Last night we were at the mall. It was past 7, it already got dark and but the artificial light was bathing this little place of the world with its sweet honey color. We were seating on a bench, waiting for a dinner table. We didn’t make dinner reservations and there was a waiting list. It was a beautiful night, calm, people were walking, kids were playing.
And then I saw her.
An older lady, in her late 70s or she might have been 80. I cannot accurately guess her age. She was elegantly dressed, all black, black pants and a black long sleeve top. She was wearing heels, not high but mid heel pumps. Over her black top she had a big piece of costume jewelry necklace. Her white hair was short, puffy, a bit like Jane Fonda. It was beautifully styled. I think it took a good 3-4 minutes as she walked past us. My heart broke and I’m not sure why. It is maybe because I saw it in her eyes or maybe because I felt that she was alone.
Me and my family had dinner and a great time, I forgot all about it. But then, at night, her image came back. I thought about her, I thought about myself and I thought about us people. I thought about the journey of life and about what we understand while doing it.
Thinking and perceiving
Nietzsche once said that:
“No one can construct for you the bridge upon which precisely you must cross the stream of life, no one but you yourself alone.” Nietzsche
I am thinking…… Alone. But how alone are we? How much of me do you see and how much of you do I see? Do you see me the way I see myself? Do I see you the way you see yourself?
I don’t really know the answer. I do not want to engage solipsism or what other philosophical views are on this subject. I want a practical perspective.
Communication and understanding
Back to my old lady in black. What did I see? I saw grace, beauty, old age, her alone feeling. It truly broke my heart, because this was my image of her. In trying to process what I saw through my own lenses I applied to her my self-avowals and self-ascriptions.
But what if talked to her? Maybe the way I had perceived her would have stayed the same. But also, I might have found out that what I saw was not truly who she was. Maybe she had a family, maybe she had a full life and she was happy.
The way we see is not always the way others see. We all have our own truths. We all want to live in a happy world, but we each have our own definitions of happiness.
Do you see me the way I see myself? Do I see you the way you see yourself? These are questions that we should all think about. In the light of so many social problems, of so many differences in our society, on matters of gender, ethnicity and so many other differences, we should try to understand “otherness”. We are all prejudiced and have our own stereotypes. Some less then others, but we do have them, because who we are is conditioned by our experiences.
I do not know what kind of social structure will best facilitate happiness, but we are all together on this planet. Regardless of how singular our carapace of a body makes us, we are connected into something bigger. If we talk and try to understand each other, then we will live better…..and maybe when feelings of alone will hit, you will find the comfort of all these people around you, who are all the same: alone but together.
This is a story of creation, rejection, madness, broken heart, pursuing your dreams. This is a story of life.
Camille Claudel, Auguste Rodin and Constantin Brancusi are three sculptors, of 19th century, each of them distinct, but also connected through their art. Claudel and Rodin were also lovers.
Camille Claudel (1864-1943): a woman genius, a broken lover, victim of her family’s betrayal
Camille was born in France, in December 1864. She is best known as the mistress and the muse of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin and I am not sure why this relationship overshadowed her remarkable talent and work.
Since early childhood she loved sculpting. She went with her brother Paul Claudel (who later became a known poet, playwright, essayist of the first half of the 20th century France) digging for clay in the woods nears their house. She used to be a rebellious girl, one that wanted to pursue her dream of doing what she loved: being a sculptor. In the end her rebellious spirit was punished but you will see how as this story follows.
Right from childhood, she felt the urge to model with clay. She used to do clay figures in her family’s barn. Her father brought the sculptor Alfred Boucher to see her work and of course, he saw her potential. Boucher pursued her father to move the entire family to Paris and there Camille started studying at the Académie Colarossi. That is because the more famous École des Beaux-Arts remained exclusively for men until 1897. Yes, that is right, this academy, which is one of the most famous art schools in the world and which was founded in 1648 by Cardinal Mazarin, was a men only school. But Académie Colarossi was forward thinking and here female artists were not only admitted, but where they were also allowed to draw from the male nudes (this was highly controversial at that time!).
In 1882 Claudel rented her own studio space in Paris, which she shared with three British sculptors Jessie Lipscomb, Amy Page, and Emily Fawcett. That is because neither of them could afford to pay the rent on their own. They were mentored by Alfred Boucher, but he had to leave Paris for Italy. He asked his friend Auguste Rodin, who by then had established a strong reputation as a sculptor, to take his place and teach this group of women.
