Huch, Ricarda (1864–1947)

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Huch, Ricarda (1864–1947)

German poet, novelist, and short story writer who is often considered the outstanding German woman author of the 20th century. Name variations: (pseudonym) Richard Hugo. Pronunciation: ree-CARD-AH whok. Born Ricarda Octavia Huch on August 18, 1864, in Braunschweig, Germany; died on November 17, 1947, in Frankfurt am Main; daughter of Richard Huch (a merchant) and Emilie Huch; had one brother and one sister; educated by home schooling; grade school in Braunschweig; college preparatory work in Zurich, Switzerland; bachelor and doctor of philosophy degrees from the University of Zurich; married Ermanno Ceconi in Vienna, on July 9, 1898 (divorced 1906); married Richard Huch (a cousin and former husband of her sister, Lilly), in Braunschweig on July 6, 1907 (divorced 1911); children: (first marriage) one daughter, Marietta Ceconi (b. 1899).

Moved out of family home to Zurich, Switzerland (1887); became first woman to earn a doctorate from the University of Zurich (1891); published her initial book of poetry, Gedichte (1891); moved to Trieste with her first husband (1898); published novel From Triumph Street (Aus der Triumphgasse, 1902); took up residence in Munich (1907); published a trilogy of German history, The Great War in Germany (Der grosse Krieg in Deutschland, 1912–14); published her best prose work, the psychological detective thriller The Deruga Trial (Der Fall Deruga, 1917); was made an honorary senator of the University of Munich (1924); awarded the Goethe Prize of Frankfurt (1931); elected to membership in the Academy of Prussian Writers (1931); resigned from the Academy (1933); published a three-part German History (Deutsche Geschichte, 1934, 1937, and posthumously in 1949); received an honorary degree from the University of Jena (1947); published an "Open Letter to the German People" (1947).

Selected works:

Gedichte (1891); Neue Gedichte (1907); Memories of Ludolf Ursleu the Younger (Erinnerungen von Ludolf Ursleu dem Jüngeren, 1893); The Flowering of Romanticism (Blütezeit der Romantik, 1899); The Rise and Fall of Romanticism (Ausbreitung und Verfall der Romantik, 1899); From Triumph Street (Aus der Triumphgasse, 1902); Histories of Garibaldi (Die Geschichten von Garibaldi, 1906); Luther's Faith (Luthers Glaube, 1916); The Deruga Trial (Der Fall Deruga, 1917); The Great War in Germany (Der grosse Krieg in Deutschland, 1912–14); German History (Deutsche Geschichte, 3 vols., 1934, 1937, and 1949).

Although the German writer Ricarda Huch is not well-known outside her native land, the number and variety of her writings has earned her the reputation in Germany as being the leading German literary woman writer of the 20th century. The wide scope of her work—lyric poetry, short stories, philosophic books, and romantic and historical novels—has also given her a place among the significant writers of the 20th century.

The daughter of Emilie Huch and Richard Huch, a German merchant, Huch was born in Braunschweig, Germany, in 1864, and grew to adulthood in a family that emphasized literature and music. One brother, Rudolf Huch, also became a novelist. Ricarda was the last of the family's children, however, since her birth was a difficult one, and doctors advised her mother to avoid having more; from that point on, her father slept in his own bedroom.

The family was very job-oriented, and her father, and occasionally her mother, traveled frequently to both Hamburg and Brazil on business. Despite their absences, Huch remembered a close family unit. In an autobiographical sketch, she cited memories of a family "musical band," in which her father, a "fine" tenor, would sing, her mother would play accompaniment on the piano, and the children would join in with triangles or other instruments.

When her father's trips out of the country became more frequent, Huch's mother and the children moved to the house of the maternal grandparents. Some of Huch's most vivid memories were of being with her maternal grandmother, whose "lively spirit" overcame some of the "dreariness and melancholy" that sometimes prevailed in the family.

Huch's grandmother loved art and frequently took the young Huch to museums, where many of the paintings portrayed mythological heroes. Her grandmother also read to her from ancient literature, including the Metamorphosis of Ovid. Huch later wrote that such literature, and especially ancient tales of gods and goddesses, fed her love of historical heroes.

