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Lou von Salomé, Paul Rée and Friedrich Nietzsche
One could shrug this entire episode off as a trivial love triangle story, as it can be found in every pulp fiction novel - and yet, these will always be read, as the sales figures of such paperbacks show! Why is that? Well, in such a "triangle", there is always also reflected a certain element of fate, since most of the time, the parties act quite involuntarily, and fate ties the tragic knot the loosening of which holds the reader captive in compassion. This also holds true for the "triangle" that will be discussed here, in a very particular manner, since, on the one hand, this episode did not remain without consequences for Nietzsche's thinking (and, of course, also not for Lou's); on the other hand, it challenges voyeuristic nosiness that wants to see in every detail how such a standard-setting psychologist as Nietzsche, after he is caught in such a situation, will deal with it in real life.
At the same time, the description of this episode can serveto shed some light on some of the most important years of Nietzsche with respect to his life and work - after all, in order to understand all implications of this story, one has to cover the period of fall 1881 until far into the year 1884.
Coming back from the document links to this English site Lou1 please use the back key of your browser!
I. Nietzsche's Prelude from the fall of 1881 to April 1882:
In the fall of 1881, we see Nietzsche in Sils Maria, in the Engadine, not far from St. Moritz, at an altitude of 1,800 m, where he had arrived for the first time on July 4th of this year; he has just completed his "Morgenröte" and is working on its sequel that will later receive the title "Fröhliche Wissenschaft".
During his repeated stays at Sils, Nietzsche had rented a room from the Durisch family, whose house was nestled against a forest mountain slope. Here, he lived under the most simple circumstances; for 6 - 7 hours each day, he walked around both of the nearby lakes (Lake Sils and Lake Silvaplana) and went for walks in the mountains and jotted down notes - whenever he was not struck down by one of the attacks on his health. On his happy discovery, his "Glücksfund Sils", he reported home immediately after his arrival:
"Zuletzt bin ich ... in dem lieblichsten Winkel der Erde untergebracht worden: so still habe ich’s nie gehabt, und alle 50 Bedingungen meines armen Lebens scheinen hier erfüllt zu sein. Ich nehme diesen Fund hin als ein ebenso unerwartetes wie unverdientes Geschenk." (KSB, 6, No. 122, p. 100) (At last, I have found ... refuge in the loveliest spot on earth: I never had it so quiet, and all 50 conditions of my poor life appear to be met here. I take this discovery both as an unexpected and undeserved gift.)
Health permitting, Nietzsche receives visitors there - as often in the years 1884-1888 - , mainly noble younger women or Heinrich von Stein, or if he is longing for some conversation in his loneliness, then the "Einsiedler von Sils Maria" ["hermit of Sils Maria"] likes to stay at the hotel 'Alpenrose'.
At the beginning of August, during a walk around Lake Silvaplana, at a "mächtigen Felsblock unweit Surlej" (mighty rock near Surlej), he is overcome by the concept of the "eternal recurrence" that he incorporates into his Fröhliche Wissenschaft as Aphorism 341.
However, the name "Zarathustra Rock" is a misnomer, since "Zarathustra", itself, belongs into the following period in Genoa.
Since the Engadine experiences its first snowfalls in September and since temperatures can also drop down quite dramatically, Nietzsche resolved to travel to Genoa at the beginning of October, where he, after several moves, found a room that was suitable to him, in the Sallita delle Battistine 8.
The motto of the Nietzsche-exhibit on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Nietzsche's death that is held in the Weimar Schiller Museum, "Wann ist der Gotthardtunnel fertig?" (whenn will the Gotthard tunnel be ready?), goes back to these days, "Wann soll er befahren werden? Er soll mich zu Dir und den Ärzten ... bringen; ich habe eine lange Consultation ins Auge gefaßt." (When can it be used? It is supposed to bring me to you and to the doctors ... I have planned on a long consultation.), he wrote to Overbeck on November 14th (KSB 6, No. 167, p. 140). In addition to his vision troubles and his usual attacks including his throwing up of acid from his gall bladder, he was also plagued by "hohle Zähne" (holes in his teeth) with toothaches, and since there are no stoves in Genoa, he was also plagued by bladder problems. "Was für Anfälle habe ich hinter mir!" (What attacks I have behind me!)
