Lou Andreas-Salomé Essay - Critical Essays

Andreas-Salomé, Lou


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.

Principal Works

Im Kampfum Gott (novel) 1885

Hendrik Ibsens Frauengestalten nach seinen sechs Familien-Dramen (criticism) 1892

[Ibsen's Heroines, 1985]

Friedrich Nietzsche in seinen Werken (criticism) 1894

[Nietzsche, 1988]

Menschenkinder (novellas) 1899

Ma: Ein Portrait (novel) 1901

Die Erotik (essay) 1910

Der Teufel und seine GroJfmutter (drama) 1922

Rodinka: Russische Erinnerung (novel) 1923

Rainer Maria Rilke (criticism) 1928

Lebensriickblick: Grundrifi einiger Lebenser innerungen (memoirs) 1951

In derSchule bei Freud: Tagebuch einesJahres, 1912-1913 (journal) 1958

[The Freud Journal of Lou Andreas-Salomé, 1964]


D. L. Hobman (essay date 1960)

SOURCE: "Lou Andreas-Salomé," in The Hibbert Journal, Vol. 58, January, 1960, pp. 149-56.

[In the following essay, Hobman offers an overview of Andreas-Salomé's life.]

Lou Andreas-Salomé wanted love—the love of man and the love of God—and she took what she wanted. Throughout her whole being and throughout her whole life she was filled with an awareness of God. This RussoGerman woman writer, famous on the Continent but scarcely known in England, divided her autobiography [Lebensrückblick: Grundrißeioiger Lebenser innerungen, 1951] into separate parts, not in chronological order but according to her experiences; one of the last sections, about Sigmund Freud, is an account of her close friendship with him. She was his disciple, and her intuitive understanding of men and women was further enlarged by his discoveries concerning the psyche, but although she learned much from him, she never learned to explain away religious faith as an illusion. The title of the first and most important chapter in the story of her life is Experience of God.

She recalls that as a very small and naughty child, if she was occasionally whipped by her adoring parents, she complained of this treatment to God who invariably agreed heartily with her resentment; indeed it made him so angry that, for the sake of the father and mother whom she dearly loved, she then persuaded him to ignore the whole affair. In a postscript to this book the editor, Ernst Pfeiffer relates that as an old woman shortly before her death in 1937 she said: "No matter what happens to me, I never lose the certainty that in the background there are arms open to receive me."

Her mysticism was bound up with a strongly erotic temperament and a passionate zest for life. She would not accept any form of orthodoxy and already in adolescence gave up the Protestant creed in which she had been brought up. "He who loves God does not need a Church," was a Russian saying which she quoted with approval. She felt that this explained a peculiarity of Russianized Christianity, which gave devotion less to the clerical hierarchy than to individual pilgrims, "in whose footsteps anyone could walk, so that this reverence included something of which each man in secret felt himself capable. Conversely, it could happen to any man to find himself in the position of one condemned—a criminal." This attitude accounted for a lack of discrimination in values, a kind of fatalism, since all things for good or evil lay ultimately in the hands of God.

Lou Andreas-Salomé believed that, in spite of all their superstition, the Russian masses provided a basis of profound primitive strength for the educated classes as well, and that in this passionate inner life the tensions of sexual love were somehow lessened, so that love was accepted with greater natural simplicity in Russia than in more civilized nations. She analyses the Slav attitude as though it were also her own, as no doubt to some extent it was. Although she was of mixed, partly German origin, and spent the greater part of her adult life in Germany, she seems to embody a point of view which belongs to Eastern rather than to Western Europe, where goodness and morality are not necessarily equated. Educated Russian women of the nineteenth century might have been puzzled by the idea of subordinating personal emotion to a generalized code. Famous English-women, on the other hand, were usually moral, not in the accepted sense only, but in their efforts at improving their social surroundings. Their faith in public opinion, and therefore in Parliament, to redress social evils was the result of living in a country with democratic institutions, however imperfect. In Russia any faith in reform was almost inevitably bound up with the desire for revolution, and Lou Andreas-Salomé was neither a political rebel, nor indeed was she politically minded at all. In her life and work she was first and foremost an artist, and her concern was with the individual and not with society. The edifice of religion seemed to her a dreary ruin, cumbering ground which was urgently needed for a more rational development, yet she was no rationalist. She was a primitive impulsive creature, avid for life, awed by its mystery. As a child she comforted herself by talking to God as a friend, and in old age she still depended upon his love.