Huch was also influenced by a friend of her sister, Anna Klie , a frequent visitor to the family. Klie introduced Huch to the stories of the 19th-century poet and writer Gottfried Keller. In time, Huch would come to bear more than a passing resemblance to Keller: like Keller, she would become the author of poems, short stories, and novels which mixed a "realistic" perspective with more than a few touches of Romanticism.

Thomas Mann, 1924">

Ricarda Huch is not just the first lady of Germany, as she is so often described, but quite obviously also the first lady of Europe.

Thomas Mann, 1924

Although Huch was given no formal schooling until she was nine years old, she proved to be an eager student. She showed a special fondness for reading history books which depicted popular revolts against tyrannical rulers. Upon graduation from elementary studies, she chose not to enter high school immediately, rejecting the idea that, as a young German woman, she should either marry or enter a high school designed to prepare students for commercial work. Since her parents' travels had left her with an interest in languages, she chose to do private study in Spanish and Portuguese, using the foreign books in her father's library.

One reason why she remained in the family home was to be near her cousin Richard Huch, with whom she had fallen in love. But Richard was married to her sister, Lilly Huch . Although he was more than 13 years older, Ricarda later wrote that she had felt "strong empathy" with Richard. She added that Richard had told his wife that he had "warm feelings" for Ricarda. Richard rejected the idea of leaving his wife and children, however, and expressed particular concern about disapproval from family members.

Frustrated with the thwarted romance, Huch decided to leave Germany. She chose a date in late 1886, when her father was away on a business trip, as an appropriate time to move out of the family home in Braunschweig. On New Year's Day, 1887, she moved to Zurich, Switzerland, and made arrangements for private tutoring which would prepare her for admission to the University of Zurich. Although women were denied admission to universities in Germany (and it would be several years before they might even sit in university classes there, and then only with the permission of the professor), Zurich had become the first German-speaking university to admit women students.

After graduating magna cum laude from Zurich, Huch enrolled in the university's Ph.D. program in history. In 1891, at age 27, she became the first German woman to receive an academic doctor of philosophy degree. She chronicled her experiences as a graduate student in Switzerland in the book Spring in Switzerland (Frühling in der Schweiz, 1938).

Although she returned to Germany for periodic visits, and even worked for a time as a teacher at a girls' school in Braunschweig, Huch chose to keep her residence in Zurich. She supported herself by working as a librarian. While there, she began to experiment with writing poems and made efforts toward writing her first novel. The same year that she received her doctorate, she published her first book of poems, Gedichte (1891), followed by Neue Gedichte in 1907.

Several of her early lyric poems were romantic poems about Richard; she called them "little items which I play with to amuse myself." While many of Huch's prose writings won high praise from critics who called them "insightful" or "powerful," her lyric poems were generally regarded as being less successful. During the 1920s, however, when a younger generation of German women came of age and gained political rights which had been denied before, Huch's poetry became popular among women readers.

In a career spanning nearly 60 years, Huch produced more than 50 books and an even larger number of articles, some under the pseudonym Richard Hugo. Her first novel, Memories of Ludolf Ursleu the Younger (Erinnerungenvon Ludolf Ursleu dem Jüngeren), appeared in 1893. Written in lyrical prose, it described the rise and decline of an upper-class German family. It also followed a pattern that would be seen in many of Huch's novels, focusing on major transforming or deciding events in the life of the main character of the novel.

Many of the leading characters in Huch's novels face inward spiritual struggles, as they attempt to establish meaningful contact with other people or to achieve a meaningful understanding of the universe. In some cases, the decisive moments in her novels are presented as a step toward loving and understanding the universe. Her heroes are generally trying to expand beyond the limits of their own personalities and seek active interchange with other personalities. Her main characters seek, above all, self-realization. Huch's interest in the inner world of her characters culminated in the novel which critics generally believe to be her best prose work, the psychological detective thriller The Deruga Trial (Der Fall Deruga, 1917).

It was no coincidence that there were certain similarities between Huch's writings and the writings of the German Romantics of the early 19th century. An admirer of Romanticism, the young Huch rejected the naturalist writers of her own time, such as the French writer Emile Zola and the German playwright Frank Wedekind. She complained that they had "constructed a universe in which a triumphant spirit is not possible." In contrast, she believed that the German Romantics had embarked on a quest for "inner freedom" and had sought to unite the rational, sensuous, and emotional sides of their personalities.