On November 27th, he heard Carmen for the first time – and was immediately enthused: In Bizet's opera, he believes to have found a counter-example to Wagner that agreed with his ideas of music; to Gast, he wrote:
"Hurrah! Freund! Wieder etwas Gutes kennengelernt, eine Oper von Francois Bizet (wer ist das?): Carmén, Hörte sich an wie eine Novelle Mérimée’s, geistreich, stark, hier und da erschütternd. Ein ächt französisches Talent der komischen Oper, gar nicht desorientiert durch Wagner, dagegen ein wahrer Schüler von H. Berlioz. So etwas habe ich (nicht) für möglich gehalten! Es scheint, die Franzosen sind auf einem besseren Wege in der dramatischen Musik; und sie haben einen großen Vorsprung vor den Deutschen in Einem Hauptpunkte: die Leidenschaft ist bei ihnen keine so weithergeholte (wie z. B. alle Leidenschaften bei Wagner)." KSB 6, No. 172, p. 144 (Hooray, friend! I came to know something good, an opera by Francois Bizet (who is that?): Carmen. It struck me like a novella by Merimee, witty, strong, moving here and there. A real French talent of the comical opera, not at all disoriented by Wagner, to the contrary, a true pupil of H. Berlioz. I did not think this could be possible! It appears that the Frenchmen are on a better path in dramatic music; and they are ahead of the Germans in one main point: passion is not so far-fetched with htem (as, for example, all passions with Wagner.)
On Jauary 25, 1882, he wrote: "Ich bin seit einigen Tagen mit Buch VI, VII und VIII der >Morgenröthe< fertig, und damit ist meine Arbeit für diesmal gethan. Denn Buch 9 und 10 will ich mir für den nächsten Winter vorbehalten – ich bin noch nicht reif genug für die elementaren Gedanken, die ich in diesen Schlußbüchern darstellen will. Ein Gedanke ist darunter, der in der That >Jahrtausende< braucht, um etwas zu werden. Woher nehme ich den Mut, ihn auszusprechen?" (KSB 6, No. 190, p. 159) (A few days ago, I have finished books VI, VII and VIII of the >Morgenröthe<, and with it, my work is done for ow, since book 9 and 10 I want to reserve for next winter - I am not mature enough, yet, for the elementary thoughts that I want to present in these books. One thought is among them that takes, indeed, >Thousands of Years< in order to ripen. Where do I take the courage from to express it?) and thus, with the "Sanctus Januarius" he expressed his gratitude for this Genoese year and, in the following aphorism, he dedicated himself to his amor fati.
On February 4, Paul Rée visited Nietzsche and brought the long-awaited typewriter with him which was paid by his sister Elisabeth. Unfortunately, it needed a great deal of repairs and due to this, Nietzsche soon abandoned his attempts of using this machine.
The weather was already very spring-like and therefore the two friends went for may walks, swam in the sea (what Nietzsche liked to do, anyway) and went to the theatre (to see, amongst others, Sarah Bernhardt in the Kameliendame and Rossinis' Barber of Seville - Nietzsche on this, "Aber die Musik mißfiel mir. Ich liebe ein ganz anderes Sevilla" [however, I did not like the music, I love quite a different Seville.] Rée reports to Elisabeth Nietzsche on February 5, 1882.
It might not be a coincidence that during this time of the first occurrence of Zarathustra, Nietzsche used a pseudonym for the first time (as he would later do often, as is known – thus he signed his letter of October 29, 1881 to his mother with "Philoktet"*, and in a further letter of November 6, he wrote, "Ich erhebe mich eben von der letzten Niederlage. Aber lassen wir die Gesundheit (und ogni speranza)! Ich bin hier in Genua so reich, so stolz, so ganz principe Doria." (KSB, 6, No. 164+165, p. 138) (I am just rising from my last defeat. However, let us leave health matters aside (and "ogni speranza")! Here in Genoa, I am so rich, so proud, quite "Principe Doria.")
