Dorothea Veit-Schlegel

Portrait of Dorothea Veit-Schlegel

Dorothea Friederike Veit (nee Brendel Mendelssohn) was a German novelist and translator. She was born on 24th October 1764 in Berlin and died in Frankfurt on 3rd August 1839 aged 74.

Major Works

Florentin” (1801)
“Gespräch über die Neueren Romane der Französinnen” (1803)
“Geschichte des Zauberers Merlin” (1804)

Biography

Dorothea von Schlegel was born as Brendel Mendelssohn on 24th October 1764 in Berlin, Germany. Her father was the famous philosopher Moses Mendelssohn whose main income was as an accountant for a silk factory. Her mother was Frometa a well educated woman and Dorothea was the eldest daughter of six children. The family house was always full of poets, musicians, critics and philosophers from all over Europe and she lapped up all of their conversations. The composers Felix Mendelssohn and Fanny Mendelssohn were her nephew and niece.

1768: Birth of her sister Henriette.

1777: The two sisters and some friends of their own age develop a passion for avant-garde German literature counter to their strict Jewish upbringing.

1779: She is engaged to Simon Veit by her parents at the age of fourteen. (He is twenty-four).

1783: Dorothea marries Veit, who is a banker.

1790: Birth of their son Jonas.

1793: Birth of their son Philipp who would later become a painter. Dorothea engages in the literary salons of Berlin and helps found a secret society with Alexander von Humboldt, the naturalist, called the “Tugenbund”

1794: She starts officially calling herself Dorothea instead of Brendel.

1797: In July she meets the poet and critic Friedrich von Schlegel at a salon held by her friend Henriette Herz. Friedrich’s brother August Wilhelm Schlegel is already a distinguished professor at the University of Jena.

1799: On 11th January Dorothea finally divorces Simon Veit. Her husband is given custody of the older son Jonas whilst she has custody of Philip until he is thirteen and she moves to Jena with him having forfeited her right to live in Berlin. Her mother breaks off with her entirely and Dorothea has to live more modestly than she is used to sharing lodgings with Friedrich and his brother August Wilhelm and his wife Caroline Schlegel. To add to the scandal Friedrich von Schlegel has just published an explicit novel entitled “Lucinde” which is widely seen as a story about his affair with Dorothea. Friedrich earns some money by teaching transcendental philosophy at the university and the house becomes a magnet for the intellectuals of the day including Novalis, Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich Schelling.

1801: Her novel “Florentin” is published anonymously by Friedrich von Schlegel.

1802: Dorothea and Friedrich move to Paris from 1802. She begins translation work to earn some money and works on “Geschichte der Jungfrau von Orleans” although it is published under Friedrich’s name.

1803: Her brother Abraham and sister Henriette are living in Paris and Dorothea tells them she will leave Friedrich so that she can receive her share of the family’s inheritance before her mother dies. They do not believe her and refuse. She works on the translation of “Autobiographie der Margaretha von Valois” again published under Friedrich’s name. 

1804: On 6th April Dorothea converts to Protestantism and she and Friedrich marry. Soon after they move to Cologne in Germany although Friedrich still has no official employment. She translates “Sammlung Romantischer Dichtungen des Mittelalters (Collection of Romantic Poems of the Middle Ages) in two volumes.

1805: She translates “Lother und Maller. Eine Rittergeschichte” under Friedrich’s name.

1806: Her son Philipp returns to live with his father in Berlin and she is heartbroken.

1807: She works on translating Madame de Staël’s “Corinne” and Geschichte des Zauberers Merlin”.

1808: Both Friedrich and Dorothea convert to Catholicism on 16th April in Cologne Cathedral. They continue to visit the literary salons including those of Madame de Stael.

1809: Friedrich is appointed to a position as Imperial Court Secretary at the military headquarters for Austria and the couple move to Vienna. 

1810: Much to Simon Veit’s distress his two sons also convert to Catholicism. They eventually settle in Rome and become artists and Dorothea visits them several times. Philip becomes a member of “The Nazarenes” who are to influence the English Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

1815: Following the Congress of Vienna after the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte Friedrich serves as First Secretary of the Austrian legation to the Diet of Frankfurt.

1819: Simon Veit dies. Friedrich visits Rome with Clemens Brentano, Metternich and Friedrich von Gentz and meets up with Dorothea.

1820: The couple are back in Vienna. 

1829: Friedrich von Schlegel dies and Dorothea moves to Frankfurt am Main in Germany where she lives in her son Philip’s house. Friedrich had left debts behind him but Dorothea’s brothers agree to support her. Abraham’s son Felix Mendelssohn is a great admirer of Dorothea and meets up with her regularly.

Dorothea von Schlegel died on 3rd August 1839 in Frankfurt and is buried in the Hauptfriedhof (Main Cemetery) in Frankfurt am Main.