Bio: Lou Andreas-Salomé

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Lou Andreas-Salomé
Lou Andreas-Salomé in 1897
Born12 February 1861
Saint PetersburgRussian Empire
Died5 February 1937 (aged 75)
Göttingen, Germany

Lou Andreas-Salomé (born either Louise von Salomé or Luíza Gustavovna Salomé or Lioulia von Salomé, Russian: Луиза Густавовна Саломе; 12 February 1861 – 5 February 1937) was a Russian-born psychoanalyst and a well-traveled author, narrator, and essayist from a Russian-German family.[1] Her diverse intellectual interests led to friendships with a broad array of distinguished thinkers, including Friedrich NietzscheSigmund FreudPaul Rée, and Rainer Maria Rilke.[2]


Early years

Lou Salomé was born in St. Petersburg to Gustav Ludwig von Salomé (1807–1878), and Louise von Salomé (née Wilm) (1823–1913). Lou was their only daughter; they had five sons. Although she would later be attacked by the Nazis as a “Finnish Jew”,[3] her parents were actually of French Huguenot and Northern German descent.[4] The youngest of six children, she grew up in a wealthy and well-cultured household, with all children learning Russian, German, and French; Salomé was allowed to attend her brothers’ classes.

Born into a strictly Protestant family, Salomé grew to resent the Reformed church and Hermann Dalton, the Orthodox Protestant pastor. She refused to be confirmed by Dalton, officially left the church at age 16, but remained interested in intellectual pursuits in the areas of philosophy, literature and religion.

In fact, she was fascinated by the sermons of the Dutch pastor Hendrik Gillot, known in St. Petersburg as an opponent of Dalton’s. Gillot, 25 years her senior, took her on as a student, engaging with her in the fields of theology, philosophy, world religions, and French and German literature. Together they studied innumerable authors, philosophers, theological and religious subjects, and all of this wide-ranging study laid the groundwork for her intellectual encounters with very well-known thinkers of her time. Gillot became so smitten with Salomé that he wanted to divorce his wife and marry his young student. Salomé refused, for she was not interested in marriage and sexual relations. Though disappointed and shocked by this development, she remained friends with Gillot.

Following her father’s death in 1879, Salomé and her mother went to Zürich, so Salomé could acquire a university education as a “guest student”. In her one year at the University of Zurich—one of the few schools that accepted female students—Salomé attended lectures in philosophy (logic, history of philosophy, ancient philosophy, and psychology) and theology (dogmatics). During this time, Salomé’s physical health was failing due to lung disease, causing her to cough up blood. Due to this, she was instructed to heal in warmer climates, so in February 1882, Salomé and her mother went to Rome.

Left to right, Andreas-Salomé, Rée and Nietzsche (1882)

Rée and Nietzsche, and later life

Salomé’s mother took her to Rome when Salomé was 21. At a literary salon in the city, Salomé became acquainted with the author Paul Rée. Rée proposed to her, but she instead suggested that they live and study together as ‘brother and sister’ along with another man for company, and thereby establish an academic commune.[5] Rée accepted the idea, and suggested that they be joined by his friend Friedrich Nietzsche. The two met Nietzsche in Rome in April 1882, and Nietzsche is believed to have instantly fallen in love with Salomé, as Rée had earlier done. Nietzsche asked Rée to propose marriage to Salomé on his behalf, which she rejected. She had been interested in Nietzsche as a friend, but not as a husband.[5] Nietzsche nonetheless was content to join Rée and Salomé touring through Switzerland and Italy together, planning their commune. On 13 May, in Lucerne, when Nietzsche was alone with Salomé, he earnestly proposed marriage to her again, and she again rejected him. He was happy to continue with the plans for an academic commune.[5] After discovering the situation, Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth became determined to get Nietzsche away from what she described as the “immoral woman”.[6] The three travelled with Salomé’s mother through Italy and considered where they would set up their “Winterplan” commune. This commune was intended to be set up in an abandoned monastery, but as no suitable location was found, the plan was abandoned.

After arriving in Leipzig in October 1882, the three spent a number of weeks together. However, the following month Rée and Salomé parted company with Nietzsche, leaving for Stibbe without any plans to meet again. Nietzsche soon fell into a period of mental anguish, although he continued to write to Rée, asking him, “We shall see one another from time to time, won’t we?”[7] In later recriminations, Nietzsche would blame the failure in his attempts to woo Salomé both on Salomé, Rée, and on the intrigues of his sister (who had written letters to the families of Salomé and Rée to disrupt their plans for the commune). Nietzsche wrote of the affair in 1883 that he felt “genuine hatred for [his] sister”.[7]

Salomé would later (1894) write a study, Friedrich Nietzsche in seinen Werken (Friedrich Nietzsche in his Works), of Nietzsche’s personality and philosophy.[8]

In 1884 Salomé became acquainted with Helene von Druskowitz, the second woman to receive a philosophy doctorate in Zurich.[citation needed] It was also rumoured that Salomé later had a romantic relationship with Sigmund Freud.[9]

Marriage and relationships

Salomé and Rée moved to Berlin and lived together until a few years before her celibate marriage[10] to linguistics scholar Friedrich Carl Andreas. Despite her opposition to marriage and her open relationships with other men, Salomé and Andreas remained married from 1887 until his death in 1930.

Salomé’s co-habitation with Andreas caused the despairing Rée to fade from Salomé’s life despite her assurances. Throughout her married life, she engaged in affairs and/or correspondence with the German journalist and politician Georg Ledebour, the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, about whom she wrote an analytical memoir,[11] and the psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Victor Tausk, among others. Accounts of many of these are given in her volume Lebensrückblick. Her relationship with Freud was still quite intellectual despite gossip about their romantic involvement. In one letter Freud commends Salomé’s deep understanding of people so much that he believed she understood people better than they understood themselves. The two often exchanged letters.[12]

Meeting Rilke

In May 1897, in Munich, she met Rilke, who had been introduced to her by Jacob Wassermann.[13] She was 37 while Rilke was only 21. She had already published with some success Im Kampf um Gott “where she exposed the problem of loss of faith (which had been her own for a long time)”, several articles, and the study Jesus der Jude that Rilke had read.[13]

As Philippe Jaccottet reports, Salomé wrote in Lebensrückblick: “I was your wife for years because you were the first reality, where man and body are indistinguishable from each other, an indisputable fact of life itself. I could have said literally what you told me when you confessed your love to me: Only you are real. That is how we became husband and wife even before we became friends, not by choice, but by this unfathomable marriage […] We were brother and sister, but as in a distant past, before the marriage between brother and sister became sacrilegious”.[14]

In 1899 with her husband Friedrich-Carl, then again in 1900, Lou travelled to Russia, the second time with Rilke, whose first name she changed from René to Rainer.[15] She taught him Russian, to read Tolstoy (whom he would later meet) and Pushkin. She introduced him to patrons and other people in the arts, remaining Rilke’s advisor, confidante, and muse throughout his adult life.[10] The romance between the poet and Lou lasted three years, then turned into a friendship, which would continue until Rilke’s death, as evidenced by their correspondence. In 1937, Freud said of Salomé’s relationship with Rilke: “she was both the muse and the attentive mother of the great poet”.[16]

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