Fan­ny von Arn­stein: Daugh­ter of the Enlightenment

Hilde Spiel
  • Review
By – July 16, 2014

While this book may be many things, it is prob­a­bly not what most peo­ple would call a biog­ra­phy of Baroness Franziska Fan­ny” von Arn­stein (17581818), the upper-class Jew­ish- Aus­tro-Pruss­ian phil­an­thropist and saloniste. Where con­ven­tion­al bio­graph­i­cal con­cerns — Fanny’s feel­ings for her hus­band, daugh­ter, friends, and ene­mies; her educa­tion; her phil­an­thropic motives; her spiritual­ity, her ambi­tions in life — are even dis­cussed, it is only oblique­ly. In the last pages of the book, Spiel actu­al­ly argues that we might be grate­ful that so few of Fanny’s own utter­ances” have been pre­served, allow­ing us to focus on her gen­er­al impres­sion,” unclut­tered by inci­den­tal dis­clo­sures.” Apart from an eva­sive sub­ject — and the total lack of source notes — the trans­la­tion presents its own dif­ficulties: between the over-use of the pas­sive voice and the reten­tion of Spiel’s Ger­man­ic sen­tence struc­ture, the prose is some­what impen­e­tra­ble. Nev­er­the­less, read­ers look­ing for an account of Jew­ish life in Ger­many and Aus­tria in the late eigh­teenth and ear­ly nine­teenth cen­turies, par­tic­u­lar­ly con­cern­ing the options and lim­i­ta­tions on wealthy Jews, will find this study use­ful. Although Spiel’s lens is focused on the Enlight­en­ment, her analy­sis of Ger­man­ic ambiva­lence toward the Jew sheds great light on twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry anti-Semi­tism as well. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, index.

Relat­ed Content

Bet­ti­na Berch, author of the recent biog­ra­phy, From Hes­ter Street to Hol­ly­wood: The Life and Work of Anzia Yezier­s­ka, teach­es part-time at the Bor­ough of Man­hat­tan Com­mu­ni­ty College.

Discussion Questions