Friday, July 15, 2016

Goethe and Christiane, 2

Beach on Kaleva Road
I continue to read Sigrid Damm's fascinating book Christiane und Goethe: Eine Recherche. (See earlier post for first installment.) Damm writes in an afterword that this book is not a scholarly monograph. She wishes instead to approach her subject "narratively." Which she does, a method familiar to all who have read her earlier books. Scholarly or not, the research she brings to bear is impressive and shows the insights to be gained from archival diligence.

Part IV begins with the 1792 French campaign. Goethe wants no part of it; neither the deaths of aristocratic or of democratic sinners are of concern to him. He complains of the four-year song of pro and con in regard to the French Revolution. Nevertheless, he accompanies the duke, traveling alongside the army in civilian dress, with servant and luggage. The duke's soldiers call him "Feldpoet," and carry him over the mud in and out of his sleeping tent. When he reaches Luxumburg on October 2, he notes in his diary: "Hairdresser."

The letters to Christiane show Goethe the lover. "Declarations of love," they allows a glimpse of the  trust and intimacy that had grown up between them in the past four years. A sign of his longing for domestic comforts is his reference to Christiane as his “lieber Küchenschatz.” As Damm writes: "In seiner Lebensmitte ist eine Frau für ihn wichtig, die Bette und Tische mit ihm teilt. Ihm Behagen, Behaglichkeit in weitesten Sinne schafft: im Bett, am Tisch, in Haus.” Further: “Sein Wohlergehen steht über allem.” They have a nickname for the child Christiane is expecting: Pfuiteufelchen.

Former main entrance to Goethe's residence
The relationship changes after the meeting with Schiller in 1794. Goethe rediscovers his poetic vocation. He begins to spend days, weeks, in the company of Schiller and even of Schiller's family. In a letter of January 1795, Christiane shows her anger at this neglect. Addressing him as "Sie," she complains about the emptiness of the house and of her boredom. The complaints make her sound clinging, but not without reason. I was struck by a letter from Schiller to his wife from which Damm quotes. In it Schiller describes to Charlotte all the things that he and Goethe are discussing during Schiller's stay at the Frauenplan house in Weimar. Goethe, we must assume, discusses nothing with Christiane. Unlike Schiller's wife, she is a woman without conjugal rights. Schiller never encounters her, although she prepares his room, fixes his meals, and so on. If "Schillers Frau und Kind werden ganz selbstverständlich in die Freundschaft einbezogen," the reverse is not the case. The Frauenplan house is about Goethe and his interests. It is a “representative” home, decorated, as one visitor notes, with “feinstem epikuräischem Geschmack.”

Their fourth child was born in October 1795, apparently healthy, but dies within a few weeks. Rhesus factor is now suspected for these deaths; August, the first child, survived, but the blood incompatibility of the father and mother dooms the succeeding children. One wonders to what extent these deaths prevented their relationship from maturing.

Christiane keeps the household accounts; there are outlays on fine foods, not to forget Goethe's acquisitions of drawings and engravings. Christiane never takes the affluence for granted. “Die Wohlhabenheit des Hauses Goethe wird sie zeitlebens nicht als die ihre betrachten.” During this time, he seeks to get a small widow's pension for her, in case of his death. But, as Damm asks, was Goethe, who was never threatened with financial insecurity, able to put himself in Christiane's place?

Kaleva Road drift wood
To return to Damm's preface. Although Damm asserts that this book is not a scholarly monograph, the creation of Goethe's oeuvre took place against the background of their everyday life, whether they were together or apart. By considering Christiane, one attains astonishing insights into Goethe's method of working and the genesis of his works. These include, in this Part IV, Reinecke Fuchs, Wilhelm Meister, and the Roman Elegies.

 I beach combed this morning, although the beach on the west side of Malcolm Island is not friendly to walkers. Along with the huge pebbles, the "drift wood" on the beach is huge, like the bones of mastodons. As a walker, one must watch one's step, which means that I am always looking for rocks showing signs of interesting geological history.

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