1902 Encyclopedia > Bettina von Arnim

Bettina von Arnim
German writer and novelist

BETTINA VON ARNIM, famous for her acquaintance and correspondence with Goethe, was a member of the Brentano family, and born at Frankfort, April 4, 1785. Her acquaintance with Goethe continued from 1807 until 1811, when it was brought to a close by her offensive behaviour to his wife. Shortly after his death she published an extensive correspondence alleged to have passed between the parties. Its genuineness was immediately contested by Goethe's old friend Biemer, and the discussion leaves no doubt that it is everywhere interpolated, and to a great extent wholly fictitious. Bettina never could produce the originals of the letters; and it has been demonstrated that the sonnets which she claimed as addressed to herself, and as partly versifications of her own ideas, were in fact addressed to Minna Herzlieb before Goethe had even seen Bettina. This discovery effectually relieves the poet's me- mory from some very unpleasant imputations. The literary merits of the work are in some respects very considerable. Nothing can surpass Bettina's liveliness, freshness, origi- nality, and graphic power when dealing with actual persons and things: she is, unfortunately, addicted to abstract speculation, and then becomes unintelligible. Though probably equally supposititious, her correspondence with the friend of her youth, the interesting and unfortunate Caroline von Günderode, is superior to her more cele- brated work from its greater truth to nature ; and her almost unknown volume of professed letters to and from her brother, Clemens Brentano, is the best of all. These later productions failed to attract a public sated with her peculiar mannerism, and Bettina had sunk into compara- tive obscurity before her death in 1859. Bettina was a true member of a family whose folly was in her time proverbially said to begin where the folly of others ceases. Her vanity, caprice, mendacity, and utter want of principle can only be excused on the supposition of her virtual irre- sponsibility for her actions. She possessed a brilliant fancy, and her remarks occasionally display great penetration; her conversational powers are described as marvellous. One of her freaks was to translate her correspondence with Goethe into English; the result is an unparalleled literary curiosity. The evidence respecting this correspondence is ably summed up in Mr Lewes's Life of Goethe. (E. G.)

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