Annette von Droste-Hülshoff by Annettevon Droste-Hülshoff

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(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Annette von Droste-Hülshoff 1797-1848

(Full name Anna Elisabeth Franziska Adolfine Wilhelmina Luisa Maria, Freiin Droste-Hülshoff) German poet and novella writer.

The following entry presents criticism on Droste-Hülshoff from 1969 through 2001. For additional information on Droste-Hülshoff's life and career, see NCLC, Volume 3.

Annette von Droste-Hülshoff overcame frequent, debilitating illness and the restraints of a conservative family to become what many consider Germany's greatest woman poet. Droste-Hülshoff pursued her poetic calling throughout her life, beginning very early in childhood, and published one novella and two collections of poetry during her lifetime. She also left a substantial body of finished and unfinished works that were published in the decades after her death. Her works are characterized by her interests in religion and social justice, even as they are marked by a deep interiority. Though her travels led her to meet some of Germany's cultural elite, she was primarily homebound. Like Emily Dickinson, to whom she has been compared, Droste-Hülshoff was able to enlarge her world through extensive writing, producing a body of work that engaged Catholic religious traditions, German folklore, and Romantic literary ideas with independence and originality.

Biographical Information

Annette von Droste-Hülshoff was born Anna Elisabeth Franziska Adolfine Wilhelmina Luisa Maria, Freiin Droste-Hülshoff on January 10, 1797. Her aristocratic parents were Clemens August and Therese Luise von Droste-Hülshoff; she had an older sister, called Jenny, and two younger brothers, Werner and Ferdinand. Hers was a distinguished and ancient family, living in the castle of Hülshoff in Westphalia (near Münster). She was born quite prematurely and was not expected to survive. Instead, she lived in varying degrees of poor health, often under the shadow of seemingly imminent death, for most of her life. The wet nurse who kept her alive, Maria Katharina Plettendorf, became her intimate friend and a mentor in care-giving, Droste-Hülshoff's vocation apart from her writing. Droste-Hülshoff began writing poetry by the time she was seven. Initially her family, especially her mother, was very encouraging, proud of the apparent talent and intelligence of the child. Therese Luise provided an extensive education for all her children, well beyond what even other aristocratic families typically arranged, and Annette and Jenny took the same course of study as their brothers. Annette also read widely in the classics and German poetry on her own. Droste-Hülshoff's talents and education, however, were not to be used beyond the home. By the age of 12, the young poet had an offer to publish, but her family turned it down. Within a few years, her mother moved from being Droste-Hülshoff's primary supporter to being one of the major hindrances to her development as an author. Still, she received some encouragement from the elite friends of her family. As a young girl she met Princess Gallitzin, a major patroness of the arts who brought some elements of contemporary German culture to Münster. In her teen years she met Anton Matthias Sprikmann, a lawyer who moved in literary circles; Sprikmann took on the role of Droste-Hülshoff's mentor. She penned one of her first major writings in 1813, the play Bertha, though she never completed it. That year she also came to Bokendorf, the home of her maternal Haxthausen family, who also encouraged her writing, especially her religious poetry. While there she met Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm, who asked for her help in collecting the folktales that would later be known as Grimm's fairy tales. Droste-Hülshoff was willing, but it is unlikely that she ever did much work with them. Nonetheless the meeting was likely significant in stimulating her interest in Westphalian history. Despite serious illness, she also wrote the epic poem Walther (completed 1818), the novel fragment Ledwina, and part one of Das geistliche Jahr ( The...

(The entire section is 125,189 words.)