From March 1 - 3, he went to Monaco with Rée, since the latter loved to gamble – which should become important, later on; Nietzsche, on the other hand, is only an observer, and keeps Rée from incurring greater losses. On the other hand, he also took out a lottery ticket with the Milan Lottery.
During the first half of March, a report on Nietzsche appeared in the Berliner Tageblatt – and already here, in his report to Overbeck (KSB, 6, No. 210, p. 180):
"Ein Bericht des Berliner Tageblattes über meine Genueser Existenz hat mir Spaass gemacht – sogar die Schreibmaschine war nicht vergessen." (A report of the Berliner Tageblatt on my Genoese existence has delighted me -- even the typewriter was not forgotten.)
he mentioned the term of the "zweijährigen Ehe" (two-year marriage) auf ("ich brauche einen jungen Menschen in meiner Nähe, der intelligent und unterrichtet genug ist, um mit mir arbeiten zu können" [I need a young person close to me who is intelligent and educated enough in order to work with me]), thus still without any reference to Lou, a wording which later led to such consequential misunderstandings, although Nietzsche had obviously only repeated the statement he had made to Overbeck.
On March 13, Rée left for Rome to join Malwida, obviously via Monte Carlo, where he lost all of his cash money in gambling. He arrived in Rome on March 15/16.
On March 21st, Nietzsche replied to Rée's (lost) letter regarding Lou: "Grüssen Sie diese Russin von mir wenn dies irgend einen Sinn hat: ich bin nach dieser Gattung von Seelen lüstern. Ja ich gehe nächstens auf Raub darnach aus – in Anbetracht dessen was ich in den nächsten 10 Jahren thun will brauche ich sie. Ein ganz anderes Capitel ist die Ehe – ich könnte mich höchstens zu einer zweijährigen Ehe verstehen, und auch dies nur in Anbetracht dessen, was ich in den nächsten 10 Jahren zu thun habe." KSB, 6, No. 215, p. 185f. (Give my regards to this Russian lady if this makes any sense: I am yearning for this kind of soul, nay, I will have to resort to robbing one, soon - in light of what I want to do within the next ten years, I need such a soul. Quite another matter is marriage - I could only agree to a two-year marriage, and this only in view of the fact what I plan on doing during the next ten years.)
Quite obviously, Nietzsche's wishes, as he had already mentioned them to Overbeck, of an "intelligenten und unterrichteten jungen Menschen" (an intelligent and educated young person) and that what Rée has written to him of Lou Salomé are directly intertwined here, and thus, Nietzsche repreated the thought of the "zweijährigen Ehe" (two-year marriage), certainly without meaning anything concrete by it, since he did not even know Lou, yet.
On March 27th, Malvida von Meysenburg also wrote to Nietzsche with respect to Lou: "Ein sehr merkwürdiges Mädchen (ich glaube Rée hat Ihnen von ihr geschrieben) welche ich, unter vielen anderen, meinem Buch verdanke, scheint mir ungefähr im philosophischen Denken zu denselben Resultaten gelangt zu sein, wie bis jetzt Sie, d. h. zum praktischen Idealismus, mit Beiseitelassung jeder metaphysischen Voraussetzung und Sorge um die Erklärung metaphysischer Probleme. Rée und ich stimmen in dem Wunsche überein Sie einmal mit diesem ausserordentlichen Wesen zusammen zu sehen, aber leider kann ich nicht zu einem Besuch Rom’s rathen, da die Bedingungen des Lebens hier für Sie nicht wohlthuend sein dürften." KGB, III, 2, No. 115, p. 247 (A very peculiar girl (I believe that Rée has written to you about her) the acquaintance of whom I owe to my book, appears to have arrived at the same results in her philosophical thinking as you have recently, meaning with respect to practical idealism, with a disregard for any metaphysical pre-condition and concern for the explanation of metaphysical problems. Rée and I agree in wanting to see you and this extraordinary creature together at a certain point in time; however, I can not advise you on visiting Rome, since outer circumstances would not be beneficial to you.)
