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  • Der Briefwechsel zwischen August Wilhelm Schlegel und seiner Bonner Haushälterin Maria Löbel eds. by Ralf Georg Czapla and Franca Victoria Schankweiler
  • Erlis Glass Wickersham
Ralf Georg Czapla and Franca Victoria Schankweiler, eds., Der Briefwechsel zwischen August Wilhelm Schlegel und seiner Bonner Haushälterin Maria Löbel. Bonn: Bernstein, 2013. 344 pp.

This is a meticulously annotated book providing novel insights into the personality and travels of the acclaimed translator of Shakespeare, Indic scholar, and critic August Wilhelm Schlegel. It is organized in a straightforward way, with an introduction, the letters and where they can be found, extensive notes, a bibliography, photographs, and an index. The notes are invaluable, identifying the people named in the letters and providing a history of each. They also contain letters or diary entries from other people that comment on the events described or offer candid impressions of Schlegel at the dinners or receptions he attended.

This collection of letters comes from Schlegel’s travels to London, Paris, and Berlin between January 1821, when he was around fifty-four years old, and August 1841. There are more letters from Schlegel to his housekeeper Löbel than he received from her. Yet her letters offer information of interest to dialectologists, sociologists, and historians of everyday life and women’s roles. Certainly, Schlegel placed an immense amount of trust in Löbel. Because of his extreme attention to details at home, Löbel was charged with coordinating the efforts of many tradesmen and workmen and also with conveying messages to Schlegel’s financial agents. That Schlegel also told her how much beer and wine and even how many pounds of potatoes to purchase is surprising indeed, likewise his observations about how long it would take paint or varnish to dry when he was having furniture and flooring refurbished.

It is valuable to see the instructions he gave Löbel on how to send letters to him, what specific information or items she was required to provide, and how Schlegel arranged for her to have money for her duties. He often commented on how long it would take for the letters to arrive. Predictably, they arrived more punctually if one paid for them at their destination instead of the place from which they were sent. He received letters from Bonn in as few as three or four days.

Noteworthy are details such as the routes that Schlegel took when traveling, whether he was traveling alone, and also to what he attributed delays, the most remarkable reason being cholera outbreaks. During such outbreaks papers and other items were smoked at the border, presumably to prevent the spread of infection. At times the authorities forbade travel altogether, making it necessary for Schlegel to spend several days waiting for borders to be reopened, although this does not seem to have upset him. He was surprisingly comfortable along the way and enjoyed travel, but in almost every letter he also mentioned his longing to return to Bonn.

There are many reasons why the publication of this homey correspondence is a service to German Studies. As we know, Schlegel chose to accept a professorship not in Berlin, as some expected, but in Bonn. His pride in the home that he chose there is evident. The extent to which he concerned himself with elements of structure and décor is remarkable. Sometimes he would take note of an aspect [End Page 299] of interior design in the great houses he visited and instruct his housekeeper to emulate it for his own home. The size of his household was also surprising. He employed five servants, kept two or three horses, and possessed a large wardrobe, including several somewhat unfashionable wigs. The inventory of clothing he possessed at his death is simply astounding. Schlegel also writes about acquiring items of clothing deemed necessary for being presented to prominent people. His remarks demonstrate that Parisian fashion was indeed famous, not simply for its chic, but for the quality of materials used. Schlegel felt that he could not obtain similar quality in Germany.

From an academic perspective, one gains insights into the length of time a professor of his reputation spent visiting other institutions and...