Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 May 2022
Lou Andreas-Salomé rose to prominence in the German-speaking world as a novelist and critic in the decades preceding the First World War. In 1882, at the age of twenty-one, she befriended Friedrich Nietzsche, whose ideas helped inspire her first novel, published in 1885, and in 1894 she wrote the first psychological study of his writings. In 1897 she entered into a close relationship with Rainer Maria Rilke, which, despite a break of several years, continued until the poet's death in 1926. After turning to the study of psychotherapy with Sigmund Freud in 1912, Andreas-Salomé would come to be called “the world’s first female psychoanalyst” (Popova).
In each case, Andreas-Salomé met these men before they were widely known and admired. Nietzsche had yet to author his Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra) when they first interacted, and he later commented that he could not have written the work if he had never known her. Rilke was a twenty-one-year-old art student— still with the first name René—when they met, and he would later acknowledge her influence on his ensuing works. She began her studies with Freud only a decade after he had published his ground-breaking book on the interpretation of dreams, drawn to his new ideas by the interest in psychology so evident in her own previously published fiction and criticism.
Nonetheless, critics in the decades after her death tended to view Andreas-Salomé as a mere adjunct to the lives of her illustrious friends, ignoring or even disparaging her own intellectual and literary achievements. Even in the critical discourse, she was often rendered an object of fascinated male desire, whether muse or seductive femme fatale, or deprecated as a dilettantish disciple exploiting those luminary mentors.
In the 1980s, scholarship began to focus on the scope and independent merit of Andreas-Salomé's extensive writings. This first English translation of the last and arguably the most mature of her novels aims to contribute to this ongoing reassessment of the author beyond the German-speaking world, as a writer and thinker whose skillfully crafted and compelling narrative texts made significant literary contributions to modern feminism and to the principles of women's emancipation.
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