939 and stay until 1947, in between living in a mountain village Travanca do Monte (pics). Vigoleis was not able to convince his friend Hendrik to follow him to Portugal, he wanted to immigrate to England. Sadly their ship sunk, MARSMANN drowned.
The years until 1947 were productive and seemingly good years for Vigoleis and Beatrice, he works as editor and translator. After the war they move to Amsterdam from 1947 to 1954, then first to Ascona (Casa Rocca Vispa, built 1930), later to Blonay (La Colline), where they manage the estates of a Netherlandish friend living in Mexico, Elita LÜTTMANN (I could find nothing about her). These properties are sold in 1973, so they move to Lausanne, and finally in 1983 to Germany, where he dies 1986. Beatrice lives three years longer.
THELEN played with the language and enjoyed to spin a yarn, to fabulate. His main work is seen as standing in the tradition of the Schelmenromane (Ger., Eng.), the picaresque novels – something the all so heroic men of few words, who dominated the German literature after WWII, regarded as unacceptable and hopelessly outdated. As long as he lived THELEN was not “accepted”, a bit like SCHMIDT (about) maybe, but for other reasons. SCHMIDT took himself far too serious and generally knew all and everything better, while THELEN in a way never took it too serious: I think he disliked a certain “Deutschheit”. The academic interest in THELEN was remarkable small as long as he lived, in contrast to other authors of his age – I do not want to use the word “generation”. The first and only conference about THELEN took place in Münster in 2003.
His “Island” may be worth a try.