Lou Andreas-Salomé

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Lou Andreas-SaloméA woman way ahead of her time, Lou Andreas-Salomé (née Louise von Salomé) was a Russian-born intellectual, author, and psychoanalyst of the early 20th century.

A prolific writer, she wrote 15 novels, essays and non-fiction studies, including a book on the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the poet Rainier Rilke, Sigmund Freud, and the first feminist study of Ibsen’s female characters.   Most of her stories are psychological studies of complex women revolving around the theme of feminine identity – of surrendering to the desire for merger while remaining true to one’s essence, a conflict Lou grappled with all her life.  But this highly controversial figure was more than just an early feminist.  She was an intellectual femme fatale who captured the hearts of half the artistic and intellectual men of Europe crazy — a free spirit who eschewed all convention and lived by her instincts.

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  Author Barbara Kraft writes in her study of Lou that she was the first “modern woman.”Defying all the rules of turn-of the-century Europe, Lou lived according to her ideals without compromise.  As a young university student, she lived platonically with a man as this was a workable financial arrangement.  To become financially independent from her family, she became a successful, self-supporting writer.

  Though constantly in the company of fascinating men who quickly became enamoured of her, she refused to sleep with them and remained a virgin until age 36.  Never consummating her marriage to her husband, she stayed married to him for forty-three years but lived independently from him, travelling throughout Europe and having affairs with many well known artists and intellectuals.  At the age of 50, she became one of the first female psychoanalysts. Lou Andreas Salome was born in St.

Petersburg Russia in 1861 to a Russian-Jewish army general and his wife.  She was their only daughter and had five brothers.  As a child, she was precocious, quick and brash.  She disliked parties and playing with children other than her brothers.

  Dreamy and highly imaginative, she lived completely absorbed in a fantasy world of stories she made up.  From early on, she showed the aggressiveness of a male in her free spirit and independent ways and yet a longing for surrender – to a god, to her father, to a lover.  In her autobiography, she writes, “I was forever in a state of boyish readiness than feminine acquiscence” (Salome, 1995).Seeking education beyond a typical woman’s station of that time and place, seventeen year-old Salomé persuaded the Dutch preacher Hendrik Gillot, an unconventional pastor twenty-five years her senior, to teach her theology, philosophy, world religions, and French and German literature.

  She fell madly in love with this god-man and under his influence wished to leave the conventional Lutheran church, the thought of which mortified her traditional parents.  One day, while sitting on Gillot’s lap in his study, Lou fainted.  When she awoke, Gillot was kissing her passionately.  He proposed, announcing he would divorce his wife.

  Horrified, Lou felt she had to leave Russia and seek her education abroad.  Her mother and she fled to Zurich where she attended the university.In Switzerland, Lou’s health was poor and she was coughing up blood.  Seeking a warmer climate, in 1882, Salomé’s mother took a twenty-one year-old Lou to Rome.

 At the salon of early feminist Malwida von Meysenbug, Lou met Paul Rée, a 32-year old Jewish philosopher and compulsive gambler.  Lou felt instant rapport with this older man and, feeling spiritually bereft after the Gillot incident, confided in Rée her disbelief of a conventional god and quest for a personal one.  Rée told her god was a childish fantasy.  Fascinated by his thinking, the two became constant companions.

  Rée quickly fell madly in love with Lou.  But she told him she sought a partner in “intellect only.”  She suggested they live together with separate bedrooms divided by a common study.  Reluctant at first but fearful of losing Lou, Rée finally agreed.

  In the meantime, her mother found out about Lou’s “wild scheme” and threatened to take her back to Russia.  To sway her mother, Rée suggested they solicit a third more mature person for their plan.  Enter Friedrich Nietzsche, a close friend of Rée’s.Immediately taken by Lou, Nietzsche proposed to her but Lou kept steadfast to her desire for a “holy trinity,” not marriage.

  Nevertheless, Nietzsche again proposed and again Lou turned him down, reiterating her intentions.  Nietzsche accepted her conditions and asked Lou to come to his home in Tautenberg for the summer.  Fascinated by Nietzsche’s mind, Lou agreed.  In the meantime, Lou, Nietzsche and Rée had their famous photo taken:  Lou, kneeling in a cart, holds a “whip” in one hand and, in the other, reins attached to her “horses” — Nietzsche and Rée.

At Tautenberg, Lou and Nietzsche spent three weeks together and felt a strong affinity for each other’s “mind.”  But Rée writes Lou that Nietzsche thinks them secretly engaged.  Enraged, Lou confronts Nietzsche.  A scene ensued.

