February 23, 1899, Alzey – July 25, 1950, Karlsruhe
Elisabeth Langgässer was born in 1899 in Alzey, a city located between Wiesbaden and Kaiserslautern. She was the daughter of a catholic architectural consultant, Eduard, and his Jewish wife Eugenie, and was raised Catholic. From 1919 until 1928, she worked as an elementary teacher in Seligenstadt, a small town outside Würzbürg, as well as in Griesheim, near Darmstadt. By this time she was already writing.
In 1924 she published her first volume of verse, Der Wendekreis des Lammes: Ein Hymnus der Erlösung (The Changing Circle of the Lamb: A Hymn of Redemption).
Following an affair with Hermann Heller, she gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, Cordelia, in 1929. The same year she moved to Berlin where she started teaching again. Finding it difficult to achieve a balance between the multiple demands of her teaching career, motherhood, and a strong need to write, at times she found herself in despair, as when she confessed in a letter, "Yesterday I simply burst into tears. I couldn't stand the noise any more…. One thing is certain, if you have a child then your day is completely full. Or a profession – then you have to have somebody else care for the child. Both our fathers ('women belong in the home') and Soviet Russia did absolutely the correct thing."
From 1931 on, Langgässer earned her living as a freelance writer. In 1933, she published Proserpina: Welt eines Kindes (Proserpina: A Child's World). In July 1935, she married Wilhelm Hoffmann and they had two daughters. The marriage saved her from deportation when the fascist racial laws designated her as "Halbjüdin" (Half-Jewish) due to Jewish relatives on her mother’s side.
Her second novel Der Gang durch das Ried (Walking through the Marsh) was published in 1936 and depicted the personality of a mentally unbalanced man who tries in vain to reconcile his childhood memories of Germany with his adult personality as a French soldier. Only two months after the publication of the novel, it was banned by the Nazi state. Consecutively, she was excluded from the Reichsschrifttumskammer (Reich Literature Chamber), a fatal blow to her literary ambitions because it meant she could no longer be published in Nazi Germany.
In 1942, she was forced to work in an ammunition factory and her eldest daughter was taken to Auschwitz concentration camp. Her most famous works were published shortly after the end of the war. She became widely known in Germany in 1946 with the publication of her long novel Das unauslöschliche Siegel (The Indelible Seal).
After the war, she also published Der Torso (The Torso) in 1947 and Das Labyrinth (The Labyrinth) in 1949. The author’s last novel Märkische Argonautenfahrt (Argonauts of the Mark Brandenburg, known in America as The Quest) was published after her death in 1950.
She was arguably never fully understood at that time either by critics or by many of her readers. Her work – philosophic, Christian, formal, mythological-fell somewhat out of fashion in the modernist postwar era. A difficult writer who wrote about the great moral dilemmas that arose during a terrible era (the Nazi period) in human history, she herself noted the reason why many of her contemporaries found it difficult to understand her message: "I was dismissed as a 'Christian writer' – which, of course, I am, but I would prefer 'Christian writer' without the connotations of literary triviality. And because I am dismissed in this way, I have attracted the aversion of liberals for who I am an emetic."
Poems and stories by Elisabeth Langgässer in German and English, you can find in these books in our library:
Der ewige Brunnen: Ein Hausbuch deutscher Dichtung / Hrsg.: Ludwig Reiners. Beck, 2006. 1133 S.
German Poetry: A critical anthology / Hrsg.: Robert Marcellus Browning. Brandywine Press, 1995. xxv, 469 p.
Das große deutsche Gedichtbuch / Hrsg.: Karl Otto Conrady. Athenaeum-Verlag, 1977. LXXII, 1148 S.
Great German Short Stories of the Twentieth Century / Große deutsche Kurzgeschichten des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts. A duel language book / Hrsg.: Charlotte M. Wolf. Dover Publications Inc., 2012. xiv, 243 S.
Text dt. u. engl
Dieses Suchen und dies Finden: 100 Gedichte der beliebtesten Dichterinnen deutscher Sprache / Hrsg.: Renate Günther. Hamburger Haiku-Verlag, 20016. 143 S.
1000 deutsche Gedichte und ihre Interpretationen. Bd 7. Von Bertolt Brecht bis Marie Luise Kaschnitz. Insel, 1994. 521 S.
More information on Elisabeth Langgässer, you find in this publication in our library:
Post-war women's writing in German: Feminist critical approaches / Hrsg.: Chris Weedon. Berghahn, 1997. VI, 360 S.