Goll, Claire (1891–1977)

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Goll, Claire (1891–1977)

German-French author, best known for her poetry, whose autobiography detailed the literary history of her times, as well as her liaison with the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Name variations: Claire Studer. Born Clara Aischmann in Nuremberg, Germany, on October 29, 1891; died in Paris, France, on May 30, 1977; had one brother; married Heinrich Studer; married Yvan or Ivan Goll; children: (first marriage) Dorothea Studer.

Selected writings:

Eine Deutsche in Paris (Berlin: Martin Wasservogel Verlag, 1927); Der gestohlene Himmel (Munich: List Verlag, 1962); Ich verzeihe keinem: Eine literarische Chronique scandaleuse unserer Zeit (translated by Ava Belcampo. Berne: Scherz Verlag, 1978); Lyrische Films (Basel: Rhein Verlag, 1922); Traumtänzerin: Jahre der Jugend (Munich: List Verlag, 1971).

Although she was born into a wealthy German-Jewish family in Nuremberg, Clara Aischmann did not benefit from the emotional stability and psychological security that affluence can make possible. Instead, she had to endure a horrific childhood of mental humiliation and physical abuse by a mother whose many affairs, which included one with a baron who was Clara's biological father, were intended to wound and crush her husband. Clara endured not only verbal battering from her mother, but physical attacks as well which included violent blows, whipping, denial of meals and incarceration in a darkened room. These brutalities not only left her with mental and physical scars but permanently impaired her health for the rest of her life. Many years later, when her mother was murdered at Auschwitz, Clara Aischmann, by then the writer Claire Goll, recorded that she felt no pain or sense of loss.

When she was 11, Clara's older brother, who was 16 at the time, committed suicide. He had attempted to defend his sister, and when their mother decided to send him to reform school he rented a room and opened the kitchen's gas valve. To escape the horrors of her home life, Clara developed a close friendship with the family cook. Not only did she derive emotional stability from contact with this unsophisticated but warm-hearted woman, Clara was also able to find a place of refuge away from home. The cook's aunt, who worked as a domestic at a nearby parochial school, also befriended Clara, and it was here that she spent countless hours, in an environment that provided her with more security than her affluent home. A more permanent escape from her oppressive home life came when she was enrolled in a Munich progressive school led by Georg and Julie Kerschensteiner . Finally given the opportunity to express her feelings, she discovered the possibilities of expressing her deepest fears and hopes through words.

While attending the Munich Opera one night, Clara met and fell in love with a handsome young man, Heinrich Studer. She became pregnant and married him, bringing with her a substantial dowry of 200,000 reichsmarks. After the birth of a daughter Dorothea Studer , their marriage began to crumble, and neither she nor her husband remained faithful. Clara began an affair with the publisher Kurt Wolff. After divorcing Studer in 1916, Clara Aischmann went to Switzerland, leaving behind both Wolff and her young daughter. Settled in French-speaking Geneva, she began to call herself Claire and soon became part of an antiwar group of intellectuals. Later, while living in Zurich, she counted as friends such influential creative spirits as Hans Arp, James Joyce, and Stefan Zweig.

Among the antiwar activists Claire met in her Swiss exile were Henri Guilbeaux, editor of the pacifist journal Demain, and the famous novelist Romain Rolland. Through Guilbeaux and Rolland, she was introduced to a talented poet, Ivan Goll, author of "Requiem for the Fallen Soldiers of Europe," a poem that had deeply moved Claire. Also born in 1891 into a wealthy Jewish family, Ivan was a native of Alsace, a province of the German Reich that was German-speaking but had largely retained a French spirit. Ivan's father was Alsatian, but his mother was from Lorraine, a German province that had been able to retain stronger French loyalties. His own family resembled Claire's in that they too were dysfunctionally unhappy. His recollection was of an "entire youth [during which] I sat at a family table at which I heard little else but screaming and scolding." It is scarcely surprising that two sensitive young people from such similar—and painful—backgrounds would be strongly attracted to one another.