Photo:Camille Claudel and Jessie Lipscomb
It was in 1883 when Camille met Rodin. She started working in his workshop and she became one of his pupils and also his muse and lover.
In the meantime, while her father continued to support her life choices, the rest of her family condemned her and forced her to leave the family home. This was so very sad!
Camille thrived artistically, she become recognized for her ingenuity in the portrayal of emotion and human nature. She was an innovator, working in different mediums and her creations were driven by her own individual experience.
In order, the sculptures are: La petite chatelaine, The Waltz and Sakuntala
Camille’s relationship with Rodin lasted for 10 years. These were times filled hard work, misunderstandings and disappointments on both sides. She worked with him on some of his most famous pieces, The Kiss(1882) and on The Gates of Hell (1880-1890). But after a 10 years affair, their relationship fell apart as Rodin refused to separate from Beuret and marry Camille. Rose Beuret was one of his first women assistants that became his loyal companion. They lived together for a long time and he didn’t marry her until his last year of his life!!!
Their separation marked Camille, and you can see that in her artworks. Some of them display emotional sorrow. She continued to work and to exhibit until 1905. Some of the most famous pieces The Gossips (1897-marble, onyx, bronze), The Mature Age (1899- bronze) and Clotho (1893, plaster) evoke her sophisticated style and her ability to work with difficult materials like onyx and marble. Below are the pictures for each, in this order.
I feel sad when I think what happened to Camille in her later life. As she was approaching the age of fifty, just one week after the death of her father, she was committed to a mental asylum.Doctors tried to reason with Claudel’s family that she was by no means insane, but the family wanted Claudel out of their lives. For the following 30 years, she lived in isolation at the asylum of Montdevergues. She abandoned sculpture completely.
She died alone in 1943 at the age of 78.
Rodin(1840-1917) : facing rejection and standing your ground
An older Rodin
Rodin did not have an easy life either.
This is a sculptor that had a huge influence on modern art, but he did not become established until he was in his 40s.
He was born in Paris and as a young boy he struggled to follow complicated lessons in his math and science courses. That is because he had an imperfect eyesight. So he started drawing, things that he saw or that he imagined.
In his young years he developed skills as an artist, and began taking formal art courses. At 17 he applied at École des Beaux-Arts, but he was denied admission.He then decided to pursue art in his own way and by the mid-1860s he’d completed what he would later describe as his first major work, “Mask of the Man With the Broken Nose” (1863-64). This piece was rejected twice by the Paris Salon due to the realism of the portrait!
“Mask of the Man With the Broken Nose” (1863-64)
Talking about what is socially accepted! Talking about times, places and cultures and about how all these shape the way we think!
His work, “The Vanquished”(1876) that was first exhibited in 1877, encountered serious accusations that sculpture appeared so realistic that it was directly molded from the body of the model! That is because the realism of his work contrasted so much with the work of his contemporaries!
“The Vanquished”(1876), Rodin
His originality came from his talent, he captured the body and the soul! His style of work was also unique. Instead of copying traditional academic postures, Rodin preferred his models to move naturally around his studio, even though they were naked. He made their sketches in clay and then fine-tuned these. They the models were cast in plaster, bronze or carved from marble.
Rodin continued to be rejected in various competitions for monuments to be erected in London and Paris, but finally the success of The Age of Bronze (a life size nude male in bronze) established his reputation as sculptor at the salons of Paris and Brussels in 1880. He was then 40 years old.
Throughout his life, Rodin created several iconic works, including “The Gates of Hell”, The Age of Bronze,” “The Thinker,” “The Kiss” and “The Burghers of Calais.”
The Gates of Hell, were created for a museum that the city of Paris planned to build: the Museum of Decorative Arts. Although the museum was never built, Rodin worked on this sculpture for the last 37 years of his life. This sculpture is beautiful and depicts scenes from Dante’sInferno. The original plaster is displayed at Musée d’Orsay in Paris and 3 other original bronze casts are found at museums in Paris, Philadelphia and Tokyo.
Photo: The “Gates of Hell”, Rodin, source Creative Commons
His work his beautiful. I like that he challenged the conventional thinking and the way sculptures were produced at the time. I think it’s only through challenge that we are able to advance, so we should all strive our best to follow our individual ways of creation.
Although at first rejected by the official academies because of his originality, Rodin became a sculptor of success. By the time of his death, he was likened to Michelangelo.