She sought the reflection of her own feelings in the hearts of her friends. Many years after she had refused Nietzsche's offer of marriage, she published a long book about him, an analysis of his nature through his works, and she was convinced that religious genius permeated all that he had written. According to her, his entire development sprang from his own loss of faith, from his "emotion over the loss of God." He was a split individual who had "achieved health through disease, genuine adoration through illusion, genuine affirmation and enhancement of the self through self-wounding." In the same way, in the poet Rilke, it was the mystic to whom she responded out of the depth of her own nature. She gave him an understanding which bound them together during a passionate friendship of nearly thirty years. He left the manuscript of his Book of Hours in her keeping until in 1905 his publisher persuaded him to let it be brought out. After she had sent it back to him, he wrote to her of his longing for her presence, and said that the old prayers were re-echoing within him, "vibrating inwardly down to the very foundations, and echoing outwardly far beyond myself. Echoing to you …"

Louisa (Ljola) von Salomé, later always known as Lou, was born in St. Petersburg on February 6th, 1861. Her father, General von Salomé, was of Huguenot descent, whose ancestors had emigrated from Avignon, and after the French Revolution had wandered across Germany to the Baltic Provinces, where he was born. He had been brought to St. Petersburg as a little boy and had there received a military education. He was given a patent of hereditary Russian nobility after he had taken part in putting down the Polish insurrection of 1830. His wife was of mixed Danish and German origin, and at home the family spoke German or sometimes French. This was by no means unusual in the cosmopolitan society of the Russian capital, where foreign languages were much in fashion. The fact that they were Protestant made the General's wife feel herself an emigrant in a Greek-Orthodox land, and she passed on something of this feeling to her children. Her husband, on the other hand, felt deep love for the narod, the common people, which found an echo in Lou.

As the sixth child and only girl, she was cherished by her family, so that in after life she said that her instinct led her to seek a brother in every man whom she met. To judge by an early picture she was a beautiful little girl, with boyishly short curly hair, a high forehead, full sensuous lips, and eyes which seemed to be asking a question of the world.

In spite of all the affection by which she was surrounded she seems to have been a curiously lonely child, and something of a rebel against authority from her earliest years. Like all imaginative children she was much given to making up stories, and in bed at night, with two dolls beside her pillow, she told these stories to God, beginning with an invariable formula: "As thou knowest." Sometimes she told them to her family, but was to discover with a shock that not every audience was favourably impressed. One day, on her return from a walk with a little cousin, she related a dramatic adventure which was supposed to have befallen them both on the way, when to her consternation she saw the other child staring at her, not in admiration, and heard her exclaim: "But you're telling lies!" Her father once brought home for her from a Court ball a fine large cracker, which was said to contain a dress. Lou at once pictured to herself a golden robe, and when it was explained that the gown could only be made of tissue-paper, with perhaps a little tinsel trimming, she refused to pull the cracker at all. As long as it remained intact she could keep her illusion, and that mattered more to the child than reality.

She was devoted to her parents, especially to her father, who liked to fondle her, but their caresses always ceased as soon as her mother—Muschka—came into the room. Sometimes in the summer the latter, who enjoyed seabathing, took her for a drive to the coast. On one such occasion, when she was still very young, she watched her mother in the water through a little window in the bathing-hut, and suddenly cried out eagerly: "Oh, dear Muschka, do drown!"

Laughing, her mother called back: "Why, child, then I should die."

Lou's response to this was a shout of "Nitschevol" (No matter.)

She was once bitten by a favourite dog who, to her great grief, had to be destroyed, because hydrophobia was rampant in the town. Told that a mad dog usually attacked his beloved master before anybody else, she was in anguish lest—having gone mad herself—she might bite him whom she loved above all else on earth. It was only in later life that she realized the full implication of this fear of injuring her father; in childhood she seemed to herself to love both parents equally.

One winter's day, when she was eight years old, walking...

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H. F. Peters (essay date 1962)

SOURCE: My Sister, My Spouse: A Biography of Lou Andreas-Salomé, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1962, 320 P.

[Peters is a German-born American educator and critic. In the following excerpt from his biography of AndreasSalomé, he offers an account of her love affair with the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, which left a profound stamp on Rilke's poetry.]

At the end of April, 1897, Lou went to Munich where she was joined by her friend Frieda von Billow, who was to give a public lecture on her exploits in Africa. The Bavarian capital was one of the cities Lou liked to visit, although she did not particularly care for what she called the "Munich atmosphere," that...

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Michael Hamburger (review date 1965)

SOURCE: A review of The Freud Journal of Lou Andreas-Salomé, in The New York Times Book Review, January 3, 1965, p. 5.

