Christiane Vulpius

These days we hear a lot about women’s equality,  that means, women have the same rights as men. So, at least in our Western societies we have achieved a lot as far as women’s rights is concerned. I keep asking myself, why do some men still not want women to have equal rights? Maybe it is a reflection of what nearly all men were like in the past, Maybe some men just find it too difficult to change. For sure a lot has to do with upbringing and education and what they feel a man must be like.

I am very interested in finding out how prominent women used to live during the time of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s life. In that connection I am especially interested in finding out about women that did not belong to the nobility as for instance Christiane Vulpius who rather late in life became Frau von Goethe, the wife of Wolfgang von Goethe.

It seems to me what class you belonged to very much affected your upbringing and your lifestyle. The class system of course also very much affected men; still the fact remains that men had far more opportunities for advancement than women. with perhaps one exception namely when a women at the right time in her life managed to marry into a different class. In Christiane Vulpius’s case this seemed not to have worked out very satisfactorily. By the time Goethe married Christiane the couple already had a sixteen year old son. And she died ten years later.  I think this is why it is interesting to read about Christiane’s life. I read the biography that Dieter Wunderlich wrote. I copy here the last part of it:

“After the defeat of Prussia and Saxony against Napoleon on October 14, 1806 at Jena and Auerstedtplundered the French Weimar. What exactly happened the following night is not guaranteed. Allegedly, Christiane Vulpius saved her lover’s life by courageously putting herself in the way of the soldiers who wanted to plunder the house on the Frauenplan. She held the men down until October 16, when Goethe received a sauvegarde , a letter of protection issued in the name of the Emperor, which kept him and his house safe from French soldiers.

Three days later, on October 19, 1806, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Christiane Vulpius married in the Jakobskirche. Her sixteen-year-old son August was there.

In order to introduce his wife into Weimar society, Goethe persuaded Gdańsk’s widow Johanna Schopenhauer (1766 – 1838) – the mother of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer – who moved to Weimar only a few weeks ago, to have tea with them on 20 October. However, the hostility in the population against Christiane von Goethe persisted.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe not only traveled without Christiane, but also lived alone in Jena for months. And when he was at home, he retired to write in the evening, while Christiane played cards with friends.

Goethe’s and Christiane’s life is largely separate. (Sigrid Damm, loc. Cit., Page 214)

Christiane von Goethe was anything but an intellectual, but she liked to go to the theater; she had common sense, was practically gifted, and led the big household with a strong hand. When her mother-in-law Katharina Elisabeth died in 1808, Christiane took care of the inheritance matters of her husband, so that he could write undisturbed.

At the beginning of 1815 Christiane von Goethe suffered two strokes. A third stroke took place at the end of May 1816. Presumably, Johann Wolfgang and Christiane von Goethe saw each other for the last time on May 30, because the poet kept away from his terminally ill wife and lay in bed himself after a painful week on the 6th. June – probably due to uremia – died. He also did not participate in the funeral on the Jacobsfriedhof in Weimar.”


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