Brancusi(1876-1957) – a life journey from rural Romania to a world- renowned sculptor
I am not sure how many of you, if you’re not an artist, have heard of Constantin Brancusi. He was a sculptor and his work is recognized worldwide. Just last year, Christie’s sold Brancusi’s culture “La Jeune Fille Sophistiquée” (1928/1932) for a record-breaking $71 million. I walked past some of his masterpieces almost everyday, because they are displayed in the city where I was born.
I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by his work. I walked past some of his masterpieces almost everyday, because they are displayed in the city where I was born.
Photo by Edward Steichen of Brâncuşi’s workshop in Voulangis, FranceConstantin Brancusi(1876-1957)
Brancusi was born in 1876 in rural Romania. His father was a peasant, and if you go visit the village where he was born, they have preserved his house. The village is called Hobita. Sometimes there are artistic festivals there, in honor of his work.
Brancusi grew up distinctly outside of the traditional Western European narrative and like Rodin, challenged the art world to reconsider what sculpture really was and what it did.
Although for a while he was Rodin’s student, he and Rodin had different approaches. Brancusi’s goal was to capture the essence of his subjects—which included birds in flight, a kissing couple—and render give them life in sculpture with minimal formal means. The history has it that cubism was the creation of two artists – Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso – but let’s not forget Brancusi. He created in the Cubist style.
His tendency towards simplification made some call his work abstract. But it wasn’t abstract, it was very much alive and you can tell the story of his work by looking at it.
I think that like any artist, it is frustrating when your work is misunderstood, because your work is your soul and your. He said:
“They are imbeciles who call my work abstract. That which they call abstract is the most realistic, because what is real is not the exterior but the idea, the essence of things.” —Constantin Brancusi
Brancusi’s work resides at the Centre Pompidou, the Tate Modern, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But his most famous pieces resides in a city in Romania, Targu Jiu. Below are the photographies of 3 monumental pieces, as taken by a very talented photographer and friend, Ionel Scaunasu.
Photo credit: Ionel Scaunasu
The endless column is is a 98-foot-high (30 meter) column of zinc, brass-clad, cast-iron modules threaded onto a steel spine. This sculpture was commissioned by the Women’s League of Gorj to honor the soldiers who defended the city of Targu Jiu against a Germans during World War I. In the 1950s, the Romanian communist government planned to demolish the column. How appaling!!! Thankfully this plan was never executed!
Photo credit: Ionel Scaunasu
The table of silence is a circular stone table surrounded by twelve hourglass-seats, which symbolize time. The seats are not located close to the edges of the table.
Photo credit: Ionel Scaunasu
The gate of kiss….where one can kiss their loved ones….
The gate is made of travertine and is gigantic. The pillars are decorated with a circular motif, two half-circles separated by a decorative line that runs to the ground level. Some art critics say that this motif represent eyes looking inside the gate, while others see a couple kissing in it.
These three pieces, the column, the table and the gate are arranged along an axis stretching from the floodplain of the Jiu River. During five decades of communist rule the landscape drastically changed around them. The sculptures remain emotionally charged places, there not only symbols of Brancusi’s talent but also places that encourage you to reflect about life and your purpose in it.
I didn’t mean this to be an art lesson. But I think it turned to be one, as well as a lesson and an example of perseverance to always follow your dreams and to always do what suits you best. From small you can become big, from unknown you can become known.
Perhaps because I’m fascinated with people that have left traces in our history, I feel compelled to write about Samuel Johnson and Hester Thrale.
Who are these two English writers that lived in England in the 1700s?
Samuel Johnson is the one that created the first comprehensive English dictionary (it wasn’t the first English dictionary, the very first one belongs to Robert Cowdrey: Table Alphabeticall—in 1604). It took Johnson more than 8 years to complete it. Webster, on the other hand, worked all but single-handedly, and used 22 years to compile his American Dictionary (for good reason!)
Hester Thrale is probably one of the earliest cases of British feminism. Some sort of an earlier Jane Austen!
Both these writers have made great contributions to the English literature and they were linked by friendship or also by love?
Photo: Hester Thrale, WikiCommons
Hester Thrale is part of the early women writers and her case is a classic feminist Cinderella story. Perhaps the reason why I like her is that (like other the other women I admire) she was able to move from an image tailored for her by the social norms of the time to a self-made image of a woman with an independent way of expressing herself.
