Andreas-Salomé, Lou (1861–1937)

views updated

Andreas-Salomé, Lou (1861–1937)

Russian-born author, biographer, novelist, and essayist, who was a celebrated figure in the cultural and intellectual life of turn-of-the-century Central Europe. Name variations: Louise von Salomé, Lelia, Lyolya, Frau Lou; (pseudonym) Henri Lou. Pronunciation: Loo Ahn-DRAY-us Saa-low-MAY. Born Louise Salomé on February 12, 1861, in St. Petersburg, Russia; died of uremia on February 5, 1937, in Göttingen, Germany; daughter of Gustav Ludwig Salomé (a Russian noble and general) and Louise (Wilm) Salomé (daughter of a sugar refiner); tutored and attended small English private school, as well as the Petrischule (all in St. Petersburg); university study in Zurich; married Fred Charles (later changed to Friedreich Carl) Andreas, in June 1887; children: none.

Selected publications:

Ibsen's Heroines (ed. and trans. by Siegfried Mandel, 1985); (under name Henri Lou) Im Kampf um Gott (A Struggle for God, 1885); Friedreich Nietzsche in seinen Werken (Friedreich Nietzsche in His Work, 1894); Rainer Maria Rilke (1928); Mein Dank an Freud (My Thanks to Freud, 1931); Looking Back (ed. by Ernst Pfeiffer, 1991); "Anal und Sexual," in Imago (1915).

All but forgotten when she died in 1937, Lou Andreas-Salomé experienced an operatic rebirth with the 1981 performance of Giuseppe Sinopoli's Lou Salomé. The story of that opera, her encounter with German philosopher Friedreich Nietzsche, distorted her true place in the cultural and intellectual history of turn-of-the-century Central Europe. Her brief relationship with Nietzsche formed only a small part of a much more complex life.

That life began on February 12, 1861, with the birth of Louise Salomé in Russia. Her father Gustav was a Baltic German of Huguenot ancestry who, following distinguished service during the Polish rebellion of 1830, rose quickly through the ranks to general. The baby girl was named for her mother Louise (Wilm) Salomé who was the daughter of a Danish sugar refiner. The youngest of six children, Louise had five brothers, two of whom died in childhood.

The family enjoyed an affluent lifestyle and lived close to the tsar's Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Summers were spent in a house in Peterhof, where the tsar also owned a residence. In her memoirs, Lou Salomé remembers growing up "in the midst of officers' uniforms." Even though Gustav Salomé was a member of the Russian nobility, the family's identity was formed by the close-knit Protestant German expatriate community. German and French were the languages spoken at home. Lyolya, as she was affectionately known to her family, also read some Russian. At age eight, she attended, by her own account, an unchallenging English private school in St. Petersburg; this was followed by two years, 1876 and 1877, in the German Lutheran Petrischule, which she again considered a waste of time. Indeed, much of her youth was spent in a fantasy world of her own construction.

Lyolya spent much of her time alone and confided in a cousin Emma and in an Aunt Caro. Caro, according to biographer Rudolph Binion, was "uncannily clever and charming." She impressed on Lyolya the need for a woman to choose between "freedom," defined as the acting out of deep "unconscious needs" that governed the mind and will, and "independence," or having a mind of her own. She wrote in her diary that her "earliest memory" was "my acquaintance with God … wholly for me alone and wholly secret." One day, when her God refused an answer to a direct question, her belief was shattered. "Like lightening, unbelief entered my heart." Yet God and religion—and father-God figures, such as her earthly father, Pastor Hendrik Gillot, Friedreich Nietzsche or Sigmund Freud—would remain central to her life.

Gillot, a liberal and unorthodox Protestant preacher in St. Petersburg, brought 17-year-old Louise out of her fantasy world. Introduced to Gillot by Aunt Caro, Louise seized upon the young and brilliant preacher as a substitute for her lost God. Together they explored the history of philosophy, studied comparative religion and the place of ritual in primitive societies, and discussed French literature. When Gillot, who had a wife and children, impulsively proposed marriage to Louise, she again lost "God." "With one blow what I had worshipped … became alien." But she had learned well and was prepared for the world beyond Russia. According to biographer Biddy Martin, Lou Salomé as she began to call herself, was not much different from other young women who decided to pursue their university studies in Zurich. "Most of these women … intended to use what they learned in the service of the Russian people and their revolution [against tsarist authority]. For Salomé … the passage to Europe opened up worlds of possibilities for the intellectual, psychological, and emotional life she sought." In 1879, she obtained her passport and, in 1880, traveled to Zurich with her mother for study.

In Zurich, Salomé audited classes in logic, metaphysics, and the history of religion and joined the literary circle of the minor, but revered, Swiss poet Gottfried Kinkel. For some years, she had suffered from poor health, which the climate in Zurich did nothing to improve. In 1882, she and her mother traveled to Italy and spent three months in Rome. Bearing a letter of introduction from Kinkel to Malwida von Meysenburg (1816–1903), Salomé was welcomed into her salon. Meysenburg was a celebrated feminist and author of the bestselling Memoirs of an Idealist (1876) and offered Salomé, in the words of biographer Angela Livingstone , "just what she was looking for: 'great friendship'." Livingstone notes that Meysenburg saw in Salomé a woman who "could further the emancipation of the female intellect" and develop a "new kind of relationship" between men and women. But Salomé would never identify herself as a feminist.

