Saturday, 16 June 2012

Hegels Schwester by Alexandra Birkert

I recently found an intriguing book by Alexandra Birkert called Hegels Schwester (Stuttgart: Thorbecke, 2008) concerning Christiane Luise Hegel (1773 to 1832), sister of our own Hegel. The back cover says:
THE EXCITING SEARCH FOR THE TRACES OF A REMARKABLE WOMAN IN THE SHADOW OF THE GREAT PHILOSOPHER!

After the early death of her mother, as the only woman growing up alongside three men, she stood close to the Wurttemberg Revolutionaries, later overseeing the education of the daughter of the House of Berlichingen, destined for a year in the State lunatic asylum and at the end committing suicide in [the south-west German town of] Nagold, such in broad brushstrokes is a sketch of the life of Christiane Hegel. So why do we still know so little on the only sister of the important philosopher, whose destiny ended so tragically? Why did she end up in the asylum while her brother was pursuing his career in Prussia? With numerous newly discovered sources on the life of Christiane Hegel and her renowned brother, Alexandra Birkert follows the traces of the life of a fascinating woman, who smuggled letters, mastered Latin and had contact with so many renowned personalities of her time. Thus from small jigsaw pieces emerges not only the life of a noteworthy woman, but also a lively picture of Wurttemberg in the time of the French Revolution and Napoleon. [ENDS]

The book draws on a range of local and family archives many of which have unpublished material. It is interesting biographically, but also illustrates the sacrifices that people, not just authors, have to make to produce literature. I have not read far, but already I have discovered that in addition to Christiane and Georg, Hegel had four other siblings who died in infancy between the marriage of his parents in 1769 and 1776. As Hegel was the first born, this must have made some impression on his mind as it was formed. I had always thought of them as like a modern semi planned family, but according to the local baptismal records, it was not so.

My interest in Hegel has turned in a more biographical direction in recent years and thus book certainly adds considerably to the information in standard German biographies such as that of Karl Rosenkranz.