  Nietzsche lost all control, insulting both Lou and Rée.  “Oh, she is evil! … That lean, dirty, evil-smelling monkey with false breasts!  A pseudo-girl!” (Peters, 1962).  In a fury, Lou left and broke all ties with Nietzsche.  In 1894, she wrote a controversial study, Friedrich Nietzsche in seinen Werke, of Nietzsche’s personality and philosophy.

 Nietzsche said she understood his work as no one had.  It has been said his ideas developed from his relationship with Lou.  He never married and died insane in 1900, apparently from syphyllis, unaware of his fame.Following the Nietzsche incident, Lou gained a reputation as an evil temptress and Ree’s mother threatened to cut off all his funds if he continued his plan to live with her, as had Lou’s mother.

  To become financially independent. Lou started to write novels.  Rée and Lou settled into an apartment in Berlin.  They lived together platonically for four years.

At 26, Lou met Andreas, a 42 year-old professor of Oriental languages.  She felt powerfully drawn to this forceful but gentle man and immediately adopted his ways.  She became a vegetarian, wore simple, loose clothing and went barefoot outside even in winter.  Andreas proposed, but Lou kept delaying an answer.

Rée, in the meantime, knowing he had lost Lou, disappeared.  This greatly distressed Lou as there’s had been her ideal relationship:  two intellectual equals sharing each other’s life without the risk of becoming emotionally submerged in the other’s identity, as she feared with Andreas.  He became a physician, devoting his life to the sick and the poor and never married.  At age 51, he fell to his death.

  Lou fainted at hearing the news, always feeling somewhat as if she had betrayed him.Andreas insisted that Lou agree to an engagement.  But Lou, despondent over Rée’s departure, told Andreas she didn’t wish to get married or have sex with him.  Andreas pulled out a knife and stabbed himself.

  He fell to the ground, unconscious.Andreas lived and Lou, fearful he would again attempt suicide, agreed to marry him.  On their wedding night, she refused to sleep with him, later writing in her autobiography that sex with Andreas felt “incestuous” (Salome, 1995).  The next morning she told him she would never consummate the marriage and Andreas dissolved into tears.

  Lou suggested divorce but Andreas refused, hoping Lou’s “girlish ways” would pass.  They didn’t.One night Andreas lost control and raped her while she was asleep.  She woke up to find him gurgling and her arms around his throat.

  He told her he will never touch her again.  Lou asked for a divorce.  Andreas again refused, saying he could never see his life without her.  Lou and Andreas remained together, both of them tortured:  Andreas is barred from the body of the woman he loves and Lou feels in her marriage that being a woman and being a person with individual freedom feels mutually contradictory (Salome, 1995).

Lou and Andreas work out a compromise – they will stay married but lead separate lives:  Lou travels most of the year and Andreas devotes his time to his studies.  She hyphenates her name – Andreas-Salome and does not wear a wedding band   Despite her opposition to marriage and her open relationships with many other men, she stays married to Andreas from 1887 until his death in 1930 at age 81.  Mariechen, the daughter of Andreas and Maria, lives with her husband on the ground floor of Lou’s house and takes care of Lou until her death.At age thirty-six, Lou, rumored to still be a virgin, met 21-year-old René Rilke, an aspiring poet.

  Besotted, he pursued her relentlessly, sending a torrent of mail, while Lou wished she could make him “go completely away.”  But the two developed a passionate partnership as friends, lovers, confidants, and counsellors.   Lou began calling him Rainer rather than René, taught him Russian and to read Tolstoy (whom he would later meet), and Pushkin.  Never faithful to any man, Lou had other lovers during their long tryst, including a long standing relationship in Vienna with her physician Dr.

Friedrich Pineles that lasted ten years.  It was rumored that he got her got pregnant and later aborted the fetus at her wish as she felt her lifestyle precluded her from being a good mother.Rlike’s depression and dependency eventually exhausted Lou and after 6 years she broke off the affair, stating, “I cannot be faithful to others, only to myself” (Salome, 1995).  Lou remained friends with Rainier Maria Rilke, who clung to her until his death of leukemia in 1926.

  Practicing in mid-life as a psychoanalyst, Lou claimed success treating patients with Rilke’s poems: “They heard your tone as that of Life.”  His metamorphisis into a great poet has been generally attributed to Lou’s influence on him.At age fifty-one, Lou was introduced to Sigmund Freud at the Weimar Psychoanalytic Congress.  Half a year later, she went to Vienna to study psychoanalysis with Freud.