Huch analyzed the Romantic search for "inner freedom" in two books, The Flowering of Romanticism (Blütezeit der Romantik, 1899) and The Rise and Fall of Romanticism (Ausbreitung und Verfall der Romantik, 1899). When, later in her career, she began writing philosophically oriented books, they were replete with Romantically sounding phrases such as "consciousness," "self-consciousness," and "God-consciousness." An example was her On the Nature of Men: Nature and Intellect (Vom Wesen des Menschen: Natur und Geist, 1914).

In 1897, Huch moved back to Germany for a brief time. Finding her relationship with Richard unimproved, she decided to relocate to Vienna, Austria, where she would be able to use the library of the University of Vienna to do research for future books. While she was staying in a boarding house there, Huch met and married Ermanno Ceconi, an assistant to a Viennese

dentist, and nicknamed her husband, who was six years younger, "Manno." The newlyweds moved to his native city of Trieste, Italy, where he opened his own dental practice. A child, Marietta, was born the following year. In Italy, Huch produced one of her more realistic works, From Triumph Street (Aus der Triumphgasse, 1902). The book, a novel of social criticism, portrayed in stark terms the living conditions in a slum neighborhood in Trieste.

The two divorced in 1906; the next year, she and Richard were married and took up residence in Munich. That marriage would last little more than three years. Because Richard refused to allow Marietta to live with them, the little girl lived with her father in Italy. Only in 1911, after Ricarda and Richard divorced, did Marietta begin to live with her mother in Munich.

Huch's first historical work appeared in the late 1890s, and more than half of all of her subsequent books had a historical connection. Her historical accounts, while carefully researched, are generally referred to as historical novels, because Huch's treatment of the topics was literary rather than historical. She often chose to depict people struggling for freedom—even artistic freedom—as true heroes. In an autobiographical sketch, Huch traced her interest in such topics to her childhood love of Greek heroes who fought, she said, for liberty.

One of her early historical works, the Histories of Garibaldi (Die Geschichten von Garibaldi, 1906, which appeared in English translation as Defeat and Victory in 1928 and 1929), presented the Italians' struggle to unite their country as a popular movement for political freedom. Other books combined religious and historical themes. Although she had earlier seemed to favor atheism in Fra Celeste (1899), her Protestant roots were reflected in her favorable treatment of Luther in Luther's Faith (Luthers Glaube, 1916). She also surprised many readers by insisting that sin is a necessary part of religious experience. Nevertheless, she also produced a novel about a Reformation defender of the Catholic faith, Wallenstein (Wallenstein: Eine Charakterstudie, 1915). Other notable historical works included The Risorgimento (Das Risorgimento, 1908); Michael Bakunin and Anarchism (Michael Bakunin und die Anarchie, 1923); and Old and New Gods: The Revolution of the Nineteenth Century in Germany (Alte und Neue Göttern: Die Revolution des 19. Jahrhunderts in Deutschland, 1930).

The most admired of her historical works proved to be her trilogy of German history which appeared between 1912 and 1914 as The Great War in Germany (Der grosse Krieg in Deutschland). It dealt with a broad sweep of the German history, from the Reformation to the decline of the Holy Roman Empire. Huch's favorite section was on the Thirty Years' War, which she described as a period when an arrogant nobility lived in luxury, while most Germans starved. "While the topic of war bores me," she wrote, "this war has interested me intensely."

During the decade of the 1920s, Huch, now in her 60s, lived in Heidelberg. When German women were granted the right to vote in 1919, she was asked by a group of women to run for the constituent assembly, the body that would write the constitution for the Weimar Republic, Germany's first democracy. Among those urging her to run was a close friend, the German feminist Gertrud Bäumer . The project had to be abandoned when Huch could not secure the support of major party leaders.