What does it take to be like that? I think it takes the same courage and determination that you would need nowadays to go do something, write something, build something to leave to the posteriority. Women or men, we’re all the same. We all have strengths and weaknesses and we all have choices. We can easily get entangled in meaningless lifestyles or we can all be founders or supporters of something that matter for “Tomorrow”.
Back to Hester. She was born January 27th, 1741 at a farmhouse in Wales, UK. I don’t think she was raised for intellectual stagnation because she was encouraged early on to read and learn foreign languages. She was writing and translating French, Italian, Spanish and before her marriage she was contributing poems and political satires to newspapers.
Then she married a rich brewer Henry Thrale and she was constantly pregnant. They had 12 children…..yes, 12! Her husband was not very nice, he neglected her and he had numerous love affairs.
I think her wits saved Hester from total misery. She continued writing. After the birth of her first daughter she started documenting the various moments in her daughter’s life in a “baby book” called The Children’s Book.
Then she met Johnson, who moved into her family estate. He was much older than her, but they had literary and other intellectual affinities. She also took care of him. Despite being so much older, he became a sort of adopted child.
Thrale narrated her life experiences throughout her work. Her writings are marked by her personal conflict between her public image of the wonderful salon hostess and the private sorrows for her husband’s infidelity.
Thraliana, her first book, is a collection of her diaries, which are focused on her experiences with her family, on the society’s life at the time and it also contains anecdotes and stories about the life of Samuel Johnson. This collection wasn’t published until 1942.
Her works, among which are Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson (1786) and Letters to and from the Late Samuel Johnson (1788), challenged the gendered conventions of writing of the time and the traditional masculine discourse. I think she was kind of an early Jane Austen! She used a “feminine” form of writing, by introducing in her narratives her observations and experiences that evoked sensations, sentiments and feelings. Imagine that, an early 18th century woman evoking her feelings in writing ….it seems scandalous :-).
Her pen remained active until her late years. She continued to publish works that revealed her intellectual vivacity, works that presented her ideas, opinions and interesting stories.
Photo credit: Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) – Samuel Johnson – NPG 1597 – National Portrait Gallery
Samuel Johnson, also often referred to as Dr. Johnson, was an English writer who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, biographer and as a lexicographer. His most prominent work is A Dictionary of the English Language. You can access it online here: https://johnsonsdictionaryonline.com
Until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary 173 years later, his dictionary was viewed as the pre-eminent English dictionary. He took more than 8 years to complete it! Even today, Johnson’s Dictionary, is among the most influential dictionaries in the history of the English language.
Here are some interesting facts about his dictionary:
He left out the letter X! he says that “X is a letter which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language.”
His definitions weren’t always so scholarly, in fact some were really funny:
oats is “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.”
luggage is “anything of more weight than value.”
Ah, I shall remember his definition of “luggage” when I will pack my bags for future trips : ).
3. He left out a lot of words. His dictionary of 42,000-words vocabulary is impressive, but it’s believed that the English language probably had as many as five times that many words around the time the dictionary was published in 1755.
Johnson was nearly blind in his left eye and suffered from tics that may have been indications of Tourette syndrome (back then nobody knew anything about this, and this disease was not even defined).
He married an older woman, who was the wife of a deceased friend. At the time they got married he was 25, she 46. I think they were happy, he nicknamed her affectionately “Tetty”. Her marriage settlement provided with enough money to open a school in Edial, near Lichfield.
He had a long association with The Gentleman’s Magazine, often considered the first modern magazine of the time. He published here many works, including a series of a series of speeches purporting to represent the actual debates in the House of Commons.
Johnson died in 1784 and is buried at Westminster Abbey.
This is a picture of the Abbey that I took this summer
Samuel Johnson and Hester Thrale relationship
He lived at Thrale’s estate for many years. In theory, their friendship was platonic. However, some letters from Johnson to Thrale were found, in florid French that suggest something more. Rumor has it that there is evidence of a masochistic element, as Johnson letters to her include images of bondage and restraint, and he entrusted to her a padlock …which she was supposed to use on him.
What do you know! The private lives …. many times they’re not always what they seem!