  A shining presence amidst the group of mostly neurotic men who comprised Freud’s following, Lou captivated them with her intelligence, depth of understanding and warmth and soon became part of Freud’s inner circle.  She remained one of Sigmund Freud’s closest personal friends and a surrogate mother to his daughter Anna Freud who, greatly admiring her, sought her advice and friendship.  Neither Freud nor anyone else ever analyzed her.From their first meeting, Freud felt drawn to this enigmatic woman whom he lovingly called a muse.

  He wrote, “I missed you in the lecture yesterday….  I have adopted the bad habit of directing lecture to a definite member of the audience, and yesterday I fixed my gaze as if spellbound at the place which had been kept for you.”  (Freud and Salome, 1985).  Fascinated with Freud’s thoughts, Lou read everything and immediately showed, said the psychoanalyst Karl Abraham, a comprehension of psychoanalysis he had never encountered.

  Freud called her a “female of dangerous intelligence” and later said to her, “You are an understander par excellence.”Though flattered by Freud’s attention and admiration, Lou could stand ground with any man, even Freud.  Her impressive writings, striking intelligence, and gift for absorbing new ideas made her feel at one with brilliance and the consummate free thinker was not entirely faithful to Freud.  At the beginning of her stay in Vienna, she played with the ideas of Alfred Adler, one of Freud’s infidels and an arch enemy.

  But Lou eventually found a long sought god in Freud.  She made psychoanalysis her religion, became fiercely loyal to him and honored Freud in her book My Thanks to Freud.  He was, after all, the man who wrote of how society stifles one’s instinctual urges and Lou had lived her life rebelling against such restraint.Lou died of uremia at age 76 in 1937 in Göttingen, the German town in which she lived her last years.

  Freud read the eulogy at her funeral.  Shortly after her death, the Gestapo raided her house and burned the library of the Russian woman who had embraced the Jewish science of psychoanalysis. Lou’s life needs to be interpreted as an on-going struggle to transcend conventions and traditions in ideas and living.  It did not come easily.

  Thou Lou felt proud of being free from old-fashioned inhibitions, her rebellious nature presented challenges for this turn-of-the-century supremely independent feminist.  Her mother was religious and conventional and defied Lou’s unconventional ways every step of the turn until, exhausted at the effort she left Lou to her own whims.  Lou was highly criticized in her affair with Nietzsche for deluding him into thinking she was romantically interested in him, as many men falsely believed.  In truth, Lou was of a passionate, vibrant nature and naturally exuded a profound interest in and fascination for those who captured her interest.

  People whispered wherever she went of the married woman co-habitating with other men.   People found it peculiar that she became involved with so many men but never consummated her marriage and remained a virgin until her affair with Rilke at age 36.  A woman with less resolve, with a less firm identity would have capitulated.  Lou never did.

  “Lou lived out all the phases and evolutions of love,” writes Anais Nin in the preface to.., “from giving to withholding, from expansion to contraction.  She married and led a non-married life, she loved both older and younger men.

  She was attracted to talent but did not want to serve merely as a disciple or muse” (Nin, Introduction in Peters, 1962).Lou showed remarkable persistence in maintaining her identity and preserving her autonomy and independent study even while surrounded by powerful geniuses and always acted upon her deep convictions.  Her seemingly seductive, even taunting relationship with men centered on remaining true to her intelligence and originality without being submerged by the geniuses who flocked to her.  Living her life at all times true to her essence, regardless of conventional expectations, thus enabling her to utilize her wealth of skills and intelligence makes her a true feminist leader.

      ReferencesBinion, Rudolph (1968).  Frau Lou.  NJ:  Princeton U. Press.

 Livingstone, Angela (1984).  Lou-Andreas Salom.  London:  Gordon Fraser. Peters, H.

F. (1962).  My Sister, My Spouse.  NY:  W.

W. Norton. Pfeiffer, Ernst (1985).  Freud, Sigmund and Lou Andreas-Salome Letters.

 NY:  Norton. Salome, Lou and Leavy, Stanley A. (1996).  The Freud Journal.

 Dallas:  TexasBookman.Salome, Lou and Mandel, Siegfried (2001).  Nietzsche.  Urbana, IL:  University ofIllinois Press.

Salome, Lou, and Mitchell, Breon (1995).  Looking Back.  NY:  Marlowe and Co..

Salome, Lou and Mandel, Siegfried (1990).  Ibsen’s Heroines.  Pompton Plains, NJ:Limelight Editions.Salome, Lou and von der Lippe, Angela (2003).

  You Alone Are Real to Me:Remembering Rainer Maria Rilke.  Rochester, N.Y:  BOA Editions.

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Lou Andreas-Salomé. (2017, Mar 26). Retrieved from


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