Quite unexpected – and difficult to discern with respect to his motives – on March 29th, Nietzsche did not travel to Rome, but took a freightship to Messina, which is much further south than Rome and therefore also hotter than Genoa or Rome. Did he, by any chance, want to meet Wagner who had, at that time, just finished the score of his "Parsifal" and was, just during these days, on his way back north via Messina, as Nietzsche must have read in newspaper reports? In any event, in Genora he had still told the Overbecks that he would not attend the premiere of "Parsifal" unless Wagner would invite him personally. That he could not forget Wagner entirely is also shown in his impressively-remorseful Aphorism Sternenfreundschaft from the Fröhlichen Wissenschaft.
On April 20th, Paul Rée wrote to Nietzsche in Messina (KGB II, 2, No. 118, p. 251):
"Sie haben am meisten die junge Russin durch diesen Schritt [die Reise nach Messina] in Erstaunen und Kummer versetzt. Dieselbe ist nämlich so begierig geworden, Sie zu sehen, zu sprechen, daß sie deshalb über Genua zurückreisen wollte, und sie war sehr zornig, Sie so ganz entrückt zu sehen.
From this description by Rée, some of the character traits of Lou Salomé become apparent – particularly her unconcerned self-centeredness that Rée knew how to adjust to, but not Nietzsche.
Lou von Salomé as young Girl
II. Lou Salomés Background
In this family setting, Lou had a happy childhood as favorite of her father; due to the latter's initiative, a German-Reformed Church was established in Petersburg, with the Czar's permission, and it was looked after by the dogmatic Pastor Dalton. Much to the dismay of her family, particularly of her ailing father, Lou, who had arrived at her own doubts about God very early, refused to subject herself to the confirmation ceremony. On the occasion of this controversy, her mother wrote about Lou's character in a letter in 1879 (Lebensrückblick, Anm. E. Pfeiffer, S. 223): "...You ask me to be lenient and loving towards her, but how is this possible with such a stubborn character who always and in everything gets its will ..."
Her basic outlook that arose out of her loss of her belief in God, she described as "dunkel erwachende, nie mehr ablassende durchschlagende Grundempfindung unermeßlicher Schicksalsgenossenschaft mit allem, was ist." (Lebensrückblick, p. 24) (As dimly awakening, never relenting and always present basic concept of being eternally united with all that is). And even in her old age, the could only describe her "Gott-Verlust" (loss of God) as a "Unglück" (misfortune) for herself. (p. 221, annotation 25)
Petersburg in Winter - Source: Internet
In addition to the German-Reformed Church, there also existed a Dutch Community in Petersburg, with Hendrik Gillot as its Pastor. He had arrived in Petersburg at age 37, in 1873 and was known as a brilliant mind and preached in German and in Dutch.
When she was 18 years old, Lou began to be mesmerized by him, when she started to listen to his sermons; she looks him up and he accepts her as his pupil. As can bee seen from her notebooks, she was dealing with the following subjects:
"Ihre zahlreichen Notizbücher »geben eine Vorstellung von Umfang und Intensität ihrer Arbeit unter Gillots Anleitung. Eines zeigt, daß sie Religionsgeschichte studierte und das Chrstentum mit dem Buddhismus, dem Hinduismus und dem Islam verglich; sie beschäftigte sich mit dem Problem des Aberglaubens in primitiven Gesellschaften, mit der Symbolik ihrer Riten und Rituale, und grübelte über die Grundvorstellungen der Religionsphänomenologie nach. Ein anderes Notizbuch handelte von Philosophie, von Logik, Metaphysik und Erkenntnistheorie. Ein drittes beschäftigt sich mit Dogmatismus und Problemen wie der messianischen Vorstellung im Alten Testament und dem Glaubenssatz von der Dreifaltigkeit. Ein viertes, französisch geschrieben, enthält Notizen über das französische Theater vor Corneille, über das Zeitalter der klassischen französischen Literatur, über Descartes, Port Royal und Pascal. In einem fünften finden sich Aufsätze über Schillers Maria Stuart, über Krimhild und Gudrun. Unter Gillots Leitung las sie Kant und Kierkegaard, Rousseau, Voltaire, Leibniz, Fichte und Schopenhauer... Louise erhielt dadurch eine intellektuelle Bildung, die ihr im späteren Leben sehr viel nützte. Sogar die schriftstellerische Neigung wurde jetzt geweckt, denn Gillot erlaubte ihr, einige seiner Sonntagspredigten für ihn abzufassen«, nicht zum restlosen Vergnügen aller »Gläubigen«, die eine allzugroße Abweichung