Paoli, Betty (1814–1894)

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Paoli, Betty (1814–1894)

Austrian poet, essayist, and fiction writer who was the first woman journalist in Austria. Name variations: Barbara Grund; Barbara Elisabeth Glück; (pseudonym) Branitz. Born Babette Barbara Elisabeth Glück in Vienna on December 30, 1814, out of wedlock; died in Baden bei Wien on July 5, 1894; daughter of a Hungarian noble and Theresia Glück; never married.

The circumstances of Betty Paoli's birth and early years—she was born in Vienna, the illegitimate child of a Hungarian noble and Belgian-born Theresia Glück —did not give much cause for optimism. Nonetheless, her intellectual gifts would help her become a highly respected poet, a master of several other literary genres, and Austria's first female journalist. Extremely popular during her lifetime, her poetry was declared by contemporaries to be equal to that of Annette von Droste-Hülshoff and Letitia Elizabeth Landon . Paoli enjoyed a large circle of friends including such leading writers as Marie Ebner-Eschenbach , Franz Grillparzer, and Adalbert Stifter. Her biography of Grillparzer was the first monograph to be written about this major literary personality.

In Paoli's youth, her mother took her on many trips, moving from place to place and thus giving life a look of instability. Paoli did, however, receive a good education. She became acquainted with a wide range of literary classics and mastered several languages. When her step-father, a military physician, died and her mother lost her fortune, the teenage Paoli faced a life of poverty and had little choice but to make her own way. Starting in 1830, she began supporting herself by working as a governess for a number of families. For two years, from 1833 to 1835, she worked for a Russian family living on a rural estate in a remote region of Galicia near the Russo-Polish frontier. She was accompanied by her mother who could not cope with the cultural and physical demands of the situation. While returning to Vienna during the winter, Theresia died of the harsh conditions.

Not yet 20 years old, Paoli went back to Vienna in the spring of 1835 and began to support herself as a language tutor and translator. She also began contributing poetry and prose to various newspapers and periodicals in Vienna and Prague. Pleasantly surprised when her work began appearing in print, she adopted the nom de plume Betty Paoli with the publication of her short story "Clary" in the Wiener Zeitschrift. Her choice of "Paoli" was derived from the Corsican freedom fighter Pasquale de Paoli. For an almost penniless single woman to select as her pen name a foreign, male, revolutionary identity was a bold step in the reactionary climate of 1830s Vienna. Of the many intellectual influences she was exposed to during these years, writings from a Russia rapidly rising to the heights of world literature were significant. Impressed by the powerful messages of Russian writers, she translated into German a number of works by Alexander Pushkin and Ivan Turgenev.

With the publication in 1841 of her first book of poems, a small volume simply titledGedichte (Poems), Paoli went from being an unknown writer without the support of a patron to being the author of a volume which caused a sensation in Austrian literary circles. Revealing the inner life of a female poet, Gedichte was for its day an unusually frank unveiling of passion, melancholy, anger (toward the man who betrays her), and renunciation. While many of the poems in the book address an unnamed beloved, the collection is primarily the story of a woman whose unhappy past has led her to regard poetic expression as her one source of personal consolation.

The remarkable success of Gedichte brought Paoli fame, countless readers, and access to the salon of Henriette Wertheimer , wife of the Viennese philanthropist Joseph Wertheimer. Betty became Henriette's companion, and—in addition to being relieved of financial worries—she now found herself at the heart of Viennese literary and artistic life. Soon after the publication in 1843 of her second collection of poems, Nach dem Gewitter (After the Storm), she took on a new role, that of reader and companion to Princess Marie Anna von Schwarzenberg . As part of the princess' household, Paoli developed a close literary friendship with another of Princess Schwarzenberg's readers, the gifted writer Adalbert Stifter. The warmth of their friendship was reflected by Stifter when he portrayed both Paoli and the princess in his book Nachsommer (Indian Summer). During this period, Paoli also became acquainted with and was influenced by such noted writers as Franz Grillparzer and Nikolaus Lenau.

The travels that were part of the yearly routine of being connected to the Schwarzenberg family also provided inspiration for Paoli. During an 1844 trip to Berlin, she became acquainted with the circle around Rahel Varnhagen , which included Bettine von Arnim . The brief stay in Berlin left its mark on Paoli's book Romancero (1845), a work she dedicated to von Arnim. Most critics regard Romancero as containing Paoli's most artistically viable epic poems, including several which touched on a politically sensitive issue for the unstable Habsburg multinational state: the unfulfilled Italian yearning for freedom.

In early 1848, when a revolution broke out in Vienna which toppled Prince Metternich's reactionary regime, Paoli at first praised the political and intellectual freedom resulting from the upheaval. Within a few months, however, she distanced herself from the reforms, describing the situation in letters to close friends as one of anarchy and bloodshed brought on by an unsavory alliance of industrial workers and idealistic students no better than a "radical mob." The year was a disquieting one for the writer, not only because of its violence. In April 1848, her patron Princess von Schwarzenberg died, ending Paoli's employment. Furthermore, the revolution threatened the social order that made the Taschenbuch (pocket book) a popular literary genre with bourgeois women. A quintessential expression of the pre-1848 conservatism of Austrian and German Biedermeier culture, the Taschenbuch now went into a period of decline. With it went much of Paoli's economic security, as her primary source of income for over a decade had been derived from this genre. Added to her insecurities were political squabbles with friends and acquaintances, to the extent that she became known to her detractors as the "schwarzgelbe Hyäne" (black and yellow hyena), a reference to a club comprising individuals who remained loyal to the cause of the Habsburg throne.

