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Bettina von Arnim Biography | Poet

Photo of Bettina von Arnim

Elisabeth (Bettina) von Arnim (1785-1859), German authoress, sister of Klemens Brentano, was born at Frankfort-On-Main on the 4th of April 1785. After being educated at a convent school in Fritzlar, she lived for a while with her grandmother, the novelist, Sophie Laroche (1731-1807), at Offenbach, and from 1803 to 1806 with her brother-in-law, Friedrich von Savigny, the famous jurist, at Marburg. In 1807 she made at Weimar the acquaintance of Goethe, for whom she entertained a violent passion, which the poet, although entering into correspondence with her, did not requite, but only regarded as a harmless fancy. Their friendship came to an abrupt end in 1811, owing to “Bettina’s” insolent behaviour to Goethe’s wife. In this year she married Ludwig Achim von Arnim (q.v.), by whom she had seven children. After her husband’s death in 1831, her passion for Goethe revived, and in 1835 she published her remarkable book, Goethes Briefwechsel mit einem Kinde, which purported to be a correspondence between herself and the poet. Regarded at first as genuine, it was afterwards for many years looked upon as wholly fictitious, until the publication in 1879 of G. von Loeper’s Briefe Goethes an Sophie Laroche und Bettina Brentano, nebst dichterischen Beilagen, which proved it to be based on authentic material, though treated with the greatest poetical licence. Equally fantastic is her correspondence Die Gunderode (1840), with her unhappy friend, the poet, Karoline von Gunderode (1780-1806), who committed suicide, and that with her brother Klemens Brentano, under the title Klemens Brentanos Fruhlingskranz (1844). She also published Dies Buck gehort dem König (1843), in which she advocated the emancipation of the Jews, and the abolition of capital punishment. Among her other works may be mentioned Ilius Pamphilius und die Ambrosia (1848), also a supposititious correspondence. In all her writings she showed real poetical genius, combined with evidence of an unbalanced mind and a mannerism which becomes tiresome. She died at Berlin on the 20th of January 1859. Part of a design by her for a colossal statue of Goethe, executed in marble by the sculptor Karl Steinhauser (1813-1878), is in the museum at Weimar.

Her collected works (Samtliche Schriften) were published in Berlin in 11 vols., 1853. Goethe’s Briefwechsel mit einem Kinde has been edited by H. Grimm (4th ed., Berlin, 1890). See also C. Alberti, B. von Arnim (Leipzig, 1885); Moritz Carriere, Bettina von Arnim (Breslau, 1887), and the literature cited under Ludwig von Arnim.

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