Friday 22 November 2013

Charlotte von Lengefeld, Bohemian Lady of Letters

Charlotte Luise Antoinette von Schiller (née Charlotte von Lengefeld; Rudolstadt, Germany, 22nd November 1766 – Bonn, Germany, 9th July 1826)

Charlotte von Lengefeld by Ludovike Simanowiz
Charlotte von Lengefeld by Ludovike Simanowiz 

A privileged, bohemian lady of letters joins us today, emerging from the shadow of her husband and circle. Charlotte von Lengefeld may not have been known as an author during her time but she was a prolific writer and her husband's most trusted, most influential adviser as well as a member of the Weimer cultural elite.

Born in in Rudolstadt to Jägermeister Karl Christian von Lengefeld and his wife, Louise, Charlotte enjoyed a privileged and wealthy early childhood. Her education was typical for a young lady preparing for a life at court yet fate was to hold a twist. When Charlotte was just nine years old her father died and Louise foundered as a household manager. She struggled without her husband's civil service salary and the family finances were swiftly and drastically depleted. Various solutions must have been considered but far and away the most obvious was for Charlotte and her older sister, Caroline, to make good marriages in Weimar society. For a time in her adolesence it looked as though Charlotte would wed soldier Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Beulwitz but her family intervened, sure that the beautiful, intelligent girl could make a far better match.

This apparently foolproof plan came unstuck when the impoverished poet, Friedrich Schiller, arrived in town and the sisters were introduced to him by a mutual friend, Charlotte von Stein, mistress of Schiller's contemporary, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  Both Charlotte and Caroline fell for the intense Schiller and he returned their affection, struggling to choose between the two sisters. If the Lengefeld family disapproved of von Beulwitz then Schiller must have seemed like anything but a likely husband yet this time Charlotte stood her ground. His mind finally made up, Schiller proposed and he and Charlotte were married on 20th February 1790.

The marriage was loving and passionate, domestic life for the Schillers made sweeter by the fact that the poet's financial fortunes were also on the up. The couple had four children, all of whom happily survived to adulthood. When her husband died in 1805 Charlotte was left bereft and became a protector of his work and legacy, living on for a further 21 years until she died of a stroke whilst visiting Bonn for optical surgery.

Charlotte was never published in her lifetime but left behind a rich archive of letters, papers and fiction revealing the depth of her relationship with her husband and providing an invaluable insight into life in the Weimar cultural circle. Her papers reveal a woman of immense intellect and insight, interested in philosophy, science and deeply immersed in the culture and learning of her time.


Beth Elliott said...

So pleased to discover Charlotte through your post. She would be a must at one of those dinnertables where you assemble your wishlist of guests from throughout history.

Catherine Curzon said...

She would have to be, definitely!