The Woman who Charmed Nietzsche, Freud and Rilke
Born in St. Petersburg, Lou Andreas Salomé (1861-1937) was a writer, thinker and psychoanalyst who figured in the most prominent intellectual circles of late 19th century Europe. Despite engaging with the most privileged minds of the time, today she is virtually unknown ––a fact that forces us to question the validity of fame.
The daughter of a Russian general who worked at the service of the Romanov family, at the age of seventeen she met her first mentor, Henrik Gillot, tutor of the Zar’s children, who would initiate her in theology and French and German literature. Gillot, married and with children, soon fell in love with Lou and asked for her hand in marriage; she rejected him.
In 1880, Lou travelled to Zurich with her mother. There she studied Dogmatic Theology and History of Religion in the University of Zurich. Two years later she moved to Rome where she met Paul Rée (who would be her lover for some time) and Friedrich Nietzsche ––with them she would establish an intellectually overwhelming threesome. Her travels and studies continued, until in 1887 she would meet the man she would marry: Carl Friedrich Andreas. Her marriage to Andreas, which lasted until he died in 1930, was never consummated —some say he threatened to kill himself if she refused to marry him and that they always lived in separate houses. Additionally, Lou continued to have relationships with other men for the rest of her life.
By writing articles and books, Salome would maintain and economic independence from her husband. She was the first person to publish studies about Nietzsche’s work, six years before the philosopher’s death ––who at some point fell in love with her and asked her to marry him; proposal she would once again reject. Some scholars believe that it was during this phase and under the influence of disenchantment that Nietzsche would write Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
In 1897, already married to Andreas, Lou met writer Rainer Maria Rilke, with whom she would keep a romantic relationship for many years. The young poet, fifteen years younger than her, instantly fell in love with Lou, who at first rejected him. After some time and due to Rilke’s insistence, she agreed to have a relationship with him, which always oscillated between love, friendship, admiration, platonic love and an incredibly profound creative relationship. Proof of their prolonged and intense relationship is their love letters, which still survive. Among other things, she taught Russian to Rilke, so he could read Tolstoy and Pushkin.
In 1902, after Paul Rée’s suicide, Salome entered a profound crisis that she would overcome with the help of Viennese doctor Friedrich Pineles. She would have a romantic affair with him that would lead her to have a voluntary abortion.
In 1911 she met Sigmund Freud and immediately became hooked on psychoanalysis, being the only female to be accepted in the Vienna Psychoanalytic Circle. For the rest of their lives they would maintain a friendly relationship based on deep respect and love. She began giving psychoanalytic therapy in the German city of Gotinga.
Lou Andreas Salome died in 1937 at the age of 76 due to renal failure. Her thought combined Freudian psychoanalysis with Nietzsche’s philosophy, and her studies were based, mainly, on narcissism and female sexuality.
This is a woman who lived her life with extreme freedom, beyond what was common at the time; she was an icon for the free woman of the 20th century. Regardless of the fact that she would strangely remain in the somber region of historical memory, what is true is that some of the fundamental men of the last one hundred years sighed more than once for her.
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