Also, the way he severed his ties with her after she decided to marry her daughter’s singing instructor, point to feelings deeper than just camaraderie. When he got the news she will get married he was appalled. He wrote to her:
“ Madam, if I interpret your letter right, you are ignominiously married; if it is yet undone, let us once more talk together. If you have abandoned your children and your religion, God forgive your wickedness: if you have forfeited your fame and your country, may your folly do no further mischief. If the last act is yet to do, I who have loved you, esteemed you, reverenced you, and served you, I who long thought you the first of humankind, entreat that, before your fate is irrevocable, I may once more see you. I was, I once was——Madam, most truly yours”
— Samuel Johnson
I wrote about them because I wanted to revive the memory of both these writers. I like them both, him, for his writings and her, for her literary work and also for her keen sense of herself as an autonomous woman and writer, which not an experience that many 18th-century women were able to enjoy.
Photo: “Portrait of George Sand” by Charles Louis Gratia (c. 1835)
George’s Sand real name was Armandine Aurore Lucille Dupin; she was called by her family and friends “Aurore”. Born in Paris in 1801, she was the most popular writer in Europe in mid 1800s, more popular than Victor Hugo and Honore the Balzac. Her work was appreciated by many famous poets and writers: the American poet Walt Whitman cited Sand’s novel Consuelo as a personal favorite; Dostoevsky translated some of her work; she inspired Virginia Wolf, Marcel Proust and many others.
A not so common 19th century French woman
She grew up in the French countryside, in Nohant, near La Châtre in Berry. At age thirteen she was sent to a convent in Paris. Her grandmother was afraid that Sand will become a nun so she brought her back to Nohant. She became the mistress of the estate after her grandmother died. At 19 she got married with Casimir-François Dudevant and they had 2 kids together.
Photo:Photo:George Sand at Nohant, WikiCommons
I guess she was bored or grew wings because at 27 she decided that she wanted more and she moved to Paris in search for independence and love. She first worked for Le Figaro.
It didn’t take long for her to create her own identity: George Sand the writer. At that time, when a woman that demanded respect was supposed to be a dutiful wife and mother, she broke social barriers by becoming a writer.
She wore male attire in public….yes, pants, shirts and men’s hats! She also smoked in public. You might think, well, what’s so special about that? It is, because in France back then women were required to have a permit in order to wear male clothing! Some women applied for permit but Sand was one of the women that wore men’s clothes without it.
She started wearing men’s attire when she wanted to go to the theatre and didn’t have enough money. She loved entering intellectual and artistic venues where women were forbidden. AH, if I was to live during these days I would have done the same!!!
Also, the fact that she was smoking in public was scandalous. While more than a few raised their eyebrows at her rebellious behavior, others found her admirable and were not bothered by it.
Victor Hugo for example said that:
“George Sand cannot determine whether she is male or female. I entertain a high regard for all my colleagues, but it is not my place to decide whether she is my sister or my brother.”
– Victor Hugo
She was a romantic soul that always found consolation in her writing. I think that George Sand might be the most prolific woman writer in the history of literature. She wrote 130 volumes of fiction, political and other writing and 25 volumes or more of letters are coming to light. That’s impressive! I wonder when she found time to do anything else…..
All her novels are love stories in which her romantic idealism unfolds in a real world.
Her fist novel, Indiana, brought her immediate fame. This novel was a passionate protest against the social conventions that made a wife dependent on her husband and a plea for a heroine who abandons an unhappy marriage and finds love. Sounds familiar? Of course it does! The story is very similar to her own life story…..
The cover of Indiana by George Sand – WikiCommons
Yes, she was a “dream lover“
She was and did many things: she was a writer, a mother, an unhappy but trying hard to make it work wife, a lover, a caretaker, a “politician”. But she also had a sensible soul. She was forever searching for love, moving from one lover to another “ searching endlessly for a way to stop searching”( “The dream lover” by Elizabeth Berg). I wish she didn’t have to have that many lovers……but each of us has his/her own story. From her relationships, most remarkable to me were the ones with Alfred de Musset, Frederic Chopin and last….Gustave Flaubert. She loved each of them and each man loved her in their own way.
Her longest relationship was with Polish pianist and composer, Frédéric Chopin. He wrote much of his work during their 9 years together. I cannot imagine what would have been like to hear this man playing piano everyday! I love his Nocturne op.9, No.2; it’s my favorite. I also love Spring Waltz and so many other of his compositions. You can listen to both if you click their names because I attached the youtube links for each.
