Christa Wolf believed that shared names reveal mysterious affinities. Consequently, she had felt a close connection with English writer Virginia Woolf. Christa, the first name of the protagonist of The Quest for Christa T., suggests somehow that the protagonist resembles her author; her name also represents a hypothetical alternate life that Wolf herself might have lived under other circumstances. By creating Christa T., Wolf seeks an imaginative transcendence through self-realization as a writer. A 1965 passage collected in Wolf’s The Author’s Dimension: Selected Essays (1993) explains that The longing to produce a double, to express oneself, to pack several lives into this one, to be able to be in several places at once is, I believe, one of the most powerful and least [often considered] impulses behind writing.
Christa T. herself systematically collects life stories from local peasants, and she would have retold their stories had she survived her illness with cancer.
The T of Christa’s never-revealed last name suggests the German words Traum, or “dream,” and Tee, or “tea.” Traum connotes an authorial creation and a possible destiny not experienced by the narrator, and Tee suggests the taste of Marcel Proust’s madeleine cookie dipped in tea, which revives a flood of forgotten past impressions. The novel’s introduction explains why the narrator compulsively wants to memorialize her (fictional) friend and reconstruct her inner life: Doing so is “for our sake. Because it seems we need her.” Reading this statement, one might think Christa T. offers an inspiring example of a flawed possible self who finally achieves self-realization despite uncertainty concerning her vocation and despite obscurity and adversity (dying young from cancer). Indeed, she has some talent as a writer, but never becomes well known. Later, however, the narrator flatly refutes this interpretation: “Just for...
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