Lou Andreas-Salomé Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Lou Andreas-Salomé 1861-1937

(Born Louisa von Salome) Russian-born German novelist, novella writer, critic, autobiographer, and psychotherapist.

Known primarily for her associations with several prominent figures in European culture, including Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Sigmund Freud, Andreas-Salomé produced a diverse body of writings that includes fiction, literary criticism, religious and philosophical works, and psychoanalytic studies. While her works are not often accorded an intrinsic literary value, they nevertheless reflect the growth of a profoundly charismatic, spiritual and independent woman whose sexually liberated, peripatetic life served as a model for subsequent generations of feminists.

Biographical Information

Born in St. Petersburg, Andreas-Salomé was the fourth child of a German general in the service of Russian army. As a child she displayed a precocious capacity as an autodidact, mastering German and French. When she was seventeen Andreas-Salomé began studies with a Dutch preacher named Hendrik Gillot, who tutored her in theology and philosophy. She abruptly severed the relationship in 1880 after becoming apprehensive about sexual tensions between her and Gillot. Unwilling to capitulate her independence, Andreas-Salomé resisted her mother's entreaties to marry and adopted a severe study regimen. After becoming ill from the strain of her endeavors, she began a period of convalescence in Italy, where in 1882 she met Nietzsche and the French philosopher Paul R&. The two men and Andreas-Salomé decided to live and work together for the purpose of mutually supporting one another's intellectual development. Despite the idealistic pretensions of this arrangement, Nietzsche soon fell in love with Andreas-Salomé, who broke off their relationship after rejecting his proposal of marriage. In 1887, Andreas-Salomé married Friedrich Carl Andreas, a philologist. For reasons unknown to her biographers, Andreas-Salomé's marriage remained unconsummated, and she found sexual fulfillment in relationships with several other men, including Rilke, whom she met in 1897. Fourteen years his senior, Andreas-Salomé became the exalted subject of many of Rilke's poems, and he credited her with his reawakened sensitivity to simple and concrete expression. In 1911 Andreas-Salomé met Freud at the Weimar Congress of the International Psychoanalytic Association. After attending seminars and lectures, and initiating a correspondence and friendship with Freud, Andreas-Salomé began her own psychoanalytic practice. She died in 1937.

Major Works

Andreas-Salomé's first published book, Im Kampf um Gott (A Struggle for God), is a thinly disguised roman a clef depicting her experiences with Rée and Nietzsche. Andreas-Salomé produced several other novels during her career which drew general praise for their psychological insight, though none are highly regarded by contemporary standards. More notable are her achievements in her essays and monographs, which range from religious and philosophical meditations to theater reviews and literary criticism. Her third book, Friedrich Nietzsche in seinen Werken, is a study of Nietzsche's life and work that interprets his philosophical activity as symptomatic of his mental illness. Andreas-Salomé's propensity for psychological analysis is also apparent in her study Rainer Maria Rilke, which presents a censorious view of the poet as hysterical and unbalanced. Andreas-Salomé's journal from her years as a student of Freud, In der Schule bei Freud: Tagebuch eines Jahres (The Freud Journal of Lou Andreas-Salomé), sheds an intriguing light on her contributions to psychoanalysis at a critical stage in its development. In her essays on religion, dependent to a large degree upon Nietzsche's philosophy, Andreas-Salomé argued that God is a human invention, a projection of our need for paternalistic love and protection.

Critical Reception

Most criticism on Andreas-Salomé is largely biographical, focusing in particular on her relationships with Nietzsche, Rilke, and Freud. This fascination with Andreas-Salomé's life, which some critics maintain unjustly neglects her fictional and dramatic works, is sanctioned by the view that her writings are of minor value and that her real genius lay in her ability to enter the world of male intellectual privilege and influence the development of great ideas on her own terms. More recently, some feminist studies have suggested that this approach perpetuates sexist assumptions about intellectual and artistic creativity, and consequently they have focused more substantially on her works.