Thursday 6 November 2014

ADOPT A CHILD AND A SECOND DOG: Alfred Nobel’s advice to his lover.

In 1888 a friend congratulated Alfred Nobel on his marriage – an embarrassing mistake since the woman who called herself  “Mrs. Noble” was his Viennese lover, Sofie Hess. In fact he himself had addressed letters to her as “Mrs. Nobel” to camouflage their affair. Yet he complained to Sofie about her use of his name without his permission. This faux-pas – he called it Namenspfuscherei – made it impossible for him to meet her in Vienna.

A year later, he was still sore about this point: There is nothing more stupid than you staying in Vienna, he wrote to Sofie. You have compromised both me and yourself there. Every cobblestone can tell a story, but you are insensitive to all that because you haven’t the foggiest concept of honour.

A few weeks later he complained again about her using his name without permission, running around with diverse louts, presenting a filthy child as my niece, and expecting me to feed all of Israel -- he meant Sofie’s family! She was of Jewish descent.

He had this to say about their relationship:
There is no different between married and unmarried women as long as the two parties have freely entered into a union. This is not at all the case with us. I never asked you to be my lover and never agreed to you using my name. On the contrary, I advised you to return to your parents and absolutely forbade you the use of my name. And what do you do? You present yourself as my wife and run around with lovers… If my name wasn’t so well-known, it would matter less.

The subject comes up again:
To be married is good. Not to be married is good as well, but no decent man can tolerate the hybrid story you and your family have concocted, especially not a man like me, who is so sensitive to honour and morals.

Needless to say, Sofie was unhappy. Perhaps her biological clock was ticking. Nobel suggested she adopt a child and a second dog and move to a place where she could assume the persona of a young widow.
Instead Sophie got pregnant…
(My translation from the German. Source: E. Biedermann, Der Briefwechsel zwischen Alfred Nobel und Bertha von Suttner)


  1. That was my question too. I had to read through the correspondence between Sophie and Alfred Nobel. It's in: A NOBEL AFFAIR. THE CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN SOFIE HESS AND ALFRED NOBEL (Toronto, 2017).