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Rahel Levin Varnhagen

VARNHAGEN, RAHEL LEVIN (1771–1833), German intellectual and salon host. The oldest daughter of a prosperous Berlin merchant, Rahel Levin was raised in a home with only minimal elements of Jewish practice. In 1795, she welcomed the opportunity to escape from Jewishness and into aristocratic Germany through an engagement to Count Karl von Finckenstein. However, after four years she broke off the engagement. Levin was a person of culture and intellect; her home became an informal meeting place for the literary, intellectual, social, and political luminaries of the day, such as Prince Louis Ferdinand, Prince Radziwill, Alexander von Humboldt and Wilhelm von *Humboldt, Friedrich Schlegel, Ludwig Tieck, Jean Paul (Friedrich Richter), Clemens Brentano, Friedrich von Gentz, Friedrich *Schleiermacher, Adelbert von Chamisso, and F.H.K. Fouqué. Among them were Jews and former Jews, Protestants and Catholics, nobility and commoners. In 1801 Rahel became engaged to the secretary of the Spanish Legation, Don Raphael d' Urquijo, but the engagement ended in 1804. After many difficult years of financial privation during the Napoleonic wars, Rahel married her confidant and admirer, Karl August Varnhagen von Ense. Weeks before their marriage in September 1814, she became a Protestant. The ceremony took place in the home of one of her brothers, who also later converted. Varnhagen's diplomatic career ended in 1819, when his liberal views ran counter to the rising reactionary tide. In Berlin, at the couple's renowned salon, Heinrich *Heine, Ludwig *Boerne, Karl *Gutzkow, and other authors close to the Young Germany movement found a congenial, liberal, and intellectual atmosphere. Varnhagen maintained an extensive correspondence; after her death, her husband published a collection of her letters, Rahel; Ein Buch des Andenkens fuer ihre Freunde (1834). In recent years a reconstructed documentary archive at the Jagiellonian Library in krakow, Poland, has illuminated aspects of her life and legacy. Although Rahel Levin never denied her Jewish origin, it was always a source of conflict for her. In 1795 she wrote: "I imagine that just as I was being thrust into this world a supernatural being plunged a dagger into my heart with these words: 'Now, have feeling, see the world as only a few see it, be great and noble; nor can I deprive you of restless, incessant thought. But with one reservation: be a Jewess.' And now my whole life is one long bleeding. By keeping calm I can prolong it; every movement to stop the bleeding is to die anew, and immobility is only possible to me in death itself."


H. Arendt, Rahel Varnhagen (Eng., 1956; Ger; 1959); O. Bredow, Rahel Varnhagen (Ger., 1902); S. Liptzin, Germany's Stepchildren (1944). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: B. Hahn, "Antworten Sie mir": Rahel Levin Varnhagens Briefwechsel (1990); idem, The Jewess Pallas Athena (2005); D. Hertz, Jewish High Society in Old Regime Berlin (1988); C. Stern, Der Text meines Herzens: Das Leben der Rahel Varnhagen (1994); R. Varnhagen, Briefwechsel (1979).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.