In 1917, soon after their first encounter, Claire and Ivan "married" symbolically. Ivan had already published some important poetry by the time she met him, but in 1918 Claire too had found her voice as writer, in that year publishing Die Frauen erwachen (The Women Awaken), a haunting expressionist indictment of the great war still ravaging Europe; this book depicted the horror of the conflict that destroyed not only the lives of soldiers but of their wives and sweethearts as well. The Women Awaken uses explosive images and is able to effectively combine emotional visions with bits of crude reality. The work is Romantic in its view of women as providers and keepers of love, and its simple, if not indeed simplistic, pacifist message is that women should activate their power of love to prevent another war.

Despite their strong feelings for one another, neither Claire nor Ivan could long remain faithful.

In 1918 and again in 1920, Claire spent extended periods of time with the Prague-born poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Their relationship was of major significance for Rilke's literary development, because Claire served as an intermediary between him and several French writers. She not only supplied Rilke with books but also introduced him to poets and publishers and drew his attention to selected works by providing him with her German translations of French originals so that he could then make critical comparisons. Claire's intimacy with Rilke concerned Ivan Goll greatly, and in 1921 he and Claire were legally married. By this time, she had permanently separated from Rilke and had aborted an early pregnancy. Rilke would have been the father.

From 1919 to 1939, Claire and Ivan Goll lived in Paris. Often separated and almost never faithful to each other, the couple nevertheless wrote caring letters to each other. Red-haired and provocatively vivacious, Claire attracted countless lovers during these years, including André Malraux. Although she was by no means blind to the turbulent world she lived in, her letters from the 1930s make no mention of the political events in Germany that would soon destroy the lives of millions.

During these years, Claire Goll wrote poetry as well as several novels, including Der Neger Jupiter raubt Europa (The Negro Jupiter robs Europe, 1926), Eine Deutsche in Paris (A German Woman in Paris, 1927), Ein Mensch ertrinkt (A Human Being Drowns, 1931), and Arsenik (Arsenic, 1933). All of these books are not only works of savage social criticism but are carefully crafted works of literature. Goll also published books of poetry, including Lyrische Films (Lyrical Films, 1922), a slim but brilliant and verbally extravagant volume that juxtaposed lyrical poems, "sentimentalities" that compared body and facial features with non-human objects, and a third section entitled "Diary of a Horse" that is a prose poem dedicated to "Ivan and all the horses." By the end of the 1920s, Claire Goll was no longer neither exclusively German nor French, but had been able to fuse both Teutonic and Gallic cultural and linguistic traditions into a unique amalgam that was hers and hers alone. Rightfully, she regarded herself as a European rather than a member of either of two nationalities that had set out to destroy each other only a few years previously.

By 1937, Ivan Goll was planning to move to New York, yet kept delaying his departure from an increasingly unstable Europe. In July 1938, Claire tried to end her life because of her rage at her husband's extended affair with the poet Paula Ludwig (1900–1974). Claire survived her attempted suicide and then moved to London. The couple arrived in New York in late August 1939, on the last ship to leave France before the start of World War II. While in New York, the Golls continued to write while Ivan also published a literary journal, Hemisphere, from 1943 through 1947. By 1947, both were homesick for Europe, and they decided to return to Paris. In his remaining years (he died in 1950 of leukemia, the same affliction that ended Rilke's life), Ivan once again wrote in the German language he had abandoned after World War I, producing what is generally regarded as his finest work. Before his death in February 1950, he asked Claire to promise to destroy all but his last manuscripts.

For the next 27 years, until her own death in Paris on May 30, 1977, Claire Goll wrote her own candid and at times deliberately scandalous autobiography, producing in three volumes a detailed literary history of her times as seen from her own highly subjective vantage point. The rest of her energy went into a veritable crusade to bring her late husband's work to the attention of the literary world. Claire broke her promise to Ivan Goll by not destroying any of his manuscripts. Instead, she saw to it that much of his unpublished work, carefully edited by her, appeared in print in the years after his death. A ferocious defender of Ivan's literary legacy, she was suspicious of those who might unfairly draw upon him for inspiration for their own work; in 1950, soon after she accused the poet Paul Celan of having plagiarized from Ivan Goll, Celan committed suicide in the Seine.

