Thursday 30 October 2014


More from my translation of Ida Hahn-Hahn’s novel Sibylle.(1846):

Sibylle (like the author) was Protestant. When she first attended a Catholic mass, she was profoundly moved. Her English governess declared it idol worship and was set against it, but her tutor was Catholic. He explained to me the symbols of the mass and gave me a prayer book so that I could follow the rites. They made an overpowering impression on me…Music, incense, flowers, the exquisite garb [of the priest], images, gleaming gold, candle light, illuminated altars, the majesty of the dome – it was a grand picture of worldly power, of the earthly grandeur Christ despised…and yet I felt as if an angel had given wings to my heart.

Like the author, Sibylle married a cousin. The bridegroom was twenty-eight. Sibylle was fifteen. Now I was a married woman. Cultivating warm and simple sentiments, taking over a certain sphere of household duties, and engage in orderly activities is the natural and healthiest atmosphere for developing the character of a wife. But her husband, Paul, took her away on a long honeymoon to Paris, Florence, and Rome, where she spent a great deal of money and learned to push Paul’s buttons.

I tried the limits, and pitied Paul [when he gave in], but that pity turned to disrespect, not to say scorn. A man, who was unable to say no!
Wherever they ended up on their travels, she was restless and wanted to be elsewhere. I hoped it was merely a desire for more intellectual stimulation, but as she came to realize: it was an indication that she didn’t love Paul and didn’t enjoy his company.
Eventually they settled in London, where Sibylle continued to spend lavishly. I led an empty life of visiting, riding, attending soirees – it was more a matter of scheduling my time than filling my life.
Within four years she managed to bankrupt her husband.
“Oh Paul,” I exclaimed. “Why have you never maintained your better judgment against mine?”
“Because I am weak in your presence,” he said.
“Unfortunately,” I whispered to myself.
(Source: Ida Hahn-Hahn, Sybille. Eine Selbstbiographie. New edition 2013 by Holzinger)

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