Arnim, Bettina von (née Brentano)

She was Beethoven’s inspiration, Goethe’s companion and caught the eye of Napoleon. But many still regard Bettina Brentano as a fraud.

“Who,” asked Napoleon Bonaparte, “is that fuzzy young person?” She was Elisabeth Brentano, known simply as Bettina. Actually, Napoleon was not among her conquests, nor was he her type.

She did not jump into his lap, as she did with Goethe, or croon her name into his ear, as with Beethoven, or go for intimate walks, as with Karl Marx. Napoleon did not dedicate a battle to her, as Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms dedicated songs and the Grimms an edition of their fairy tales. But, even at a distance, Bettina Brentano drew comment.

Brentano’s best-known works are supposedly records of her correspondence, particularly with Goethe.  However, scholars have long cried fraud because she is known to have embroidered and invented quotes from both Goethe and Beethoven.  Recent admirers declare that Bettina created her own literary genre, the “epistolary novel”. The jury is still out.

What she did write has outraged and fascinated people ever since. She was a supreme muse, a one-woman literary movement, at once among the singular and most representative figures of the Romantic century.

(Also of interest, her brother and poet Clemens.  He was worried that Bettina might marry a mad poet, yet Clemens himself painted his room (floor to ceiling), the carpet, the curtains and his own face blue.)

(Britannica gushes about her, but the best anecdotes and details are in my source for this blog entry, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/aug/23/classicalmusicandopera.)

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