|Marianne von Willemer, 1809|
1814, as Sigrid Damm notes, the year of Restoration, was also one of restoration for Goethe. Christiane, however, was not part of what many at the time saw as Goethe's rejuvenation and rebirth. His failure to make her part of his intellectual life continued to deepen the distance them, no more so than in his discovery of the Persian poet Hafiz. A new woman, Marianne Willemer, came into his life. Damm's portrayal of the relationship between Marianne and Goethe, in connection with the composition of the West-East Divan, indicates what Christiane might have been had Goethe nurtured her spiritually and not been solely content for her to serve as his "Hausschatz" or "Bettschatz" (his own terms),
In May 1814, Goethe and Christiane made their final trip together as man and wife, to Bad Berka. While there, Goethe was given a copy of the Divan translation by Joseph von Hammer. Goethe began to make his escape from the risin German patriotism, with which he had no sympathy, and other contemporary political distractions with his "hegira" to the East. Damm writes: “Gedankliches Auswandern als bewußte Abgrenzung zum Zeitgeschehen.” Throughout 1814 he continued to write poems in emulation of Hafiz. He also traveled in July to the Rhine/Main area. During his absence Christiane experienced the first of what Damm calls "Anfälle."
|View of Frankfurt from Gerbermühle, with dedication by Goethe|
Marianne came from a theatrical background, i.e., her mother was an actress, with father unknown. She made an early appearance on the Frankfurt stage at the age of eleven with a traveling troupe of ballet-dancers. Theatrical notices of the time point out "the gracefulness of her infantine performances." Mignon, anyone? It was at this time that she attracted the notice of the wealthy Frankfurt banker Willemer, who literally purchased the girl from her mother (2,000 gulden) and who thereupon raised her in his own household, educating her with his own daughters. Like Christiane, Marianne was a "creature" of a man, but one who provided her with a many-sided education. For instance, she had had music lessons from Clemens Brentano. In the late summer of 1815, she met Goethe on equal terms.
Caroline Jagemann (also the duke's mistress), and, as Damm notes, had mediated the artistic differences between Goethe as director of the Weimar theater and Jagemann.
One can't help thinking that Christiane might have become a knowledgeable theater critic or even taken a more active role in Weimar theatrical productions had Goethe taken the time to lead her. After their marriage duties were imposed on her from which she had been excluded for 18 years and in which she was not skilled. There had never been lessons, no training or education at all. As Damm writes, Christiane did not know "the text." So, while the relationship with Marianne came to be symbolized by the Ginko leaf, with its two-part leaf form representing symmetry and even equal partnership, Goethe's relationship with Christiane is associated with the clinging ivy and strangled tree of the poem "Amyntas."
Despite the number of volumes of Goethe's works devoted to "autobiography," Damm observes that Goethe remained silent about his happiness during the six weeks he spent in Marianne's company. It is only in the Divan that one feels his happiness. And although Goethe lived for sixteen years after Christiane's death in 1816, he likewise never wrote a word about the woman with whom he had lived for twenty-eight years. Goethe never discussed any truly private matters. Damm refers to this reticence as a natural disposition to self-protection. His silence about Christiane, however, has given rise to clichés, legends, and half-truths that have obscured her image for posterity.
Pictures: Willemer portrait by by Johann Jacob de Lose (Freies Dt. Hochstift–Frankfurter Goethe-Museum); Goethe's poem "Ginkgo Biloba," in his handwriting, 1815, with attached Ginkgo leaves