Fortunately for Paoli, in 1849 she found employment as a companion to Countess Bünau , who lived in Dahlen near Dresden, in Germany. Temporarily disillusioned by the bitterness of political and literary controversies, she expanded her knowledge in various fields, particularly art history. At this time, while remaining associated with Countess Bünau until 1854, Paoli worked in Paris for a few months as a freelance correspondent for the Viennese newspaper Neue Freie Presse. In Paris, she met such luminaries as Heinrich Heine and George Sand .

Paoli quickly felt herself comfortable in the world of journalism. By 1852, she had returned to Vienna and was publishing in the newspaper Wiener Lloyd. For the next several years, Paoli published regularly in the Viennese press, but despite her intense efforts she remained financially impoverished. For a time, at least part of her income was derived from her role as companion to a Russian expatriate, Madame Bagréef-Speranski. By 1855, however, Paoli had become a successful theater and art critic, publishing first in the newly founded Österreichische Zeitung. She then appeared in print in a number of other respected Viennese newspapers including the Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung and, most important, in the highly influential mouthpiece of the upper middle class, the Neue Freie Presse. As an art critic covering both museums and galleries, she wielded considerable influence. She was equally powerful in her role as a theater critic, as her opinions could determine the success or failure of a play at the famous Burgtheater or other Viennese playhouses. Paoli also maintained a literary relationship to the Burgtheater, for which she translated French plays under the pseudonym "Branitz." Her reviews were both perceptive and finely written. By now, she enjoyed the reputation of being Austria's first woman journalist.

The last four decades of Paoli's life were dominated by relationships she maintained with her intimate circle of female friends. Of these, Ida von Fleischl-Marxow , whose Jewish family was one of the most wealthy and influential in Vienna, was by far the most important. In the late spring of 1855, Paoli entered into the final phase of a long, creative life, moving in with Ida and her family. In a remarkable arrangement that remained viable for many years (she would live with them until her death in 1894), Paoli lived harmoniously with Ida, her husband, and her sons. Sharing intense sisterly love with Ida, Paoli flourished personally and professionally. Among her own and Ida's closest friends was Marie Ebner-Eschenbach.

In declining health during the last two decades of her life, Paoli published less than she had previously. In the works she did publish, the aging author revealed an increasing social compassion, particularly for the sufferings of the industrial working classes. In her poem "Der Minotaurus," she pleads for society to provide them with the material necessities of life in order to prevent class warfare which would likely result in the destruction of ordered society.

Betty Paoli died in Baden bei Wien on July 5, 1894. On January 24, 1895, a memorial ceremony to honor her was held in Vienna by that city's prestigious Verein der Schriftstellerinnen und Künstlerinnen (Association of Female Authors and Artists). In a moving address, the Burgtheater's star actor Joseph Lewinsky paid tribute to a woman who had risen from a difficult early life to become Austria's first female journalist and one of the most respected literary personalities of imperial Vienna's golden age.


Adamec, Friedrich. "Betty Paoli und ihr Freundeskreis," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Vienna, 1951.

Bettelheim-Gabillon, Helene. "Betty Paoli," in Neue Österreichische Biographie. Vol. 5, 1928, pp. 48–65.

Brinker-Gabler, Gisela, Karola Ludwig, and Angela Wöffen, eds., Lexikon deutschsprachiger Schriftstellerinnen, 1800–1945. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch, 1986.

Garland, Mary. The Oxford Companion to German Literature. 3rd ed. NY: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Gluck, Jolan. "Betty Paoli: Die Dichterin im Spiegel Ihres Jahrhunderts," Ph.D. dissertation, City University of New York, 1989.

Gürtler, Christa, and Sigrid Schmid-Bortenschlager. Eigensinn und Widerstand: Schriftstellerinnen der Habsburgermonarchie. Vienna: Verlag Carl Ueberreuter, 1998.

Hacken, Richard D., ed. Into the Sunset: Anthology of Nineteenth-Century Austrian Prose. Riverside, CA: Ariadne Press, 1999.

Kernmayer, Hildegard. Judentum im Wiener Feuilleton (1848–1903): Exemplarische Untersuchungen zum literarästhetischen und politischen Diskurs der Moderne. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 1998.

Lewinsky, Joseph. Gedenkrede auf Betty Paoli. Vienna: Verlag des Vereines der Schriftstellerinnen und Künstlerinnen in Wien, 1895.

Paoli, Betty. Die schwarzgelbe Hyäne. Ed. by Joseph Halper. Graz: Stiasny Verlag, 1957.

——. "To a Man of the World," in Susan L. Cocalis, ed., The Defiant Muse: German Feminist Poems from the Middle Ages to the Present. NY: Feminist Press, 1986, p. 51.

Rose, Ferrel. "Betty Paoli," in Donald G. Daviau, ed., Major Figures of Nineteenth-Century Austrian Literature. Riverside, CA: Ariadne Press, 1998, pp. 387–415.

Scott, Annie A. Betty Paoli: An Austrian Poetess of the Nineteenth Century. London: George Routledge, 1926.

Wozonig, Karin S. Die Literatin Betty Paoli: Weibliche Mobilität im 19. Jahrhundert. Vienna: Löcker Verlag, 1999.

Zechner, Rosa. "'In unwandelbarer Zuneigung ergeben': Betty Paoli (1814–1894) und ihr Freundinnenkreis," in Homme. Vol. 4, no. 1, 1993, pp. 18–39.

Zinck, Karl Hugo. "Betty Paoli (1814–1894) und Dr. Joseph Breuer (1842–1925) in ihrer Zeit," in Vierteljahrsschrift des Adalbert Stifter Insituts des Landes Oberösterreich. Vol. 25, 1976, pp. 143–159.

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