Bettina von Arnim

Bettina von Arnim (nee Elisabeth Catharina Ludovica Magdalena Brentano) was a German novelist, publisher, composer, singer, visual artist, and social activist. She was born on 4th April 1785 in Frankfurt, Germany and died on 20th January 1859 in Berlin, Germany aged 73.

Major Works

Dies Buch gehört dem König” (This Book Belongs to the King) (1843)
Ilius Pamphilius und die Ambrosia” (1848)

Biography

Elisabeth Catharina Ludovica Magdalena Brentano, known to history as Bettina von Arnim was born on 4th April 1785 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Her father was an Italian merchant and her grandmother was the novelist Sophie von La Roche. Her elder brother was the poet Clemens Brentano

1793: Her mother dies and she is sent to be educated at a convent school in Fritzlar.

1797: Her father dies and her half-brother Franz becomes her guardian although after a short while she moves to live with her grandmother Sophie von La Roche, in Offenbach am Main. Here she is allowed to use the extensive library and meets several literary and artistic people of the time in the house including Ludwig van Beethoven.

1801: She forms a friendship with Karoline von Günderrode after being introduced by her brother Clemens. 

1806: Günderrode commits suicide by stabbing herself on the banks of the river Rhine after a failed passion for the philologist Georg Friedrich Creuzer and Bettina is distraught. Her brother suggests she seek solace in the works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and in particular his novel “Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre”. She begins a new friendship with Elisabeth Goethe, the mother of the poet. 

1807: She meets Goethe in Weimar. She is 22 and he is 57 and her love for him is not requited although the two engage in a lasting correspondence. Her grandmother dies and Bettina then lives with a succession of other relatives including her sister Gunda and husband Friedrich von Savigny in Marburg. In April she travels with them dressed as a man in order to visit Goethe in Weimar. During the following months she helps her brother and Achim von Arnim find folksongs for their future work “Des Knaben Wunderhorn”.

1808: She studies singing, piano and composition in Munich. 

1811: Her relationship with Goethe sours after a public argument with his wife. She marries Achim von Arnim in secret and the couple move to Berlin.

1812: She gives birth to her son Freimund and would go on to have six more children over the years.

1814: The family moves to an estate in Wiepersdorf.

1817: The couple arrange a mutual agreement for Achim to remain in Wiepersdorf whilst Bettina returns to Berlin.

1829: She meets Friedrich von Schlegel.

1831: Her husband Achim dies. She had put her literary career on hold during her marriage but begins to write again.

1835: She publishes “Goethes Briefwechsel mit einem Kinde” (Goethe’s Correspondence with a Child) supposedly based on correspondence between them complete with tales from his mother. Goethe was reported to have used her notes when writing his autobiography, “Dichtung und Wahrheit”.

1838: She pleads on behalf of Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm when they are dismissed by the University of Gottingen as part of the “Gottingen Seven”.

1840: She writes “Die Günderode” based on her conversations with Karoline von Günderode and discusses their Schwebereligion (floating religion).

1842: Her brother Clemens Brentano dies. Bettina meets Karl Marx.

1843: She publishes “Dies Buch gehört dem König” (This Book Belongs to the King) as the declaration of her political principles.

1844: She interviews many poor working families living in Silesia and publishes them under the title of “Armenbuch” (Book of the Poor). She also publishes “Clemens Brentanos Frühlingskranz” (Clemens Brentano’s Spring Wreath).

1846: She starts a lengthy dispute with the Berlin Magistrate to defend her actions in publishing Achim von Arnim’s and her own works privately and refuses to pay for citizenship. 

1847: She writes on behalf of Ludwig von Mieroslawski who has been sentenced to death for his involvement in Poland’s independence struggle. 

1849: She pleads against the death sentence for the former Storkow Mayor who had attempted to assassinate the King in 1844 and also tries to persuade the King to acquit the theologian Gottfried Kinkel, who is sentenced to life imprisonment for participation in the 1848 Revolution.

1852: She writes “Gespräche mit Dämonen” (Conversations with Demons) in which she stands up for the abolition of the death penalty and for the political equality of women and Jews.

Bettina von Arnim suffered a stroke from which she never finally recovered and died on 20th January 1859 in Berlin. She was buried next to her husband at the Schlosskirche, Wiepersdorf in Brandenburg, Germany.

Further Information

List of works by Arnim.