In Rome, Salomé made the acquaintance of Paul Rée, a positivist philosopher, who knew Friedreich Nietzsche. Rée arranged for a dramatic meeting between Salomé and Nietzsche in St. Peter's cathedral. Nietzsche was immediately attracted to her and felt himself "in the presence of a female intellect." Their friendship was intense in an intellectual sense but was to founder on the rocks of a jealous Paul Rée and the suspicion and hostility of Nietzsche's sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche . At one point Salomé suggested that she and Rée and Friedreich Nietzsche live together in a small intellectual circle jokingly cast as an "unholy trinity." Meysenburg was distraught by the flouting of convention; Gillot wrote and suggested that she had returned to a fantasy world. Her reply to Gillot was succinct and said that she could "neither live according to models nor … ever be a model for anyone at all; on the contrary—what I shall most certainly do is make my own life according to myself, whatever may become of it." Even though Salomé's relationship with Nietzsche was brief and, in the end, rancorous, she left a lasting impression on him as a "presence and catalyst." Martin wrote that Nietzsche's "exasperation with Lou and his own sister and mother translated itself into ambivalent pronouncements on women in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, while Salomé brought the reflections and perceptions gained through the Nietzsche encounter into her autobiographical novel, Im Kampf um Gott (A Struggle for God), published in 1885 under the pseudonym Henri Lou. Indeed, according to Livingstone, Nietzsche's "views and high standards, his unparalleled evocation of the struggles and rewards of the life of the mind—all corroborated her intellectuality and her self-confidence as a thinker, and the romantic habit of being enraptured by thoughts." In the book, the heroine, in biographer Martin's words, "speaks out for intellectual and psychological equality for the sexes and against the imposed double standards of morality and the confinements of home and marriage."

I can neither base my life on models nor make of my life a model for anyone; instead, I will most certainly fashion my life in my own way, whatever may come of it.

—Lou Andreas-Salomé

Salomé and Rée lived together in a passionless intellectual relationship during the years 1883–86. Salomé's unexpected marriage to Fred Charles Andreas, a specialist in Oriental languages, abruptly ended her friendship with Rée, who had always expected he might win Salomé's hand. The union with Fred Andreas was curious in that it was never consummated. It was a marriage that sprang from an inner sense of her destiny. Livingstone noted that it was as if she had "submitted to something greater than the human" and that it was "an irrational compulsion to give and bind herself forever, as though being forced by something much more mysterious than love … and yet at the same time an absolute self will in her refusal to sleep with him."

Salomé's first work of sustained scholarship, Hendrik Ibsens Frauengestalten (Ibsen's Heroines), published in 1892, was instrumental in calling attention to the Norwegian playwright. Martin argues that Salomé's essays "are especially valuable in that they represent the view of the first woman writer to tell us if Ibsen came at all close in his objective to capture the dimensions of the female psyche." Even though Salomé wrote about female emancipation, she did not take part in the growing women's movement in Germany. There is no doubt that she was aware of the issues and believed firmly that marriage, for women, was a trap. As for differences between the sexes, Salomé not only affirmed them but was their advocate. One radical feminist, Hedwig Dohm (1831–1919), complained in 1899 that Salomé, in Livingstone's words, "was a reactionary who felt that males were superior intellectually and was opposed to women engaging in professional and active life." Self-centered, Salomé never showed any real interest in political or economic issues.

Attracted by the avant-garde intellectuals of the Naturalist movement, Salomé penned numerous articles for Die Freie Bühne (The Free Theater) and, in 1894, published her second scholarly book entitled Friedreich Nietzsche in seinen Werken (Friedreich Nietzsche in His Works). It was an important book when it was first published and has stood the test of time. Intellectual historian Crane Brinton wrote: "It was by no means a bad book, rather pretentious philosophically, but sensible about Nietzsche as a person." Rudolph Binion, who used Salomé's life as a psychological case study and who is her harshest critic, also praised the book: "For the bulk of it she sorted out Nietzschean thematic threads and tied them together expertly—authoritatively."

The 1890s were a period of great productivity for Lou Salomé. Psychological novels patterned more often than not on her own experiences appeared in rapid succession and, for the most part, were well received: Ruth (1895), Aus fremder Seele (From a Troubled Soul, 1896), Fenitschka (1898), Menschenkinder (Children ofMan, 1899), Ma (Mom, 1901), and, in 1902, Im Zwischenland (The Land Between) all furthered her reputation and gave her the financial resources to travel.