Her growing reputation as a writer brought her a variety of awards and other forms of recognition. She was made an honorary senator of the University of Munich in 1924, and she was awarded the Goethe Prize of Frankfurt in 1931. But the recognition that was most meaningful to her came in 1931, when she was elected to membership in the Academy of Prussian Writers. Believing herself not worthy of sitting with celebrated writers such as Thomas Mann, she initially decided not to accept. Mann himself talked her into attending the induction ceremony. Yet her membership in the Academy proved short-lived: when National Socialism gained power in early 1933, a move was made to force the Academy to expel Jewish members. Huch rejected the idea, and she was appalled when pressure was also placed on members to join a newly created Nazi Academy of Writers.

Huch wrote a letter of resignation from the Academy, protesting the expulsion of Jewish writers in these words:

I think that it is quite understandable that a German should feel German; but what Germanness is, and how one should feel German, is a matter of quite divergent opinions. What the present government holds to be national sentiment is not my Germanness…. The centralization, the oppression, the brutal methods, the defamation of anyone who disagrees… I hold these things to be both unGerman and unholy.

She ended the letter with the declaration, "I hereby announce my decision to resign from the Academy."

During the 1930s, when Huch lived in Jena as a virtual recluse, she continued to work on her German History (Deutsche Geschichte, published in three volumes in 1934, 1937, and posthumously in 1949). The Nazi government was not pleased that her books criticized the "bestial drive" of earlier Germans and praised the "qualities of heroism" exhibited by German Jews of the past. Such comments drew condemnation of Huch from the National Socialist Monthly, which insisted that "There is no place for … this … in the Germany of Adolf Hitler."

Emerging from World War II with her reputation enhanced, Huch received new honors: the University of Jena awarded her an honorary degree in 1947, and she was elected president of a Congress of German Writers convened in Berlin.

In the years immediately after World War II, it was common for Germans to carefully peruse newspapers for word of lost relatives. Taking advantage of this development, Huch in 1947 decided to publish in newspapers throughout Germany an "Open Letter to the German People." The "Open Letter" begged readers to send her documents, letters, and diaries connected with Germans, "living and dead," who had resisted Hitler. She declared her intention to write a book about these and other "martyrs" such as the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The project never reached fruition. On November 17, 1947, Huch died at Frankfurt am Main during a trip to visit her daughter. But Huch's place in German literature had been firmly established. She had become, in the word of one German literary critic, "the greatest German woman author" and "perhaps the greatest German woman of our time."


Berger, Dorothea. "The Lyric Poetry of Ricarda Huch," in Books Abroad. Vol. 26, 1952, pp. 244–247.

Edinger, Dora. "She Also Bore Witness: Ricarda Huch, 1864–1947," in The American-German Review. Vol. 14, 1948, pp. 32–33.

Flandreau, Audrey. "Ricarda Huch's Weltanschauung as Expressed in her Philosophical Works and in Her Novels." Ph.D dissertation, University of Chicago, 1948.

——. "A Study of Ricarda Huch's Novellen with Special Reference to Keller," in The Germanic Review. Vol. 25, 1950, pp. 26–36.

Hans-Werner, Peter and Silke Köstler, eds. Ricarda Huch (1864–1947): Studien zu ihrem Leben und Werk. Braunschweig, Germany: Huch Gesellschaft, 1997.

Huch, Ricarda. "Autobiographische Schriften" (Autobiographical Writings) in her Gesammelte Werke (Collected Works), Volume 11. Cologne: Kipenheuer and Wisch, 1974.

Viereck, Stefanie. So Weit wie die Welt Geht: Ricarda Huch: Geschichte eines Lebens. Reinbeck bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1990.

suggested reading:

Boeschenstein, Hermann. The German Novel, 1934–44. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1949.

Gray, Ronald. The German Tradition in Literature, 1871–1945. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1967.

Robertson, John George. A History of German Literature. Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1970.


Correspondence sent to Huch, as well as diaries and manuscripts of many of her writings, are held in the German Literary Archive of the Schiller Nationalmuseum in Marbach am Neckar, Germany. A Ricarda Huch Society, which was founded in 1980 and is headquartered in Braunschweig, Germany, sponsors regular symposia on Huch's life and writings. It also publishes Ricarda Huch yearbooks.

Niles Holt , Professor of History, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois

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Huch, Ricarda (1864–1947)

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