Photo:Painting I commissioned and of which I own the only copy based on the circa 1837 preliminary sketch of Eugene Delacroix’s joint portrait of Frédéric Chopin and George Sand
She and Gustave Flaubert meet after the publication of his book “Madame Bovary”. She was 53, he was 35. Some say that they were not lovers but friends. They wrote letters to each other; their correspondence lasted for 10 years, until Sand’s death. You can now read their correspondence if you check out these books The George Sand – Gustave Flaubert Letters and Flaubert-Sand: The Correspondence.
Books and movies about her
There are a lot of books about her, but the one I have read is “The Dream lover” by Elizabeth Berg. One must appreciate this writer because of the sum of all feelings and insights you get while reading her work. Berg includes a lot of dates, places and famous people in Sand’s life. I have read some reviews and many people didn’t like this book, but I did! To me it had a lot of depth and feeling.
Impromptu (1991), with Hugh Grant and Judy Davis, is a very special movie. A young Hugh Grant and Judy Davis play Chopin and Sand.
The Children of the Century (1999) with Juliette Binoche. This movie focuses on Sand’s relationship with fellow author, Alfred de Musset.
Chopin: desire to love (2002) is a Polish movie. It is definitely one of the truest-to-life depictions of Chopin on the screen. Danita Stenka is also hands-down the best George Sand I’ve yet seen.
Movie poster for the 2002 movie by Jerzy Antczak titled Chopin: Desire for Love
Some final thoughts
George Sand lived her life as she pleased, which was very rare for any woman at that time. May we all learn from her courage. And may we all strive to be as creative as she was and be even half, a third or a tenth as productive as she was.
What about love? With all the distractions, tv’s, iPhones, internet and such, our fast pace of life makes us feel that we are racing to the unknown without deep feelings. We are forever rushing through. It feels like we are citizens of a land of banality, brushing shoulders with each other, chasing money, power, success….. But no! This is just an illusion, because deep inside each of us there is something that asks for love, and that is what motivates us to go on and on.
There are so many things we take for granted, such is freedom. Being free to speak our minds, to pursue our dreams, and to do the things we want to do. But what if you lived in a different place or in a different time, what if you had to fight to be you everyday?
Lou Andreas Salome was an extremely bright woman, one that Nietzsche, Rene Maria Rilke (a famous German poet), Paul Ree (a German philosopher) fell in love with. She was also a confidante of Sigmund Freud and a sort of a godmother to Freud’s daughter, Anna Freud. That’s an impressive list of fascinating people, isn’t it?
She made herself free of the society rules and became immersed in her work. She ignored her family’s and the general social expectations, which held that the purpose of a woman was to get married, have children and be dependent on her man. Pressed by everyone around her to undertake a conventional life, she constantly refused to do so.
She lived in Germany, where under the influential Prussian civil code an unmarried woman remained under the ward of her father and a married woman under the ward of her husband…and the husband, until 1860 could take his wife to the police station to be beaten….Imagine that!
I think she was a larger-than-life figure. Besides these top thinkers that were entwined in her life, her accomplishments in the fields of philosophy, psychology, and her published writings as a poet, essayist, and novelist are extraordinary. She was one of the first female psychoanalysts and one of the first women to write psychoanalytically on female sexuality.
How did she remain under the radar?!
She was born in Russia, Sankt Petersburg in 1861. She was curious and wanted to learn, so she persuaded a Dutch priest to teach her theology, philosophy, world religions and German literature. The priest, who was married and 25 years older than her, fell in love with her and proposed. Of course, she wasn’t interested and the lessons stopped. She was only 17 years old…
After her father’s death she moved to Zurich; then because she developed a lung disease they moved to Rome. She was 21. Here she met Paul Ree, a German philosopher than happened to be Nietzsche’s friend. Paul Ree is not that famous, but Nietzsche’s (1844–1900)philosophy has been and still is of influence in present time. Nietzsche’s way of thinking was fresh; he challenged the traditional values and I like that about him. With the risk of being deterred from the subject, I’m going to include here few of Nietzsche’s quotes:
“ There are no beautiful surfaces without a terrible depth”
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
“The higher we soar, the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly.”
“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.”
“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”
Lou, Nietzsche and Ree spend time and were planning to all move together, in a kind of brotherhood-sisterhood living, where they would all concentrate on their work.
