Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: November 30, 2021
Rahel VarnhagenThe Life of a Jewish Woman
by Hannah Arendt, translated from the German by Clara Winston and Richard Winston, introduction by Barbara Hahn
Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewish Woman was Hannah Arendt’s first book, largely completed when she went into exile from Germany in 1933, though it would not be published until the 1950s. It is the biography of a remarkable, complicated, troubled, passionate woman, an important figure in German romanticism, the person who in a sense founded the Goethe cult that would become central to German cultural life in the nineteenth century, as well as someone who confronted with unusual determination and bore the burden of being both a woman in a man’s world and an assimilated Jew in Germany.
Rahel Levin Varnhagen was, Arendt writes, “neither beautiful nor attractive. . . and possessed no talents with which to employ her extraordinary intelligence and passionate originality.” Arendt sets out to tell the story of Rahel’s life as Rahel might have told it and, in doing so, to reveal the way in which intellectual and social assimilation works out in one person’s destiny. On her deathbed Rahel is reported to have said, “The thing which all my life seemed to me the greatest shame, which was the misery and misfortune of my life—having been born a Jewess—this I should on no account now wish to have missed.” Only because she had remained both a Jew and a pariah, Arendt observes, “did she find a place in the history of European humanity.”
This book was written more than 40 years ago and the woman it deals with lived more than 170 years ago, but the story of Rahel Varnhagen survives the passage of time.
—Lore Dickstein, The New York Times
Arendt's insight into the psychology and the situation of pariah and parvenu is essential.
If you know about Rahel Varnhagen, it's probably because of Hannah Arendt.
—Talya Zax, Forward