While this book may be many things, it is probably not what most people would call a biography of Baroness Franziska “Fanny” von Arnstein (1758−1818), 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.
- A Difficult Woman by Alice Kessler-Harris
- Breathless by Nancy K. Miller
- Good Living Street: Portrait of a Patron Family, Vienna 1900 by Tim Bonyhady
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.