This is a famous picture the three of them took in Luzerne, with Lou holding a whip and Nietzsche and Ree pulling the cart. It symbolizes the power she had over them…
Nietzsche and Ree were smitten with her and both proposed. She rejected their proposals. The relationship with Nietzsche ended up first, partly because of his possessive sister, Elizabeth Nietzsche, who in my opinion was a not very nice(I’ll just say this to keep the language of my writing clean). Some scholars say that Nietzsche wrote his famous book Thus Spoke Zarathustra as a response to his broken heart. Ree left her when she agreed to enter into a sham marriage (meaning no sex) with a linguistics scholar Friedrich Carl Andreas. They stayed married this way for 23 years, until his death in 1930.
Then she became deeply involved with Rene Maria Rilke, a German poet. I read his poetry and it’s beautiful. She persuaded him to change his name from Rene to Rainer. He was the first man that she got involved with sexually, she was around 30. She felt that she and Rilke were so well suited because he was in touch with the feminine side of himself. She often referenced herself as “androgynous” and she said that everyone should find the opposite sex within themselves. I find this a bit odd, a bit puzzling! If I am a woman, can I also find the man in me?! If you’re a man, can you also find the woman in you?!
Last, in 1911, Salome went to Vienna, to undergo psychoanalysis with Freud. Her ideas were inspirational to Freud, specifically on the topic of narcissism. They were actually linked by their common interest in narcissism. While Freud studied narcissism from outside, she studied narcissism from within. They had opposing views. For Freud, narcissism was a formation of one’s own self-image, for Salome narcissism broke out from the framework of the “I” and went beyond the boundaries of “love for oneself”. For Salome narcissism was a maniacal condition of love towards oneself and towards the surrounding world. Interesting, isn’t it!!! She became a psychoanalyst, and practiced until the Nazis came to power. She was five years younger than Freud and despite the rumors about their romantic involvement their relationship was mostly intellectual.
There is a good movie about her, in German: Lou Andreas Salome and the audacity to be free. This is where I got the inspiration for my title. The movie made me a bit sad, but we should always follow our dreams and always think about what do we want to be remembered for.
Why do I find her inspiring ? I find her inspiring because she was a woman who managed to live a self-determined, independent life. She went against all odds and became who she wanted to be.
“She’s just a girl, and she’s on fire Hotter than a fantasy, longer like a highway She’s living in a world, and it’s on fire Feeling the catastrophe, but she knows she can fly away Oh, she got both feet on the ground And she’s burning it down Oh, she got her head in the clouds And she’s not backing down”
That was Martha Gellhorn, a girl on fire! She was a girl that went to ground zero to cover the Spanish Civil War, one that hid in a ship’s bathroom to be able to go cover the Normandy landings, one that was among the first to report from Dachau concentration camp.
I think she is best remembered for her marriage with Hemingway, but she should be remembered for being one of the best war correspondents of her time and for being a fighter for justice and a fighter for the poor.
Should I pose the question: what is inspiring about her? I guess her strength and courage is unquestionable and so is her passion to pursue her dreams. But let me elaborate on that…….
She was born in 1908, in St. Louis Missouri. Her mother went to Bryn Mawr—with Eleanor Roosevelt—and became a founder and vice-president of the National League of Women Voters. Martha went to Bryn Mawr herself(this is an all women college, in Pennsylvania, with many famous alumni) but she did not complete her education. Instead she left to Paris, armed with a typewriter and $75 and determined to become a journalist.
She did eventually become a journalist. She moved from Paris back to USA and she wrote a book “The Trouble I’ve Seen” that vividly describes the hardship and the collapse of the American way of life during the Great Depression.
And then what did Martha do?
She went to Spain and covered the Spanish Civil War, in 1937. She crossed over the border from France into Spain alone, with $50 rolled and tucked into her boot. She lived among crumbling buildings; she went to the front. What was unique about her is that instead of focusing on tactics, generals and weapons, Martha looked at the people. She wrote about the makeshift hospitals, lines for bread, the smell of explosive, the war and its horrors.
She wanted to give a real account of the war and she said that : “I was always afraid that I would forget the exact sound, smell, words, gestures which were special to this moment and this place.” ( this is an excerpt from her book,The Face Of War, by Martha Gellhorn).
This is the time when her affair with Hemingway started.
Photo:Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway with unidentified Chinese military officers, Chungking (Chongqing), China, 1941. Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Photo public domain
Martha and Hemingway were married in 1940.She managed to stay married to him for about 5 years(1940-1945). They lived in Cuba.