In the same decade, Salomé wrote a number of influential essays on the experience and psychology of religion. Even though she concluded that God was a human "fabrication," she felt that religion helped people evolve, that it was a positive force in the lives of humans. One of her essays, "Jesus der Jude" ("Jesus the Jew"), published in the Neue Deutsche Rundschau (New German Roundtable) in 1896, attracted the attention of the young poet René Maria Rilke. They met in Munich the following year and became lovers. "No one," writes Walter Sorrell, "ever understood Rilke better than Lou and no one ever seems to have been closer to him, a man who was always in great need of love and human sympathy." At her urging, he changed his first name to the more masculine "Rainer." Twice they traveled to Russia; he began an extraordinarily creative and productive phase of his life while Salomé assembled her Russian reminiscences in a book, Im Zwischenland. Rilke and Salomé parted in 1903, but she would remain a confidant and friend until his death in 1926.

During the first decade of the 20th century, Lou Salomé enjoyed celebrity as an established essayist and novelist. She and her husband moved to Göttingen where she began work on several new novels, including Das Haus (The House, 1919) and Rodinka (1923), and collected several of her earlier essays into a book, Die Erotik (Eroticism, 1910). In her novels and books, she had always dealt with psychological themes and began to read avidly into this rapidly developing field.

Lou Salomé's career took a dramatic turn after 1911. In that year, she met Sigmund Freud and throughout 1912 and 1913 immersed herself in the study of psychology. Livingstone argues that psychoanalysis "in particular suited her for it promised to systematise, to make 'scientific' many of her own cherished ideas." Her ideas about the erotic, of which she had written a good deal, were reformulated within the context of "libido." "Her interest in the phenomenon of idealization was rearranged in the vocabulary of 'sublimation' and 'sexual over-esteem'." Especially attractive to Salomé was Freud's idea of narcissism, for here she found, in Livingstone's words, "the formulation for the ideal she envisaged, which combined self-love with the glorious unity of person and cosmos." When she left Vienna to return to Göttingen in 1913, she wrote in her journal that she was delighted that "I had met [Freud] on my journey and was permitted to experience him: as the turning-point in my life."

When war broke out in Europe and revolution tore Russia apart, she noted, in Binion's words, the "surge of mass hate and crude propagandizing throughout the Old World." While she initially welcomed the profound changes that occurred in Russia after 1917, she later rejected Bolshevik rule. Throughout the period, she continued to write. Her articles entitled "Anal und Sexual" and "Narzissmus als Doppelrichtung" ("Narcissism as Dual Orientation") appeared in Freud's journal, Imago, in 1915 and 1921 respectively. Taken together, they comprise Salomé's main contribution to psychological theory. Her ability to synthesize material impressed Freud, even though he was critical of synthesis. His feelings are best expressed in a letter to her:

[N]othing has changed in our respective ways of approaching a theme…. I strike up a—mostly very simple—melody; you supply the higher octaves for it; I separate the one from the other, and you blend what has been separated into a higher unity; I silently accept the limits imposed by our objectivity, whereas you draw express attention to them. Generally speaking, we have understood each other and are at one in our opinions. Only, I tend to exclude all opinions except one, whereas you tend to include all opinions together.

The 1920s were difficult times financially for Salomé and her husband as the runaway inflation of the Weimar period destroyed Germany's currency. Freud helped with gifts of money. Declining health also began to take its toll. She was frequently sick and in 1929 was hospitalized with diabetes. Cancer took her husband in 1930; she lost a breast to cancer in 1935. But Lou Salomé remained productive. Her book on Rainer Maria Rilke appeared in 1928 to mixed reviews, and, in 1931, she published Mein Dank an Freud (My Thanks to Freud), which Freud called her best book. Salomé's remaining years were spent rewriting her memoirs in which she recast her life within the context of a personal destiny. Uremic poisoning ended her life on February 5, 1937.


Andreas-Salomé, Lou. Ibsen's Heroines. Ed. and trans. by Siegfried Mandel. Redding Ridge, CT: Black Swan Books, 1985.

——. Looking Back: Memoirs. Ed. by Ernst Pfeiffer. NY: Paragon House, 1991.

Binion, Rudolph. Frau Lou: Nietzsche's Wayward Disciple. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968.

Livingstone, Angela. Salomé: Her Life and Work. Mt. Kisco, NY: Moyer Bell, 1984.

Martin, Biddy. Woman and Modernity: The (Life) Styles of Lou Andreas-Salomé. Ithaca, NY: Cornell, University Press, 1991.

Peters, H.F. My Sister, My Spouse: A Biography of Lou Andreas-Salomé. NY: W.W. Norton, 1962.

Pfeiffer, Ernst, ed. Sigmund Freud and Lou Andreas-Salomé: Letters. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972.

Sorrell, Walter. Three Women: Lives of Sex and Genius. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1975.

suggested reading:

Bergmann, Peter. Nietzsche: "The Last Antipolitical German." Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Brinton, Crane. Nietzsche. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1941.

Masur, Gerhard. Imperial Berlin. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971 (chapters 6 and 7).

Paul B. Goodwin , Jr., Professor of History, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut

About this article

Andreas-Salomé, Lou (1861–1937)

Updated About content Print Article