While researching Guises of Desire I needed to explore the kind of literature which could have contributed to the formation of Bertha Pappenheim's cultural mindset. I knew from Breuer's case history that she had studied Shakespeare and was familiar with the fairy tales of Andersen and the Grimms. But what of adult German literature? I had never read anything earlier than Thomas Mann and had always felt that it would be turgid and hard work.
I started with Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, an epistolary novel about a young man driven to suicide by unrequited love. I found it a strange piece of writing - emotionally self-indulgent, the style rambling and the hero unlikeable. Its astonishing success only made me feel that readers at the time (late 18th century) must have been a different species from what they are now.
Goethe's second novel, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship was more readable, a bildungsroman which provided some interesting ideas for me to incorporate into Bertha's thinking and for her conversations with Dr Breuer.
I then tried Indian Summer by Adalbert Stifter, published in 1857, another bildungsroman. Its excessive wordiness made me sympathise with writer Friedrich Hebbel, a contemporary of Stifter, who apparently offered the crown of Poland to anyone who could finish it. I couldn't finish it. Yet here too I found material of relevance to Bertha.
In a letter which she writes to her cousin Anna while doing voluntary work with the poor I have her write:
Since I started this work I have been giving much thought to something which Heinrich’s father said to him in Indian Summer. He believed that man was not on Earth primarily for society, but for himself. This may seem at first glance a selfish idea but he goes on to say that if a person were here for himself in the best way possible, then it follows that he would also be here in the best way possible for society. If a person is born with a talent and a desire to paint, for example, he will be rendering best service to society by becoming a painter, rather than a barrister or a doctor or any other profession. He believed also that we each have an inner impulse which leads us in the direction of this innate calling. Do you believe that this is so, Anna? Did you feel this impulse when you decided to take up the teaching of literature? Do you think Rebekka felt it when she joined the Elisabethverein?
The other day I came across the following quote by psychologist Abraham Maslow on Pinterest:
A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What one can be, one must be. This need we may call self-actualization.
It struck me that this was exactly what Stifter had said a century earlier.
This serendipitous discovery alone has made my dip into classical German literature worthwhile. For the rest, while I can't say I enjoyed the reading experience, I still feel the better for having explored it.