The Story of a Happy Home

Feminism meets depth psychology

In the last few years, we’ve learned a lot more about the writer and psychoanalyst,  Lou Andreas-Salomé, friend of Nietzsche, lover of Rilke, colleague of Freud.  There’s a recent bio-pic that focuses on her independent spirit, and now the first English translation of her novel, Das Haus, by Frank Beck and Raleigh Whitinger.  Their new annotated edition, titled Anneliese’s House, is available in hardcover and as an ebook.  Since its release, the book has gained the attention of literary critics, feminists, and followers of depth psychology.  

The Times Literary Supplement sums the novel up like this: “It is about the house of happiness we may build for ourselves, and how that deeply human vision sits with nature. Attentiveness, luck, and a profound sense of self and other play their part…Above all, the story reflects the progress of women, a cause dear to Andreas-Salomé as a writer and psychoanalyst. In Anneliese and her friend Renate, and in Gitta, we see them increasingly better understood by men and, perhaps, ready to seize their independence.”

This story is about the complexities of family life. The plot will seem familiar: Anneliese and husband Frank, a physician, fret over their two adult children, Gitta and Balduin, and still mourn another child, Lotti, lost many years before.  Anneliese understands more than her husband that “their Balder” is a poet and must be guided by his intuition, while her husband feels he lacks a sense of discipline. So where do her loyalties lie? And how does she stand up for her son, and for her own beliefs that children must follow their own nature?  Anneliese also has to cope with Gitta’s spontaneity and wild impulses—her sudden attachment to Markus Mandelstein, an immigrant and a colleague of her father.  The moral seems to be: If you raise your children to be themselves, then you will have to watch them suffer—until they are fully-fledged, and able to trust their instincts and responses.    

Anneliese’s House was begun in 1904, but not published until 1921.  Andreas-Salomé examines both the true bond of feeling that holds a couple together and the constraints of marriage.  The story is subtle and emotionally complex, and the dialogue is fresh, largely due to the skill of its translators.  The editor of Reinventing Home, Valerie Andrews, recently spoke with Frank Beck about the life and work of Lou Andreas-Salomé and the process of rendering this landmark work in English.  

Lou Andreas-Salomé, Paul Rée and Friedrich Nietzsche in 1882. Courtesy the Granger Collection/Topfoto

What first drew you to translate this book?

I knew a little about Lou Andreas-Salomé through my interest in Rilke, whose poetry I’ve been reading for years. And let’s call her “Lou” – that’s the name she preferred.

When I heard that Cordula Kablitz-Post had made a film,  Lou Andreas-Salomé: The Audacity to be Free, (see trailer below) I was intrigued, and, when I saw it, I was enchanted, so I reviewed it for World Literature Today. When I met Cordula at a film festival in New York, she encouraged me to take a look at Lou’s fiction. The first thing I did was to read Raleigh Whitinger’s translation of her novella collection, Menschenkinder, which he published as The Human Family in 2005.

I soon discovered that none of Lou’s full-length novels – she wrote six – had ever been translated into English so I wrote to Raleigh and asked if he’d be interested in working on a translation of Das Haus together. It’s her last and arguably her best.

What was it like to work on this novel with another translator?

It was much easier than I’d expected, and I think the reason is that Raleigh and I agreed about a very fundamental principle of translation: that the version in the second language must accurately convey the tone of the original. It’s one thing to accurately translate the literal meaning of a German sentence. But — whether the narrator is speaking, a character is thinking or the characters are conversing – what are the emotional implications and how can they be conveyed?

It also helped that we are both experienced enough writers to recognize that the first solution is seldom the only one and not necessarily the best. We were both very patient about trying different versions of a sentence to see how much more of the German we could capture.

You had read Lou’s memoirs and her letters to Rilke. What surprised you about Lou as a novelist?

First, how good the dialogues were. In the six years between the publication of Menschenkinder and the start of Das Haus, Lou became much better at telling the story through conversations among the characters, rather than in the narration. And secondly, I was surprised at how good, how sensuous, her descriptions of the natural world were. Lou paints a lovely picture of autumn in Anneliese’s garden: “On the dew-covered outer walls, ladybugs crept busily along, tiny polkadots of summer color, marching on in the wake of the receding warmth.” I love that!

How does this book reflect your own thoughts about home?

For most of the last 40 years, my wife Mona and I have lived in an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  Home is usually important for a writer. It’s not just where we live, it’s where we work: the vantage point from which we look out at the world. Even Rilke – that great vagabond – was only able to complete the Duino Elegies when he finally got a home of his own in Switzerland.

