Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess

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9780801863356: Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess

Born in 1771, the daughter of a Jewish merchant, Rahel Varnhagen would come to host one of the most prominent salons of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Hannah Arendt discovered her writings some time in the mid-1920s, and soon began to re-imagine Rachel's inner life and write her biography. Arendt draws a lively and complex portrait of a woman during the period of the Napoleonic wars and the early emancipation of the Jews, a figure who met and corresponded with some of the most celebrated authors, artists, and politicians of her time. She documents Rahel's attempts to earn legitimacy as a writer and gain access to the highest aristocratic circles, to assert for herself a position in German culture in spite of her gender and religion. Arendt had almost completed a first draft of her book on Rahel by 1933 when she was forced into exile by the National Socialists. She continued hew work on the manuscript in Paris and New York, but would not publish the book until 1958. The book became not only a study of a historical Jewish figure, but also a reflection on Arendt's own life and times, her first exploration of German-Jewish identity and the possibility of Jewish life in the face of unimaginable adversity. For this complete critical edition, Liliane Weissberg reconstructs the notes Arendt planned for the book but never fully executed. She reveals the extent to which Arendt wove the biography largely from the words of Rahel and her contemporaries. In her extended introduction, Weissberg reflects on Rahel's writings and the importance of this text in the development of Arendt's political theory. Weissberg also reveals the hidden story of how Arendt manipulated documents relating to the book to claim for herself a university position and reparation payments from the post-war German state.

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Recensione:

"Thanks to the diligent researches of Liliane Weissberg, the editor of this new edition... we now finally have the first complete text [of Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess], including the annotations that Arendt herself had been unable to supply because of her abrupt departure from Germany in 1933. For the first time we can find our way through the book's thick forest of quotations and other literary and historical allusions..." -- Amos Elon, New York Review of Books



"Weissberg has provided a fascinating introduction in which Arendt's biography emerges also as an autobiography, a book that from its first draft in 1933 until years after its publication was part of Arendt's debate with her teacher Karl Jaspers about what it means to be German, what it means to be Jewish." -- Natalie Zemon Davis, Princeton University



"Reading Rahel Varnhagen today, I am startled to see that it is neither Jewishness nor womanness that holds my attention. What is striking now are the extraordinary similarities between Rahel's period and our own, and how much a creature of the time she seems to be... Seen against the disturbed and disturbing climate of a time, then as now, in which profound questions of self and world are being asked, Rahel's double portion of outsiderness cannot help but sound a deep note in the responsive reader." -- Vivian Gornick, The Nation



"So intense was Arendt's identification with Rahel that Rahel's letters became Arendt's way of experiencing herself as a woman within Jewry, a Jew within Germany, a voice uplifted against anti-Semitism, an unconventional woman within the male world of philosophy. Weissberg's introduction, a tour de force of post-structural analysis and psychological insight, maps the complexities of an identification so intense that it compressed time and transcended space. All those fascinated by the interweaving of biography and autobiography, of philosophy and politics -- and, most especially, by a woman's creation of herself in a hostile world -- must read this book." -- Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, University of Michigan

L'autore:

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) is the author of The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Condition, On Violence, and Eichmann in Jerusalem, among numerous other books and essays. Liliane Weissberg is Joseph B. Glossberg Term Professor in the Humanities and is a professor of German and comparative literature and chair of the Program in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Hannah Arendt
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Hannah Arendt
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