Academic journal article Thomas Wolfe Review

Thomas Wolfe's Other German Girlfriend: Who Was Lisa Hasait?

Academic journal article Thomas Wolfe Review

Thomas Wolfe's Other German Girlfriend: Who Was Lisa Hasait?

Article excerpt

The distinction of being known as "Thomas Wolfe's German girlfriend" properly belongs on several grounds to Thea Voelcker. For one thing, of all Wolfe's relationships with German women, that with Voelcker was the most intense, even though it was also relatively brief. Their affair, moreover, came to involve--albeit rather marginally--other individuals who were significant in his life such as H. M. Ledig-Rowohlt and Maxwell Perkins. Not least of all, the short and tumultuous encounter of Voelcker and Wolfe during the summer of 1936 was immortalized by Wolfe in his posthumously published novel You Can't Go Home Again in the figures of Else von Kohler and George Webber, although the reality of Voelcker's personality corresponded only in part to the fictional treatment she received from the pen of her erstwhile American lover (Rogers; Stokes).

But while this fleeting connection was the sole one of its kind involving a German woman about which Wolfe left behind a literary monument, it now transpires that a second such relationship has been recorded in print. Its author, however, was the other partner to the encounter, and her name before marriage was Lisa Hasait. (1) She also wrote a few letters and postcards to Wolfe that have survived and that, together with her recent memoirs (Von Dresden nach Otjiwarongo, 2001), provide a revealing insight into his behavior in the foreign country where "I am liked best and have the most friends" (qtd. in Kennedy 46).

In the course of his six visits to Germany, Wolfe met a number of women. Already during his initial sojourn there in 1926 he was impressed by the beauty of the country's female population--they were apparently the "robust blondes" he had expected them to be (Letters 81)--in contrast to their thick-necked menfolk whose shaven heads and faces scarred by dueling cuts repelled him (Stutman 139, 140; Notebooks 1: 88, 91, 93). Yet, while he readily confessed his own need for "women again" after a long separation from his mistress, Aline Bernstein, Wolfe's still ardent affection for her restrained him from pursuing any German females he encountered; as he wrote her: "I kept the faith, Jew" (qtd. in Stutman 139). Bernstein's presence with him the following year in Munich and Nuremberg presumably prevented amorous adventures, and restraint may have prevailed again in 1928 despite his catching sight of many "Good looking women" in German hotel lobbies (Notebooks 1: 185).

The situation had entirely changed, however, when Wolfe, after a five-year absence, returned to Germany during the summer of 1935. By then his love for Aline Bernstein belonged to the past, and so did his anonymity. Instead, Wolfe was the widely acclaimed author of one novel in German translation--Schau heimwarts, Engel!--with a second (Of Time and the River) already a best seller in the United States. The young bachelor, strikingly tall and handsome, was being feted all over Berlin by his publicity-conscious publisher, Ernst Rowohlt, and the vivacious Martha Dodd, daughter of no less a personage than the American ambassador. This was the background for Wolfe's meeting in the German capital with Lisa Hasait. (2)

Just who was she? Born in Dresden on 16 December 1909, Lisa (Elisabeth) was the younger of the two daughters of Max Hasait, the internationally recognized technical director of the Royal Saxon Opera (known today as the Semper Opera) and his socially ambitious wife (Kuntze 7-8, 12, 71-72). Following her schooling in three practically oriented institutions (her self-made father, who had hoped for a son as his second child, focused the family's academic ambitions upon the older sister), Hasait embarked on a period of training in the book trade. In late 1931 she escaped a restrictive home life by leaving for England where she became an au pair mother's helper and earned a language diploma from Exeter University. She spent three years in all there and subsequently in France doing the same work, thereby becoming fluent in both English and French. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.