She left to cover World War II, but back then the military would not accredit women to report from the front line. Still, she found a way, because where there is a will there is a way, isn’t it? She hid in the bathroom of on a hospital ship and this way she landed in Normandy. She went to the shore as a stretcher bearer….
She was there on the D Day and she was also one of the first journalists on hand when American soldiers liberated Dachau in May of 1945.
After World War II she and Hemingway got divorced. I’m not one that is assuming the worst so I don’t know if he was jealous on her achievements (because that’s what most historical accounts say) or if they just found out that they had different paths in life. There is a movie about their marriage, Hemingway & Gellhorn(2012) that portrays a restless, critical and violent Hemingway.
Martha also reported on Vietnam war, where she went to visit hospitals and refugee camps. She wanted to show people’s pain.
I love her for her courage, for her free spirit and for being a fighter for justice.
And I am going to close with an inspiring quote, one that should remind us to fight for what we think it is right, one that should remind us that not everybody is lucky and if there is anything that we could do, we should do it :
“I am certain that not one word ever did the slightest good. But I am a writer and know nothing else to do. It is tiring and unrewarding. On the other hand, complete silence is worse, so even if it’s only a mouse squeak it is better than nothing.” ( Martha Gellhorn)
Photo: cover of my book by Paula McLain, “Circling the Sun”
Sometimes life gets so busy that we forget about the people that were not a Napoleon, a Freud, a Plato. Figures that deeply marked with their knowledge or experiences life as we know it are always there, always referenced, always remembered.
But what about the other inspiring people? What about the ones that are not part of the main stream?
Today I thought about someone that I would have liked to know, someone that inspired me in my love of flying, someone that was a pioneer in many ways: Beryl Markham.
Why I like Beryl? Who was she? What did she do?
She was born in England in 1878 and when she was 4 years old, she left with her parents to Kenya, which back then was British East Africa. While she was still small her mom returned back to England and eventually married another man. Beryl lived with her father, adapting to the new culture and eventually blending into the Kenyan way of life.
Her life was an adventure; a true adventure in which she had to work and fight for her dreams.
We all know how great Amelia Earhart was. But not so many of us know about Beryl. Just like Amelia, Beryl was the first woman to fly solo, non-stop across the Atlantic from east to west, from England to America. Her experience is documented in a book I enjoyed reading: “West with the Night” (this is her memoir).
She flew in Kenya, on vast distances, delivering mail, medical supplies, carrying critically ill patients. The flying instruments back then were a far cry of what we have now! No radio, no GPS, no air speed indicator; she only had maps of navigations and a compass.
So yes…..I admire Beryl!
She also trained horses, she was the first woman race-horse trainer in Kenya.
She meet Ernst Hemingway on a safari trip in Kenya. Years later, he praised her book and said in a letter to a friend that “As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer.”( Ernest Hemingway Selected Letters 1917-1961, Carlos Baker ed. ,Simon&Schuster, p.541)
She loved. She loved and she suffered, she went through the emotional roller coaster that we all do. She was a nonconformist and in the eyes of many she had a “scandalous” life. She was married three times, but I think from her love life, two relationships were memorable to me: the one that involved Denys Finch Hatton and the one that involved Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, son of George V. I think the one with Prince Henry struck me because it was a scandalous affair and they were both married.
The other one with Denys Finch Hatton was a love triangle. Most of us have probably seen the movie “Out of Africa”, which is based on Karen Blixen‘s( also known as Isak Dinesen)memoir. Karen was also a strong woman and was the lover of Finch Hatton; she loved him deeply but so did Beryl! It is unclear when Beryl-Finch love story started (different sources have that it started when he was still together with Karen and that Beryl stole him from her, others say that their relationship started after he and Karen were not together anymore). So, I don’t really know…..and I guess we won’t really know , but what is certain is that Denys inspired Beryl to learn flying.
There is so much more to say about this woman. I have read a few books about her; my favorite two are “ Circling the Sun” by Paula McLain and “West with the Night” by Beryl Markham. Paula McLain ’s book is wonderfully written. You will feel as you are witnessing Beryl’s life, you’ll feel like you’re hunting in the Kenyan landscape with her and the other children, you’ll feel like you’re flying with her and you’ll also dream with her about Finch Hatton. “West with the Night” is a wonderful account of what Beryl felt and dreamed, in her own words.
So yes! Beryl Markham was a remarkable woman, one that should inspire and empower the woman of today.