In her last years, old and ill and with virtually all of her generation now dead, Claire Goll lived alone in her Paris apartment, Rue Vaneau 47, in the Saint Germain des Prés district. The walls were covered with paintings by artists who had been friends of the Golls—Chagall, Jawlensky, Delaunay, Kokoschka—and books and manuscripts were everywhere to be seen, tumbling out of drawers and closets. Knowing that her life was drawing to a close, Claire Goll danced alone every night in her apartment while listening to an old tango record, "La Cumbarsita," which she had danced to with Ivan during his last illness. Now, she confided to a visitor, "When I hear the melody, I know that he is with me. And then I dance with him."


Blumenthal, Bernhardt. "Claire Goll's Prose," in Monatshefte. Vol. 75, no. 4. Winter 1983, pp. 358–368.

——. "Rilke and Claire Goll," in Modern Austrian Literature. Vol. 15, nos. 3/4, 1982, pp. 169–182.

Brinker-Gabler, Gisela, ed. Frauen gegen den Krieg. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1980.

Edschmid, Kasimir, ed. Iwan Goll—Claire Goll: Briefe. Mainz and Berlin: Florian Kupferberg Verlag, 1966.

Glauert, Barbara. "'Liliane': Rainer Maria Rilke und Claire Studer in ihren Briefen 1918–1925," in Aus dem Antiquariat I—1976: Beilage zum Börsenblatt für den Deutschen Buchhandel. No. 7. January 23, 1976, pp. 1–11.

Goldman, Dorothy, ed. Women and World War I: The Written Response. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1993.

Goll, Claire. Eine Deutsche in Paris. Berlin: Martin Wasservogel Verlag, [1927].

——. Der gestohlene Himmel. Munich: List Verlag, 1962.

——. Ich verzeihe keinem: Eine literarische Chronique scandaleuse unserer Zeit. Translated by Ava Belcampo. Berne: Scherz Verlag, 1978.

——. Lyrische Films. Basel: Rhein Verlag, 1922 (reprint ed., Nendeln, Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint, 1973).

——. Traumtänzerin: Jahre der Jugend. Munich: List Verlag, 1971.

Goll, Yvan. Dichtungen. Edited by Claire Goll. Darmstadt: Verlag Hermann Luchterhand, 1960.

Hausdorf, Anna. "Claire Goll und ihr Roman 'Der Neger Jupiter raubt Europa'," in Neophilologus. Vol. 74, no. 2, 1990, pp. 265–278.

——. "Der 'Familienroman' im Werk der Claire Goll," in Henk Hillenaar and Walter Schönau, eds., Fathers and Mothers in Literature. Amsterdam and Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1994, pp. 281–294.

Kübli, Sabine and Doris Stump, eds. Viel Köpfe, viel Sinn: Texte von Autorinnen aus der deutschsprachigen Schweiz 1795–1945. Berne: eFeF-Verlag, 1994.

Lorenz, Dagmar C.G. "Jewish Women Authors and the Exile Experience: Claire Goll, Veza Canetti, Else Lasker-Schüler, Nelly Sachs, Cordelia Edvardson," in German Life and Letters. Vol. 51, no. 2. April 1998, pp. 225–239.

Serke, Jürgen. Die verbrannten Dichter: Berichte, Texte, Bilder einer Zeit. 3rd ed. Weinheim and Basel: Beltz & Gelberg Verlag, 1978.

Studer, Claire. Die Frauen erwachen: Novellen. Frauenfeld: Huber & Co. Verlag, 1918.

——. Der gläserne Garten: Zwei Novellen. Munich: Roland-Verlag, 1919 (reprint ed., Nendeln, Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint, 1973).

——. Mitwelt. Berlin-Wilmersdorf: Die Akion (Franz Pfemfert), 1918 (reprint ed., Nendeln, Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint, 1973).


Claire und Yvan Goll Nachlass. Deutsches Literatur-Archiv im Schiller-Nationalmuseum, Marbach am Neckar.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia