(Essentials of European Literature)

Lilly Czepanek was fourteen years old when her temperamental father, a music master, disappeared from home. The girl and her mother became destitute, but they looked forward every day to Czepanek’s return since he had left behind his cherished musical composition, The Song of Songs, around which the entire family had built its hopes for success.

Lilly grew into an attractive young woman. She attended school to prepare herself for a career as a governess. Meanwhile Mrs. Czepanek’s mind deteriorated, and she projected mad schemes to regain her social position. One day, in a fit of rage, she attacked Lilly with a bread knife and was subsequently committed to an asylum. Lilly, now alone, took a job as a clerk in the circulating library of Mrs. Asmussen; she assuaged her loneliness by reading voraciously. During this time, she admired a high-minded young student, Fritz Redlich, who spurned her because he misunderstood her overtures of friendship.

Mrs. Asmussen’s two worldly daughters, home after having failed to find their fortunes elsewhere, coached Lilly in the ways of catching a man. Lieutenant von Prell, attached to the local regiment, came to the library, saw Lilly, and was overwhelmed by her simple charm. His visit was followed by the visits of many young officers and men of fashion of the town. The sisters, Lona and Mi, were jealous of Lilly and hated her for her ability to attract men without even venturing out of the Asmussen house.

When Colonel von Mertzbach, the commander of the regiment, offered Lilly a job as his secretary and reader in order to save her from such sordid surroundings, she declined because she was suspicious of his intentions. She received dozens of fine Christmas gifts from the colonel, but she returned them all. At the colonel’s request, Lilly went to his quarters, where he proposed marriage after revealing his passion for her. Seeing a chance for freedom and luxury, Lilly accepted and became his wife. Soon she discovered, however, that the colonel had only a physical attraction for her and that she was little more than his chattel. Their wedding trip to Italy was interrupted when the colonel, who was extremely jealous, saw Lilly take a passive interest in a young man who shared their compartment.

The couple went to East Prussia to the colonel’s castle. The colonel, retired from military service, devoted his time to molding Lilly into an aristocratic Junker lady, and in this task he was assisted by the housekeeper, Miss von Schwertfeger.

Von Prell, who had resigned his commission, was now employed on the estate of his former commanding officer. He taught Lilly to ride, and on one of their jaunts together into the countryside, she surrendered herself to him. Having access to the castle, he made his way to her room secretly at night. One night the colonel returned home unexpectedly from one of his frequent trips to the nearby town and almost surprised the two...

(The entire section is 1212 words.)