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BETTINA VON ARNIM - A STUDY IN GOETHE IDOLATRY Hans-Wtlhelm Kelling Hans-Wilhelm Kelling (BA., Brigham Young University; MA. and Ph.D., Stanford University) is presently an associate professor of German at Brigham Young University. He served as director of the B.Y.U. Semester Abroad Program in 1963, 1967, and 1968. Mr. Kelling is co-author of Deutsche Aufsatzhilfe , published by Brigham Young University Press, 1967 and 1968. Bettina von Arnim, one of the most colorful figures of the early nineteenth century in Germany, was not only an eccentric Romantic but also an enthusiastic Goethe worshipper who contributed to the phenomenon of Goethe idolatry. She helped shape that particular Goethe image which regards the great German poet as a rather unique being who, unlike ordinary humans, is endowed by a supernatural source with special insights, gifts, and intuitions. "Zum Teil hat sie seine Legende geschaffen bis auf den heutigen Tag. Wie Goethe selbst sich durch ihre Augen zu sehen begann, so sehen auch wir ihn."1 In Bettina's estimate the creative genius Goethe becomes a divinely favored individual whom she venerates as a Saviorfigure and to whom she turns for comfort and inspiration. Her famous work, Goethes Briefwechsel mit einem Kinde,2 apparently caused a sensation when it was published3 and for decades inspired Goethe worshippers all over Germany. "Mit einem Schlage war die von den Edelsten des Volkes längst hochgeschätzte und verehrte Frau auch die bekannteste und gefeiertste Schriftstellerin Deutschlands geworden."4 Bettina was born in 1785. She was the daughter of Maximiliane von La Roche, in her youth a beautiful woman whom Goethe had known and adored when he was working on his novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers. Bettina took an early interest in Goethe and became a friend of his mother, asking her many questions about her famous son, while privately recording for two years everything she heard. From her notes she later contributed material for Goethe's autobiography Dichtung und Warheit." Frau Rat Goethe seems to have loved Bettina dearly, and Bettina regarded her as 1BeUOTIa von Arnim, Goethes Briefwechsel mit einem Kinde (Berlin: Grünberg, 1835). 2Bettina von Arnim, Goethes Briefwechsel mit einem Kinde, ed. Heinz Amelung (Berlin: Bong & Co., 1914), p. xviii. 3Ihid., p. xix. 4IUd. •^Critics generally accept this as fact. "Die Wärme der Auffassung, die in diesem Grade nur Bettinens Kult von Goethes Persönlichkeit eigen war, hat in Wahrheit dem Anfang seiner Biographie das Leben gegeben. Niemand hat der Nachwelt überliefert, wie Goethe Bettinas Berichte und Erzählungen aufnahm und in sich verarbeitete! Auch das Ungeschriebene ist." Waldemar Oehlke, Bettina von Arnims Briefromane (Berlin: Mayer & Müller, 1905), p. 161. "Die Jugendgeschichte in Dichtung und Wahrheit beruht auf Bettinas Schilderungen, die sie aus Worten der Frau Rat zusammensetzte." Curt von Faber du Faur, "Goethe und Bettina von Arnim: Ein neuer Fund," PMLA, LXXV (June I960), p. 216. 74RMMLA BulletinJune 1969 her second mother.6 Bettina met Goethe for the first time personally on August 23, 1807, in Weimar. In November of the same year she again visited in Weimar, this time for almost two weeks, spending considerable time with Goethe.7 Judging from Goethe's entries in his journals, he was much less impressed by her than she would have her readers believe.8 They met for the third time in Teplitz in 1810 and, in a letter written to Christiane on August 13, 1810, Goethe states: "Bettina . . . war wirklich hübscher und liebenswürdiger als sonst. Aber gegen andere Menschen sehr unartig." In March 1811, Bettina married Achim von Arnim, a well-known Romantic poet, and the newlyweds visited Goethe in August and September. During one of these visits, Bettina and Christiane quarrelled in public, insults were exchanged, and Goethe, siding with his wife, broke off the relationship with Bettina.8 However, Bettina continued to write to her idol, and after Christiane's death visited Goethe on two occasions (in 1824 and 1826). Bettina's relationship with Goethe was almost entirely one-sided: she worshipped the genius while the poet felt uneasy around her. His letters show restraint and coolness. He ignored her many requests and frequently bold advances, or cleverly changed the subject when Bettina...


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