Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess

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9780801855870: Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess
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She was, Hannah Arendt wrote, "my closest friend, though she has been dead for some hundred years." Born in Berlin in 1771 as the daughter of a Jewish merchant, Rahel Varnhagen would come to host one of the most prominent salons of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Arendt discovered her writings some time in the mid-1920s, and soon began to reimagine Rahel's inner life and write her biography. Long unavailable and never before published as Arendt intended, Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess returns to print in an extraordinary new edition.

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 her work on the manuscript in Paris and New York, but would not publish the book until 1958. Rahel Varnhagen became not just a study of a historical Jewish figure, but a poignant 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 first complete critical edition of the book in any language, Liliane Weissberg reconstructs the notes Arendt planned for Rahel Varnhagen 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 on 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 Rahel Varnhagen to claim for herself a university position and reparation payments from the postwar German state.

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About the Author:

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.

Review:

"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



"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

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780801863356: Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess

Featured Edition

ISBN 10: 080186335X ISBN 13: 9780801863356
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000
Softcover

9780852222195: Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess

Imprin..., 1958
Hardcover

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