Lou Andreas-Salomé


February 12, 1861 - January 5, 1937

The Daughter is Mother to the Father

Born in St. Petersburg, she was the sixth child and first daughter of German parents living in Russia. Her father, Gustav von Salomé was a German general in the Russian army of the Romanovs. Described as rebellious and unconventional even as a child, she was her father's darling. Her mother, Louise Wilm was from a prosperous sugar manufacturing family. There was always tension between mother and daughter.

Andreas-Salomé wrote some twenty books, over one hundred essays, articles and reviews and associated with some of the great intellectuals of her time. These intellectuals included the philosopher Friedreich Nietzsche, the poet Rainer-Maria Rilke and the psychologist Sigmund Freud.

In the early spring of 1882 Paul Rée, a philosopher who studied ethics, wrote to his friend and colleague, Friedreich Nietzsche. Rée was asking his friend to join him in Rome for the purpose of studying with him and a young woman. The young woman was Lou Salomé. Nietzsche was then 38, Lou was 21 and the arrangement was to be a sort of intellectual ménage a trois. Rée was in love with Lou and he hatched this study scheme so that Lou's mother would not take her back to Russia.

Nietzsche traveled to Rome at his friend's request. When he first met Lou he bowed to her and said, "From which stars have we been brought together here?" According to H.F. Peters, in his biography of Andreas-Salomé My Sister, My Spouse, Salomé was "attracted and repelled at the same time." It didn't take much time, however, for Nietzsche to fall madly in love with Lou.

Nietzsche proposed to Lou, curiously enough through Rée. Aside from the fact that Paul Rée was also in love with her, Lou had no intention of becoming Nietzsche's wife. But Nietzsche and Lou did have a brief romantic moment with each other. During an excursion to the Italian town of Orta they kissed each other on Monte Sacro. Nietzsche's passions were inflamed again and again he asked Lou to marry him and again she declined. She thought Nietzsche to be one of the most brilliant men she had ever met but she was too free and independent to become this eccentric man's wife.

Moments after her rejection of Nietzsche, a photograph was taken by the popular Swiss photographer Jules Bonnet. Posed in Bonnet's studio it shows Lou kneeling in a cart being pulled by her two suitors, Rée and Nietzsche. Just before the picture was taken, Nietzsche fashioned a whip from a stick, some rope and a sprig of lilacs. He gave the prop to Lou. Several months after this picture was taken, Nietzsche wrote: "You go to women? Don't forget the whip."

Salomé, Rée, Nietzsche (1882)

But it was Paul Rée who might have suffered the most as a result of his love for Lou. They lived together as friends, not lovers and despite his passion for her, she thought of him as a brother. The last time she saw Rée was in 1887 just after she met a gentleman named Andreas. When Rée died in 1901 by jumping into a river near the spot he had spent time with his beloved Lou, she speculated that he was still in love with her, even though they hadn't seen each other in fourteen years. Rée never got over his love for her.

Despite the fact that Lou got married in 1887 to Friedreich Carl Andreas (she was 26, he was 41) and stayed formally married for forty-three years, the marriage was not conventional nor was it consummated sexually. Her biographer, Peters, speculates that Salomé remained a virgin until at least 1894 when she spent an idyllic summer in the Alps with a Russian friend identified as Dr. Scawley. It is possible that it wasn't until 1895 that she first experienced physical love. It would have been with Dr. Friedreich Pineles, a Viennese physician. When Lou met Pineles, he was 27 years old, seven years her junior.

It is also possible that Lou's first physical lover was the poet Rainer-Maria Rilke. Lou met him in April 1897 in Munich. Rilke was 22 years old, fourteen years younger then Lou. For three years she was involved in a passionate love affair with this passionate poet. But as he became more dependent, her native desire for independence began to assert itself. The affair ended in February 1901. When Rilke lay dying in 1926 his thoughts were about Lou. "Ask Lou what is wrong wit me. She is the only one who knows."

In 1902 she resumed her affair with Dr. Pineles and as a result of a summer spent traversing through the Tyrol in Austria, Lou got pregnant. She was ecstatic. But because she was still married to Andreas she could not have the child. It is not clear what happened but the child was lost, either accidentally or perhaps surgically. But after this, Lou realized she was not going to be a mother. Her interest in writing fiction began to fade. For the next several years she traveled frequently with Pineles or with friends. Eventually Pineles, despite his love and desire to marry Lou broke off their relationship. He realized she would never marry him. Pineles never married and he never forgot or completely erased the sadness his love for Lou Andreas-Salomé had caused him.

In 1911 Lou met Sigmund Freud. He was the acknowledged head of the psychoanalytic movement in psychology. Lou took a great interest in these new ideas. She became a lay analyst and wrote a number of articles for various psychology journals including Freud's own Imago. Like everything in her life, the challenge in this new field of inquiry was essentially to gain more self-knowledge. Freud's cartography of the mind provided the concepts and his science the tools with which this process of self-discovery can occur. With the onset of World War One there was an increase in the number of mental disorders and Lou, with the help of Freud established a productive therapy practice.

Between the two world wars she continued her study and practice of psychoanalysis. In 1931 in honor of Freud's 75th birthday she published her book My Gratitude to Freud. As the Nazis began to acquire political power in Germany, she recognized the danger in continuing to practice psychoanalysis, which the Nazis described as "Jewish science." However she was too old and sick to consider leaving Germany. She died in her sleep on January 5, 1937. Her ashes were buried in her husband's grave in the municipal cemetery in Gottingen. Several days after her death, the Gestapo confiscated her books and papers.

She led an intense and complex life that in one sense linked at least two of the most important thinkers of the last one hundred years: Nietzsche and Freud. But beyond this contribution to intellectual history, she looms large as a woman of great independence who confronted the impossible dialectic inherent in the dance between love and life.

Her mantra that "Human life, indeed all life, is poetry" illustrates Lou Andreas-Salomé's great passion.

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Lou Andreas-Salomé 1998 Cosmic Player Plate
URL: http://www.cosmicbaseball.com/salome8.html
Published: February 3, 1998
Edited: December 19, 2004