Lou Salomé: feminist “ante litteram”
This is the extraordinary life of a woman who, far from being superficial and easy-going, at the end of the nineteenth century was able to represent a beacon for the brilliant minds of the men she knew, directing her sensitivity towards higher intellectual and feminist expressions “ante litteram”, she was capable of noble sentiments, susceptible only to the charm of intelligence.
The only female of six children of a Russian army general, Lou Andreas von Salomé was born in St. Petersburg in 1861.
From an early age she immediately showed an acute and sensitive intelligence as well as a strong independent and rebellious personality. She easily learned French and German and at the age of 19, having already acquired a vast humanistic, theological and philosophical culture; she began to write, laying the foundations for a future career as a writer. Beautiful, refined, self-confident, Lou exuded a discreet and intense charm that men hardly knew how to resist. Affected by tuberculosis, in 1880, she went to Italy to enjoy a better climate and settled in Rome. Here, thanks to a friend, she met the writer and philosopher Paul Ree and the two, discovering that they had great affinity of character and a strong common feeling, decided to go and live together.
Soon, however, a third person entered this intense and engaging relationship: the great philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. He too had fallen victim to the charm of the beautiful Lou, Nietzsche fell head over heels in love with her and asked her several times to become his wife. Exasperated and destroyed by constant rejections, after two years, Friedrich left the partnership and, also victim of a strong depression, begun to elaborate his most representative work: “Thus spoke Zarathustra”.
Lou and Paul continue the strange coexistence for three years during which she continued to claim victims: the psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, who will also ask her to marry him, the sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies, who makes her a ruthless court and the German Orientalist Friedrich Carl Andreas who, after an attempted suicide because of his rejected love, manages to marry her.
In 1889, an artistic partnership was born in Berlin which gave life to an avant-garde theatre free from limitations and censorship: the Freire Buhne. Lou Salomé, who moved to Germany, joined with enthusiasm and here she met the naturalist writer Gerhart Hamptman, future Nobel Prize for literature, who became her passionate lover. Two years later he met Friedrich Pineles, an Austrian doctor, with whom she started an intermittent relationship. Salomé, a profound connoisseur of Ibsen, Tolstoy, Turgenev and Wagner, at the age of 36, met the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, 15 years younger, with whom she had a long relationship. Passionate about psychology, in 1911, with the discovery of Sigmund Freud’s theories, she joined the great master’s working group by collaborating with her magazine “Imago”.
Even the great Freud remained conquered by Lou and, after having known her thoroughly even beyond mere friendship, he will always maintain a correspondence with her.
Also, in the context of the Psychoanalytic Society, she met Viktor Tansk, a Slovak psychiatrist, with whom she started a romantic relationship, but Tansk died of suicide.
At the age of 60, Lou’s turbulent life found some peace: alongside her husband Andreas she devoted herself to the profession of psychoanalyst until 1937, the year of her death.
Lou Salomé has left a great deal of writings and publications, among which, above all, intellectual works that concern women, eros and sexuality; the biographies of the intellectuals she knew and in particular the first biography of Nietzsche written with the help of the philosopher’s sister.