[A German-born English poet, translator and critic, Hamburger has been widely praised for his translations of such poets as Friedrich Hoelderlin and Georg TrakL In the following mixed review of The Freud Journal of Lou Andreas-Salomé, he asserts that Andreas-Salomé incisively confronts the central issues in Freud's psychology.]

Of the many kinds of readers who will be interested in [The Freud Journal of Lou Andreas-Slomé], my kind may well be the most peripheral, since I am not a psychologist or even a literary Freudian....

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Rudolph Binion (essay date 1968)

SOURCE: "The Wayward Disciple," Frau Lou: Nietzsche's Wayward Disciple, Princeton University Press, 1968, pp. 141-71.

[Binion is an American educator and critic. In the following excerpt from his highly praised biography of Andreas-Salomé, he discusses her 1894 study of Friedrich Nietzsche's life and work.]

[After Nietzsche's breakdown in 1889] Lou could develop no farther as authoress, feminist, or female except as Nietzsche's ex-disciple. In "Der Realismus in der Religion" of late 1891, she implicitly declared herself loyal to Nietzsche's sometime Réealism. Her professed purpose was to pin down "the religious affect," as Nietzsche had prompted her to—and she did...

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Stuart Hampshire (essay date 1969)

SOURCE: "Freud and Lou Andreas-Salomé," translated by Stanley A. Leavy, in his Modern Writers and Other Essays, Chatto & Windus, 1969, pp. 88-95.

[Hampshire is an English philosopher, critic, and educator. In the following excerpt he discusses Andreas-Salomé's personal and intellectual influence on Sigmund Freud during the years 1912-13.]

Lou Andreas-Salomé was the intimate friend of Nietzsche and of Rilke, and a pupil, friend, and confidante of Freud. She was a sentimental tourist. She can be seen as one of the 'free spirits' of late romanticism, a voracious adorer, Ibsen's Rebecca West, a woman who urged men of intellect to assert their powers, and...

(The entire section is 2065 words.)

Angela Livingstone (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: Lou Andreas-Salomé, Gordon Fraser, 1984, pp. 74-86.

(Livingstone is an English educator and critic. In the following excerpt she assesses Andreas-Salomé's theories on the historical origins and development of religion.]

When Nietzsche encouraged Lou von Salomé to philosophise about religion, he was recognising an inclination she showed long before she met him. Faith and loss of faith had been her main childhood experience, history of religion had been her main study with both [Hendrik] Gillot and [Alois] Biedermann. She went on thinking about religion all her life. Her theories about art, love, femaleness and Russia are all closely related to her...

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William Beatty Warner (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: "'Love in a Life': The Case of Nietzsche and Lou Salomé," in The Victorian Newsletter, No. 67, Spring 1985, pp. 14-17.

[In the following essay, Warner speculates that the idealistic "holy trinity" formed between Andreas-Salomé Friedrich Nietzsche, and Paul Rée was fraught with sexual tension and conflicting intentions from the outset, leading to an emotional rupture which significantly altered the course of Nietzsche's philosophy. ]

In reading the lives and writing of the men and women of the Victorian period, I think we have been too ready to divine that society into those Victorians whose idea of love carries the purity of its idealism to an abstract and...

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Biddy Martin (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: "Woman and Modernity: The [Life]Styles of Lou Andreas-Salomé," in Modernity and the Text: Revisions of German Modernism, edited by Andreas Huyssen and David Bathrick, Columbia University Press, 1989, pp. 183-99.

[In the following essay, Martin discusses Andreas-Salomé's polemical engagement with Freud on the issues of narcissism and gender difference, noting her resistance to the rigid categories of orthodox psychoanalysis.]

Alice Jardine begins her study of the "Configurations of Woman and Modernity," or Gynesis, by staging an encounter between American feminism and contemporary French thought. Cognizant of the inevitable risks of homogenizing both...

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Further Reading


Binion, Rudolph. Frau Lou: Nietzsche's Wayward Disciple. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1968, 587 p.

Comprehensive biography.

Martin, Biddy. Woman and Modernity: The (Life)Styles of Lou Andreas-Salomé. Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991, 250 p.

Critical biography with a feminist orientation.

Sorell, Walter. "Lou Andreas-Salomé: Mind and Body." In his Three Women: Lives of Sex and Genius, pp. 131-213. New York: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1975.

Offers a portrait of Andreas-Salomé as the mesmerizing and seductive muse of Nietzsche, Rilke, and Freud....

(The entire section is 184 words.)