Like Frank and Anneliese Branhardt in the novel, I’m a parent — I have two daughters — so I could identify with the challenge of trying to guide a child’s development while respecting the fact that they may have needs and desires that a parent doesn’t understand.

What do we need to know about Lou herself as we read this book?

The book has an interesting back-story – who the characters were based on and why it took so long for the novel to appear in print. That’s all in the introduction, but I think it’s best to read the novel first. Really, the only things the reader needs to know are that the story is set at the end of the 19th century and that the town where the family lives  — it’s never named —  is based on Göttingen, a university town in central Germany. Lou and her husband moved there in 1903, just a few months before she began work on the novel. Her husband, Friedrich Carl Andreas, a scholar of Persian literature, had been appointed to a professorship.

And perhaps I should warn readers not to confuse Anneliese with the author. Lou had no children of her own. The character of Anneliese is probably based on Lou’s friend Helene Klingenberg, who was a writer and had two children – a boy and a girl. Lou once said that Klingenberg combined two rare qualities: “fortitude in dreaming and fortitude in living.”  That sounds like Anneliese to me.

Tolstoy said, “All happy families are alike.” Yet Lou seems to disagree.  What inspired her to write this piece? And how long did she work on it?

If you’d asked me a year ago about Lou’s intentions in writing the novel, I’d have told you that we could only deduce them. But, since then, a new edition of Das Haus has appeared in Germany, with an excellent commentary by Brigitte Spreitzer of the University of Ganz. Spreitzer found a very revealing note in Lou’s diary for May 1904 – four months after she began work on the novel. Lou says she had observed “the problem of how older married couples can be affected differently by their adult children – can become strangers to one another – and how the Mother triumphs over the Wife. Later it became Das Haus.”

So that was the impetus behind the book, but it’s worth noting that this issue of conflicting relationships within family ties into one of the central themes throughout the author’s work: the struggle between the desire for intimacy and the need for autonomy.

As for how long Lou worked on it, that’s hard to say. We know when she started it. I’ll read you what she wrote to Rilke, again in May 1904: “During the days of my illness, I let slip from me a piece of work, a big, cherished work . . .  and it caused me to walk around week after week in a state of heady bliss.” She did further work on it later that year, but then – we don’t know why – she put it aside. But she kept going back to it, in 1910 and again in 1917. The novel finally appeared in 1921, so our translation was published in its centenary year.

Lou’s own domestic arrangements were unconventional.  Her marriage was not sexual, she had many lovers.  And she left her house to the child her husband had with another woman. 

Lou believed that, in the society of her day, marriage made a woman subordinate to her husband. She also believed that a healthy sexual relationship could only exist between equals. So she made it a condition of her marriage that her relationship with Andreas would not be sexual – and he agreed to that. Meanwhile, she had a number of sexual relationships outside of the marriage, including a passionate romance with Rilke that lasted nearly four years. They remained intimate friends until Rilke’s death in 1926.

As for Andreas, he had a relationship with their housekeeper, Marie Stephan, with whom he had a daughter. And, yes, Lou left her house to their daughter, who was also named Marie, and to her husband.

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1886 engagment photo of Lou and Friedrich Carl Andreas. who specialized in the history of langauges and ciivilizations. Lou Andreas-Salomé Archiv: Göttingen

Let’s look at her friendship Rilke.  The son, Balduin, is clearly based on him—he’s both exalted and torn apart by the depth at which he feels things. And both parents feel they have to “protect him from himself.”

Yes, both Frank and Anneliese have an impulse to protect Balduin, who can sometimes be overwhelmed by life. But Frank doesn’t really understand his son – in fact, he doesn’t understand the creative process. That’s a problem when your son wants to be a writer. Frank is a physician who thinks Balduin’s troubles can be solved by discipline. Anneliese sees that discipline alone won’t help, because Balduin is trying to follow his intuitions, and they aren’t clear yet. He needs to proceed by trial-and-error, with plenty of love and support along the way.

There’s an element of foresight here: Anneliese’s nourishing of Balduin’s writing foreshadows what she’ll do for Rilke. He, too, will wander down many false paths before completing the Duino Elegies, almost two decades hence. When he does, he’ll send her a copy of the limited edition, inscribed, “For Lou, who has owned it with me from the first.”

This is a theme with the daughter, Gitta, too, who seems to have a strong and passionate nature. What is Lou telling us about the goals of parenting?

With Gitta, I think we’re getting a glimpse of the kind of young woman Lou was herself: impulsive, headstrong but with a powerful imagination. How does one parent two children like these? Anneliese admits she doesn’t really know: do you remember this passage from Chapter 6 about the problem of being a parent? “Conflicted creatures, that’s what we are  — we give birth, without knowing to what; we educate, without knowing whom; we must answer for it, without knowing how; and we can give up neither our power nor our fear.”

