Romantic in Exile
Throughout the years in Paris and Dresden, the marriage of Richard and Minna Wagner had seemed fairly secure. In Dresden especially, Wagner's artistic success and the prestige of his position as Kapellmeister were enough to maintain domestic peace, even when his debts were mounting. Furthermore, the few letters from this time that Wagner wrote to Minna suggest that sexual attraction and a corresponding mutual sympathy were still very much alive. The flight to Zurich, however, precipitated a crisis. At first, Minna was unwilling to join her husband, who, she felt, had willfully destroyed his career in Dresden. Her refusal drew from Wagner a letter stating that the two of them might be fundamentally incompatible.
What I have come to learn time and time again is that the human being is the most important thing in life, takes priority over everything else: but sadly for you, furniture and houses etc. often and habitually have more of a pull on your heart than the living human being. 1
Eventually Minna joined him, but soon the first major crisis since the earliest days of their marriage occurred -- the Laussot affair.
During his visit to France early in 1850, Wagner's feelings for Jessie Laussot, the wife of a Bordeaux wine merchant, grew so strong that he made plans to elope with her to Greece and the Orient. He was so confident of this scheme that he wrote to Minna requesting a separation, primarily on the grounds that she neither understood nor sympathized with his artistic vocation. There was, he claimed, a "fundamental difference in our