Sunday 25 January 2015


Alfred Nobel met Sophie when she worked in a flower shop in Baden, near Vienna. She was his lover for some fifteen years until she got pregnant by another man. Nobel, who perhaps felt responsible for having seduced her and accustomed her to a luxurious life, stayed in touch. In his will he left Sophie an annuity of about $ 150,000 (6,000 florins) a year – not quite as much as she had hoped!  Here is one of her many long, unpunctuated begging letters. Although she was of Jewish descent herself, she did not refrain from anti-Semitic remarks.

Dear Alfred, It is very bitter to have to talk of money, because I am being treated like a common whore, especially by that common, nasty Jew who is known all over Vienna and whom you would find an arrogant and vulgar dog, if I judge you correctly, so I have to tell you that I am quite determined to marry and if you want to pension me off, dear Alfred, I beg you to give me 200,000 florins, then you have the assurance that I and my child are looked after and can make ends meet, you can invest the money with a bank, so that I get only the interest, it would in any case only be 8000 florins, how one would make economies, considering how I have lived so far, it would mean setting all luxury aside. But I will gladly do it because it is better to be dead than to lead a life like this, and I will show up that vulgar Jew. I curse him and his children right to the grave. Today I heard that you don’t agree with my travelling to Budapest, I have to go there, I can’t marry here, and I can’t remain unmarried and live alone with my child, I don’t want that, I want to be a decent woman in future and not exposed to such hangmen, to suffer indignities, I am going to bare my teeth to that miserable fellow. You hired him, I suppose, to pay the woman who lived with you for fourteen years, not to insult me, I find that quite ignoble and everyone I tell my story will think the same.
Dear Alfred, you are in a pretty situation, entrusting yourself to them, that can’t bring anyone luck to treat a helpless woman like that. Nor do I think it was your intention to have me treated like a whore. I cried so much, and God will avenge me, believe you me!
What I have suffered over the last three weeks is indescribable! Yes, I have done wrong, but even so I’m not the worst or a vulgar woman, no one can say that who knows me, but to surrender me to that vulgar Jew that’s a sin, I didn’t deserve that, I have wasted my whole youth and must be glad now that the Captain marries me, although I would deserve a more loving husband. No one wants a wife who has been the mistress of another and lived with him for so long, believe you me.  That is why you must be reasonable and not so hard on me.

(Source: Correspondence between Hess and Nobel, my translation)

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