Strauss und Torney, Lulu von (1873–1956)
Strauss und Torney, Lulu von (1873–1956)
German writer whose heroic ballads are considered among the best in the genre of the early 20th century. Born on September 20, 1873, in Bückeburg, Germany; died on June 19, 1956, in Jena, East Germany; daughter of a general major who served as adjunct to the duke of Schaumburg-Lippe; attended high school in Bückeburg; married Eugen Diederichs (a publisher), in 1916 (died 1930).
(poetry) Balladen und Lieder (Ballads and Songs, 1902), Neue Balladen und Lieder (New Ballads and Songs, 1907), Reif steht die Saat (The Crop is Ripe, 1919, reissued with collected poems, 1926, 1929), Erde der Väter (Our Forefathers' Soil, 1936); (novels) Aus Bauernstamm (Made out of Peasant Wood, 1902), Luzifer (1907), Judas (1911), Der jüngste Tag (The Day of Judgement, 1922); (short stories) Bauernstolz (Peasant's Pride, 1901), Das Erbe (The Inheritance, 1905), Das Meerminneke (The Sea Maid, 1906), Die Legende der Felsenstadt (The Legend of the City of Rock, 1911), Auge um Auge (Eye for Eye, 1933); (nonfiction) Die Dorfgeschichte in der modernen Literatur (The Village Story in Modern Literature, 1901), Das Leben der Heilingen Elisabeth (The Life of Saint Elisabeth, 1926), Deutsches Frauenleben zur Zeit der Sachsenkaiser und Hohenstaufer (Life of Women at the Time of the Saxonian and Hohenstaufer Emperors, 1927), Eugen Diederichs, Leben und Werk (Eugen Diederichs, Life and Work, 1936), Annette von Droste-Hülshoff (1936); (memoirs) Das verborgene Angesicht, Erinnerungen (The Veiled Face, Memories, 1943).
A prolific writer of poetry, prose, criticism and correspondence whose work is deeply linked to the northern region of Germany where she was born, Lulu von Strauss und Torney was popular and influential with the reading public of her day. In the later years of her life, the mythology, heroic human struggles, and romanticized "sons of the soil" which permeate her poetry and fiction also found much favor with members of the Nazi Party; their championing of her work is perhaps the largest reason why even her best writing is now little read.
Strauss und Torney was born in 1873, the daughter of a German officer who served as adjunct to the duke of Schaumburg-Lippe. She was raised in an intellectual atmosphere, traveling extensively while still young, and supplemented her high school education in Bückeburg with wide reading in the duke's library. In her 20s, she became associated with the literary circle of Börries von Münchhausen, a German revivalist of ballad poetry, and towards the end of the 19th century she, too, began writing ballads and stories. She also frequently visited Berlin, and there befriended poet Agnes Miegel , whose work explored many of the same themes as her own, as well as Theodor Heuss, later the president of West Germany. (Her correspondence with Heuss would be published in 1965.) After publishing a collection of stories focusing on peasant life in 1901, Strauss und Torney saw the publication of her first collection of poetry, Balladen und Lieder (Ballads and Songs), in 1902.
Strauss und Torney steeped her ballads in myths, legends, and historical events, using dramatic structures that soon made her one of the leading ballad poets of the early 20th century. As a naturalistic poet, she frequently portrayed the conflict between man and nature, with the noble human mind emerging triumphant over weakness and failure. Although her stereotypical portrayal of peasants, traditions, and harvests has not aged well, and her lyric poetry in particular is considered weak, the recurrent theme of the unspoiled "people of the land" fit in well with the taste of the times. Balladen und Lieder was followed by several other popular poetry collections, including Reif steht die Saat (The Crop is Ripe, 1919), which was republished with the inclusion of her collected poems in 1926 and 1929. An enlarged collection, Erde der Väter (Our Forefathers' Soil), was published in 1936.
The themes of Strauss und Torney's poetry recur in her fiction, which consists mostly of historical novels set in rural Germany. Auge um Auge (Eye for an Eye), originally published in a collection in 1909 and republished as the title piece of another collection in 1933, is considered by some to be her most powerful novella. Luzifer (1907), set in the 13th century, was the first of her longer novels, followed by Judas (1911), which explores the result of news of the French Revolution reaching a rural area of Westphalia. Her 1921 novel Der jüngste Tag (Judgment Day), set in rural Westphalia during the turmoil of the Reformation, is regarded as her masterpiece.
Married in 1916 to publisher Eugen Diederichs, Strauss und Torney lived with him in Jena, Germany, where in addition to working on her own writing she served as a reader for his publishing company. She remained in Jena after her husband's death in 1930, and six years later published a biography of him. In 1938, she published another biography, Annette von Droste-Hülshoff: Einsamkeit und Helle, Ihr Leben in Briefen (Annette von Droste-Hülshoff : Solitude and Clarity, Her Life in Letters), about the major 19th-century writer whose work, like her own, drew heavily upon rural German life. During World War II, while her popularity remained high, Strauss und Torney published her memoirs, Das verborgene Angesicht, Erinnerungen (The Veiled Face, Memories, 1943). She died in Jena, then a part of East Germany, in 1956.
Bédé, Jean-Albert, and William B. Edgerton, eds. Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature. 2nd ed. NY: Columbia University Press, 1980.
Buck, Claire, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.
Garland, Mary. The Oxford Companion to German Literature. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Wilson, Katharina M. An Encyclopedia of Continental Women Writers. NY: Garland, 1991.