From bottom left: Eminescu, Queen Elizabeth, Mite Kremnitz, Maiorescu.
Romania’s queen Elizabeth, born in Germany’s Black Forest, was a poetess who married a very pragmatic constitutional monarch. Whilst her husband attended to the modernisation of the country, she surrounded herself with a group of attractive young artists (see yesterday’s post), and published romantic poems under the pseudonym Carmen Sylva (‘the poetry of the woods’ in Latin). She also wrote novels, one of them in collaboration with Mite Kremnitz, a fellow German who was married to the court doctor and was sister in law to Romania’s foremost literary critic, Titu Maiorescu (whose influential voice was at the time shaping the new country’s literary tradition). Maiorescu was a patron of Mihail Eminescu, the country’s greatest romantic poet (as he would turn out to be) who, often being unemployed and unable to look after himself, was asked to live at the Maiorescus’ mansion and to give Romanian language lessons to Mite Kremnitz. The lessons soon turned into a torrid affair (Eminescu gave her a hand written poem entitled ‘So tender’, fact which alarmed Maiorescu who, following the death of his wife, had designs on Mite Kremnitz himself. After the end of the affair (Eminescu moved on to another married lady), Kremnitz translated Eminescu’s greatest poem, Luceafarul (the Morning Star) into German. The poem dealt with the predicament of genius, and the idea that talent creates an enforced isolation, when one would much rather enjoy love and life along with other ordinary mortals (especially ordinary mortal women).
Kremnitz and Queen Elizabeth then co-wrote the novel Ditto & Idem, which they intended as an answer to Eminescu’s Luceafarul. Amidst a contemporary flaring of interest in Bucharest’s past, this book has been recently reprinted, along with a profusion of interesting memoirs from the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the novel, two German sisters fall in love with the same man – the husband of the older sister – and perish as a result. The story – which opens when the younger sister is sent to live in the household of her elder sister in Transylvania – is told via an interesting device whereby each sister independently writes to the mother, telling her side of the developing love intrigue.
The morale of the story is deeply romantic – loving a man who is very much worth loving (the hero is very very Byronic!) is something one can not resist, despite one’s best intentions, rational attitude and selfless urges. The book is interesting and infuriating by turns (so much could have been made of the ‘letter to mother’ device and of the story itself, had facile romantic cliches not kept reasserting themselves again and again…). But of course one has to read it in its historical context – this was a time, just after Byron, when women were discovering and exploring a different way of relating to their men, and a different kind of hero, dangerous, hard to understand, yet irresistible.
Mite Kremnitz, who was the daughter of a famous German surgeon, Professor Bardeleben. She also became the subject of a novel written by another Romanian literary critic, Eugen Lovinescu, entitled Mite. Some of her books – Romanian fairytales and her reminiscences of King Carol I of Romania – are available in English and German from Barnes and Noble.
The relations between Mite’s family, the Bardelebens, the Kremnitz family and Maiorescu make truly fascinating reading, and perhaps help explain some of the kinship claustrophobia of the Ditto and Idem novel. Mite was the daughter of the famous German doctor Bardeleben, professor of surgery in Berlin, and her mother’s sister married a lawyer called Kremnitz, the father of her future husband. Maiorescu, whilst a student in Berlin, was French tutor to the Kremnitz children, one of whom, Clara, he ended up marrying. The other Kremnitz sister, Helene, married Professor Bardeleben, Mite’s father, a few months after he was prematurely widowed. And Wilhelm Kremnitz, a favourite pupil of Bardeleben and brother of Clara and Helene, married Mite (Bardeleben’s daughter and his first cousin)! Then Maiorescu invited the young couple to visit Bucharest, where they decided to settle. After Clara’s death Maiorescu pursued an affair with Mite…