Saturday, October 1, 2016

THE ETERNAL WOMAN

As I have said in past Blogs, every generation in a monastery is exposed to great writers who influence our journey towards the Lord.  One, who is having a revival of sorts, is GERTRUD VON LE FORT.


She was born in the city of Minden, in the former Province of Westphalia, then the Kingdom of Prussia within the German Empire. She was the daughter of a colonel in the Prussian Army, who was of Swiss Huguenot descent. 

She and her siblings, Elisabeth and Stephan, grew up in a very secure and loving family . She was educated in Hildesheim, and went on to study at universities in Heidelberg,  Marburg and Berlin. She made her home in Bavaria in 1918, living in Baierbrunn until 1939.


Despite publishing some minor works previously, Gertrud's writing career really began with the publication in 1925 of the posthumous work Glaubenslehre by her mentor, Ernst Troeltsch, a major scholar in the field of the philosophy of religion, which she had edited. She converted to Roman Catholicism the following year. Most of her writings came after this conversion, and they were marked by the issue of the struggle between faith and conscience.
Another turning point in Gertrud von le Fort's life was the end of the World War I which meant a great disaster for the defeated Germany. Shortly after her mother died, and in 1920 their family estate Boek was confiscated following her brother's participation in an attempt to anti-government monarchist coup. Gertrud suddenly found herself completely alone and at first without any means. The situation was even more difficult for her because she was accustomed to social etiquette and secured living from her background.

In 1931 she published the novella, de:Die Letzte am Schafott (The Last One at the Scaffold), based on the 1794 execution of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compi√®gne who were guillotined during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. The English translation, entitled The Song at the Scaffold, appeared in 1933, and is still considered as her greatest work. This work was the inspiration for the opera Dialogues of the Carmelites written by Francis Poulenc, which premiered in 1957. The opera was based on a similarly entitled libretto by Georges Bernanos.  

Gertrud went on to publish over 20 books, comprising poems, novels and short stories. Her work gained her the accolade of being "the greatest contemporary transcendent poet". Her works are appreciated for their depth and beauty of their ideas, and for her sophisticated refinement of style.


She became friends with  the theologian and philosopher Romano Guardini (see Blog 8/2/16). In 1920's he was active at Rothenfels/Main castle that was a centre of the Catholic youth movement. As early as 1921 Gertrud  read Guardini's The Spirit of the Liturgy and in the following years helped to bring it to awareness of the general public. Father Guardini did the same when Gertrud  published her book of poetry Hymns to the Church  (another masterpiece in my opinion) in 1924. It was read in the Catholic youth movement and gained popularity there.
She was nominated by Hermann Hesse for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and was granted an honorary Doctorate of Theology for her contributions to the issue of faith in her works.

In 1952, she won the Gottfried-Keller Prize, an esteemed Swiss literary award.
German Stamp- 1975
Among her many other works, were The Eternal Woman (my favorite)  in 1934, which appeared in paperback in English in 2010. In this work, she countered the modernist distortions of the feminine, a meditation on what it means to be a woman.

Last year, Ignatius Press brought out a collection of three of her novellas,The Wife of Pilate and Other Stories, thus introducing her to a new generation of readers. 
In 1939  Gertrud made her home in the town of Oberstdorf in the Bavarian Alps, and it was there that she died on  the feast of All Saints, 1 November 1971, aged 95. 


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