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The love that conquered social democracy

INTERVIEW / German author Renate Feyl uses a historical, noble divorce case in her latest novel.


MODERN TIMES hits Renate Feyl for an interview in restaurant Nolle, with premises under the S-Bahn just off Friedrichstrasse station in Berlin Mitte. The interior sets us to historical surroundings from the 1920s. But we go even further back – to the mid-19th century:

- The title of last year's novel The unforgettable condition of happiness ( "The inalienable condition of happiness ”) is taken from a letter from the later famous Ferdinand Lasalle to Countess Sophie von Hatzfeldt where he writes: "They are the alpha and omega of my thoughts. They are the first and imperative condition of my happiness. ” A book with an explosive mix of romance and politics?

- You can safely say that. Lassalle then became a revolutionary by representing the Countess in the divorce process. Lasalle was twenty years old, a poor and unknown student. The countess had not found anyone who would take the case and fight for divorce in court: Her husband was powerful and one of the richest men in Germany. But Lassalle took on the job, even though he was not a lawyer.

- In the divorce process, the courtroom became a scene that made Lassalle's courage and his speech art famous. In the year of the revolution of 1848 he gave a six-hour speech in which he showed how the man, for twenty-five years, had met his wife in this noble marriage. Count Hatzfeldt was systematically unfaithful, refusing his wife to have contact with the children and depriving her of her wealth. Lassalle painted this devilish husband so convincingly that he got people with him. He accused not only Hatzfeldt, but the power relations in society. This was the beginning of his career as an agitator. No one had ever dared to talk like that before.

- And the new love affair was without sex?

- Lassalle fell in love with the Countess at first sight – there was one love at first sight. But he was twenty years younger and would not confess his feelings as a confessor. Instead, he proved his love by defending the countess for seven years. Lassalle was boundless and overbearing; Sophie gave him resistance and harmony. He was like a lightning bolt and she was the lightning conductor. In the conversations they had many happy moments. Lassalle had sexual relations with other women.

Funded Social Democratic Movement

- And did the divorce process lead to the struggle for the working class?

- In the beginning, Lassalle won all the legal proceedings for the countess. Then the 1848 revolution failed and he got the judges against him. He lost the trial, and the countess lost the fortune and the right to raise the children. But Lassalle did not give up. He came across letters showing that the count had committed criminal acts through fraud. Through this press, the Countess regained both divorce and wealth. After the process was won, the countess used the money to fund the Social Democratic movement of the time. Stateone was like the dictatorial husband, and this oppression had to go away.

- And the workers supported Lassalle?

- He gave them courage. And when the individual does not fear the authorities, then it is the end of the dictatorship. Lassalle dared to express the other did not dare. He said to the workers: "You are producers, merge!" On May 23, 1863, Allgemeine Deutsche Arbeiterverein was founded with Lassalle as president.

"Marx said the latest we always know about the old ones."

- Marx was a brilliant theorist

- What about Marx?

- #Marx never had the same popularity as Lassalle. He was an ingenious theorist, but shy and suspicious. Marx argued that theory became a material force as soon as it seized the masses. Lassalle said that people first had to understand the theory, so he went out and spoke to the people. Not the theory, though mood becomes a material force as soon as it engages the masses. The experience of the GDR also shows that if the theory does not agree with practice, it loses credibility. When the people see that the theory is wrong, it's over.

- But Lassalle would not – like certain anarchists – repeal #private ownership#?

- He said that whoever works, will also get ownership. The worker can also own as much as he wants. Ownership is not reprehensible. But when political domination arises through ownership, this must be fought. Through divorcethe process showed Lassalle how decadent adela spring. This class had been given property without work.

- I want to fight oblivion

- Why do you write historical novels?

RENATE ERROR Photo: Annette Hauschildostkreuz
Renate Feyl. (Photo: Annette Hauschildostkreuz)

- Because I want to fight oblivion, the eradication of history. I want people to know where they come from. This knowledge is part of our self-understanding and therefore cannot remain history. Lassalle is a historical person, but can not be left to history. That's my approach.

- They do not thus flee from the present?

- I do not flee, but take the lasting from the past. And it is important today, where time itself has changed and everything is moving faster. Marx said that we always get the latest from the ancients, and then he meant the ancient Greeks. Already Hegel argued that tradition involves both preserving and overcoming it. Historical cultural performances are part of our foundation, ours spiritual equipment. We cannot meet what we have in store as traditional, empty beings.

- And all your historical novels still sell?

- Yes, I'm a backlist writer, Feyl concludes with a laugh.

Renate Feyl (b. 1944) came last fall with his seventh historical novel, The unforgettable condition of happiness. Her first historical novel, "Idyll with Professor" (1986), was about the wife of the famous German Enlightenment Gottsched. Then came a novel about the GDR era: "Enduring Paradise" (1992) (Cursing in Paradise). The novel is largely autobiographical and depicts life in the GDR mostly before, but also just after the fall of the wall. Feyl then published "The Profane Hours of Happiness" (1996) about Sophie von La Roche, who wrote the first women's novel in Germany, "Miss von Sternheim's History" (1771). It became a bestseller. In "The Gentle Yoke of Excellence" (1999), Feyl told the triangular story of the poet Friedrich Schiller, his wife Lotte and her sister Caroline. It sold over 60 copies. "Prospects for Persistent Clarity" (000) was about the spiritual love between Queen Sofie Charlotte and the philosopher Leibniz. In 2006 came a novel about the portrait painter Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (2011–1755). Five of the historical novels thus deal with people from the Enlightenment. The latest novel, "The Inevitable Condition of Happiness" (1842), deals with the love affair between the founder of the German Social Democracy, Ferdinand Lasalle (2019-1825), and the wife of one of the richest men in Germany in the mid-1864th century, Countess Sophie von Hatzfeldt (1800-1805).

Eivind Tjønneland
Eivind Tjønneland
Historian of ideas and author. Regular critic in MODERN TIMES. (Former professor of literature at the University of Bergen.)

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