The other thing that’s very modern is the treatment of the refugee or outsider. Gitta’s husband is a displaced Jew, and we see his struggle to find his place in society.

Well, it’s very timely, isn’t it? We may live in a pluralistic society – certainly more so than Lou did. But Markus Mandelstein is a Romanian immigrant, and he’s dealing with the challenges that immigrants still face today. Trying to fit in, without losing one’s identity. It’s fascinating to see the Branhardts trying to help, but fumbling along the way.

There are moments in this novel  so insightful about the things we keep to ourselves that we feel Lou is able to x-ray the human soul. Can you talk about one or two passages that surprised you with their depth of feeling?

In Chapter 9, Markus has been standing in a quiet corner of the Branhardts’ sitting room, admiring a portrait of their daughter Lotte, who died as a result of an accident at the age of eight. He’s hoping he and Gitta will have a child of their own. Anneliese appears and seems to guess what Markus is thinking. She has had trouble connecting with Markus but suddenly looks at him “with a radiance so strong that it went straight through his heart.”

 It’s too much for Markus: “He might let her look into the depths of his soul – into his last wish. Yet he blocked that view, so firmly. Anneliese saw that. She lowered her eyes; a shyness came into her face. The unrepeatable minute went by unused.”

And then there’s the moment in Chapter 10, after Anneliese has chosen a dress for Gitta’s wedding when she realizes there will never be a wedding for Lotti: “While her sister grew up to be a bride, a wife, a mother herself, she would remain in her child’s clothes – always close to all innocence and remembrance – born anew, again and again, with every child Anneliese would see playing about her, bound up with her most tender feelings – a comrade, even to her grandchildren.”

This is a psychological novel.  So I must ask, how do her characters give us a deeper understanding of the inner life?

One of the most remarkable things about the book is that Lou is equally interested in the psychology of all four family members, and of Markus, who becomes part of the family during the course of the story.

We see that each of these five people has a firmly shaped sense of values and that they each try to live by them. We listen in on their most intimate thoughts, seeing the motivations that drive them. Anneliese may seem the most admirable character, because of her honesty and her empathy, but she has her faults.  After the argument with her husband over Balduin, she realizes she has missed two opportunities – the chance to explain Frank’s life to Balduin and the chance to make Balduin’s case in a more persuasive way to his father.

It’s a book that urges us – though never in so many words – to look for the best in each other, to summon every ounce of understanding we can manage, but also to stand our ground when people make demands that violate the autonomy we need to live our own lives. As Anneliese says,: “The worst thing under the sun is the violation of one person by another.”

The other author who takes us into those inner spaces, is of course, Virginia Woolf, writing a decade or two later. Was Lou the first to explore the inner dialogue?

There’s something about the intensity of Anneliese’s thoughts – and the way Lou presents them — that brings Clarissa Dalloway to mind, isn’t there? But neither Lou nor Virginia Woolf was the first to give us a character’s unmediated thoughts. Credit for that, at least in modern times, goes to the French writer Eduoard Dujardin. His novel Les lauriers sont coupés – “The laurels are cut” – was the inspiration for Molly Bloom’s reveries in Ulysses, according to Joyce himself. Another pioneer in replicating the language of our inner monologues was Knut Hamsun, the Norwegian Nobel laureate whose work influenced Thomas Mann, Issac Bashevis Singer, and many others.

The ending of the novel seems to reflect Lou’s own philosophy. When Anneliese learns she is pregnant late in life, she knows both she and the baby will be at risk, but she faces the situation boldly.

Yes, the ending of the novel knocked me out. Anneliese goes into the bedroom of the house that is being redecorated as a nursery for the new baby, and she sees a section of wallpaper that was there when they first moved into the house. Many of us have had this experience of finding something in a house that reminds us of our whole family history. And she realizes that she has an overwhelming desire to relive those early years: “To live it! Not just remember it.”

 But of course, she can’t relive the past. And that leads us to the conclusion of the book, where there is an epiphany that brings, finally, an acceptance of Lotti’s death, and a transcendent vision of the unity life. And, although we shouldn’t confuse the character of Anneliese with Lou the author, I think that vision of unity as inexhaustible is Lou’s view.”

Lou leaping into Lake Lucerne, from the film The Audacity to be Free. Credit: The Wild Bunch

Frank Beck is a New York-based writer and translator who has critiqued new poetry for The Manhattan Review for more than 30 years. His latest thoughts on the arts can be found at DieHoren.com.   

Anneliese’s House is now available in hardcover and as an e-book.  The novel will soon be released in paperback.

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