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Fanny Lewald

Fanny Lewald (1811-1889) Born in Königsberg as Fanny Marcus, her Jewish merchant father later changed the family name to Lewald, which she used as a pen name even after marriage in 1855 to Adolf Stahr. Lewald emancipated herself by becoming a writer of tendentious novels in the mid-1840s. For over forty years she supported herself by publishing novel and novellas, travel literature and essays. Lewald was an early advocate of women's education and their right to economic independence through work, but she stopped short of advocating suffrage, at least for German women.

Recent interest in women's roles during the 1848 revolutions has led to a re-reading of Lewald's memoir, Erinnerungen aus dem Jahre 1848 (2 vols. 1850), based primarily on letters written to Stahr. She had been an eyewitness to developments in Paris, Berlin, and Frankfurt and sympathized with the spectrum of political opinion from moderate to left-wing liberal. A careful reading of this memoir and other letters to correspondents as varied as the archduke of Saxony-Weimar and Johann Jacoby, a close friend since childhood, reveal that Lewald sincerely hoped the revolutionary upheavals would not only bring about political democratization, but also social change. She was not a political thinker but a keen observer, unusually sensitive to both class and gender issues. While Lewald despised violence, she understood that legitimate social discontents led the dispossessed to resort to it. She also recognized that women would not automatically find their situations ameliorated just because some men might achieve political rights. Lewald was disillusioned early on by the revolution in Germany, regretting the increasingly strident debates caused by the polarization of right and left in the Prussian Assembly and the Frankfurt Parliament. By the summer of 1848 she wrote to Heinrich Heine criticizing all factions for their paralysis (letter no. 51.247, Heinrich Heine Archives, Düsseldorf).

Lewald had been on her way to Paris when the February revolution broke out. She arrived on March 10 and attended a meeting of the Club central des républicains on March 16. In addition to the exiled Heine, she visited with the German radicals, Georg and Emma Herwegh, and the Marie d'Agoult. She considered translating George Sand's Lettres au peuple. Lewald was also contacted by Eugene Niboyet, the publisher of the journal , Les voix des femmes. Lewald supported its insistence on equality in marriage, the right to divorce, to education and to work for women, although she found Niboyet's tone somewhat "exaggerated" (Erinnerungen I, 135).

Lewald returned to Berlin at the end of March. She was disappointed that neither the people's tendency to subservience, nor the bureaucratic caste system had really been broken by the March revolution. She was therefore doubtful the new government would succeed. She nevertheless attended soirees to welcome deputies to the opening of the Prussian Constituent Assembly. After spending the summer months in Hamburg and Helgoland, w here she became interested in the communistic aspects of the old Frisian laws, Lewald went to Frankfurt am Main. She followed the parliamentary debates in the St. Pauls Church regularly. Numerous personal friends from the moderate to radical left were among the parliamentarians: Eduard Simson, a childhood friend; Gabriel Riesser; Julius Fröbel; Heinrich Simon, a cousin; and Moritz Hartmann, for example. Lewald was dismayed by the left's lack of unity. Their inability to put forward a specific program she saw as a sure harbinger of defeat.

By the time Lewald returned to Berlin on November 8 Vienna had been occupied, and Hartmann and Fröbel arrested along with Robert Blum. Two days later Lewald witnessed the resistance of the Prussian deputies as General Wrangel entered the city to enforce the King's dismissal of the Assembly. Once martial law had been declared Lewald was certain that the tide of revolution had gone out. She was convinced, however, that another, more cataclysmic revolutionary wave would engulf Europe at a later time. Despite her somber mood, Lewald continued to personally support her friends, especially Simon and Jacoby. She helped to collect money for Fröbel's family so they could join him in America, and both she and Stahr became active on behalf of Gottfried Kinkel after his imprisonment. Lewald's article about him, published by G.H. Lewes in The Leader just before Kinkel's sensational prison escape, directly contributed to the way this German professor became a cult figure in England (See Ashton, pp. 151; 277). While in England in 1850 Lewald renewed contact with Arnold Ruge and met Guiseppe Mazzini, the Italian revolutionary.

Taken out of context, Lewald's views have sometimes been misconstrued as either conservative or anti-feminist. Even among the active revolutionary women, radical political views were not necessarily linked to feminist consciousness in 1848. Lewald does suggest for tactical reasons that public displays on the part of women should be avoided, since they tend to hinder rather than help their just demand for equality (Erinnerungen II,44-45). Such comments are typical of her pragmatic style and are clearly tailored to the Prussian situation, since she had taken no offense at women's public participation while in Paris, on the contrary. Lewald always brings a cross-cultural perspective to her observations on the 1848 revolutions. She firmly believed that the government of each nation would reflect its own level of general education. Aware of the vast differences in political culture, she was less skeptical about the outcome in France at first, but rather doubtful from the beginning that the revolutionary ferment in Austria, Prussia and other German speaking states could actually bring about the political and social changes which she thought were not only necessary, but inevitable.
Margaret Ward


Ashton, Rosemary. Little Germany: Exile and Asylum in Victorian England Oxford: Oxford U P, 1986.

Di Maio, Irene. "Reclamation of the French Revolution: Fanny Lewald's Literary Response to the' Nachmärz in Der Seehof'" in Geist und Gesellschaft: Zur deutschen Rezeption der Französischen Revolution Ed. Eitel Timm. Munich, Fink, 1990.

Ruth-Ellen B. Joeres and Mary Jo Maynes (eds) German Women in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries: A Social and Literary History Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1986.

John Fout (ed.) German Women in the Nineteenth Century: A Social History New York/London: Holmes and Meier, 1984.

Rudolf Göhler (ed.) Grossherzog Carl Alexander und Fanny Lewald-Stahr in Ihren Briefen 1848-1889. 2 vols. Berlin: Mittler, 1932.

Joeres, Ruth-Ellen Boetcher. "1848 from a Distance. German Women Writers on the Revolution." Modern Language Notes 97 (1982), 590-614.

Lewald, Fanny. Erinnerungen aus dem Jahre 1848 2 vols. Braunschweig: Viewig, 1850.

Lewald, Fanny Zwölf Bilder nach dem Leben: Erinnerungen Berlin: Janke. 1888.

Pazi, Margarita. "Fanny Lewald--das Echo der Revolution von 1848 in ihren Schriften." Juden im Vormärz und in der Revolution von 1848 Ed. Walter Grab and Julius H. Schoeps. Stuttgart/Bonn: Burg, 1983: 233-271.

Rheinberg, Brigitte van Fanny Lewald: Geschichte einer EmanzipationTübingen: Niemeyer, 1973.

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