von der Bibel verspürten." (Janz II, 114 f.) (Janz describes here that her numerous notebooks give an impression of the extent and intensity of her work under Gillots tutorship. One shows that she studied history of religion and that she compared Christianity with Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam; she dealt with the problem of superstition in primitive societies, with the symbolism of their rites and rituals, and reflected on the basic concepts of the phenomenology of religion. Another notebook dealt with philosophy, logic, metaphysic and the theory of realization. A third dealt with dogmatism and problems such as the messianic concept in the Old Testament and the dogma of trinity. A fourth, written in French, contains notes on the French theater before Corneille, on the era of classical French literature, on Descartes, Port Royal and Pascal. In a fifth notebook can be found essays on Schiller's Mary Stuart, on Krimhild and Gudrun. Under Gillots guidance, she read Kant and Kierkegaard, Rousseau, Voltaire, Leibniz, Fichte and Schopenhauer ... on the basis of this, Louise gained an intellectual outlook that would be useful to her later in life. Even her inclination towards writing was awakened by that time, since Gillot allowed her to draft some of his Sunday sermons, not to the entire delight of all "Believers" who senses too much of deviation from the Bible.)
Gillot was 25 years older than Lou and had two daughters who were almost at Lou's age; in spite of this, he strove for the dissolution of his marriage in order to be able to turn to Lou, and he even proposed to her. >From the beginning, Lou's relationships to men were not easy; all of them wanted to marry her right away, as we shall see later. Contrary to this, for Lou, the attraction of this love affair as well as of her later marriage was the state of physical non-fulfillment.
Due to this reason, she rejected his proposal, since that is precisely what she did not want, this mixture of intellectual and "lower" needs - in this as well as also in later relationships, she was the one who took and who was not willing to give that which she evoked in her partners as wishes. Her friendship with Gillot continued; however, it was clear to Lou that she had to leave now. Thus in 1880 - after the 1879 death of her father - she went on a last journey to Holland with Gillot and her mother: for this journey, Lou needed her confirmation that she had previously refused to receive, since without it, she could not receive a passport for her travels to Europe. The "ceremony" was held by Gillot precisely according to Lou's wishes. In this ceremony, he baptized her in a "lästerlichen holländischen Rede" (blasphemous Dutch speech), as she confirmed, herself, and of which her mother did not understand a word (Janz II, 117), and christened her "Lou", and she accepts it from him - which was a romantically-exalted event that - in reverse manner - reminds of Siegmund and Sieglinde in Wagner's "Walküre"...
Further details of the relationship between Gillot and Lou can be seen on the document page (so far, only in German) of the Schilderung von Lou Salomé (description by Lou Salomé) herself as well as in a detailed Anmerkung des Herausgebers (annotation by the editor) of Lou's Lebensrückblick (Memoirs), Ernst Pfeiffer.
In September 1880, Lou finally took a trip to Zurich with her mother. The University of Zurich accepted women as one of the first universities; since Lou did not have the required high school graduation, Professor Beiderman (who was, by the way, the theological instructor of Gillot and who taught in Zurich) puts her through an "examination" and accepted her as student. Among other subjects, she attended lectures in philosophy of religion, history of religion, logic, metaphysic, archaeology and history.
The outbreak of a lung disease forced her to interrupt her studies; since, at that time, a warm climate was considered to be favorable for the healing of this condition, the two women went to Rome, where they arrived in February, 1882; on the recommendation of the Zurich Professor Kinkel, with whom Lou had studied art history, Malwida von Meysenbug introduced Lou into her circles on February 11, 1882
And not long after that, Dr. Paul Rée arrived penniless from Monte Carlo and having left Nietzsche behind in Genoa, in Rome, namely on the 15th or 16th of March, 1882, and immediately turned to Malwida in order to be able to pay the debt he had incurred for his traveling costs.
To the Second Part (in Preparation)