Rahel Levin Varnhagen: The Life and Work of a German Jewish Intellectual

By Heidi Thomann Tewarson | Go to book overview

3
HOPES BETRAYED

THE END OF THE "FIRST SALON"

The social life Rahel had known and practiced ended with the military defeat of Prussia at the battles of Jena and Auerstedt and with Napoleon's victorious entry into Berlin in October 1806. Prussia's collapse signaled the end of that country's political ascendancy -- at least for the time being. The costs were heavy: loss of territories in the eastern and western regions, trade embargoes, high taxation, and the expense of billeting French soldiers. The defeat, however, also made possible the implementation of long overdue reforms. These were taken on by some of the more forward-looking leaders, among them Baron von und zum Stein, Prince Hardenberg, and Baron Altenstein. The years 1807 to 1812 saw the modernization of the economy and the military and the abolishment of the most outdated feudal structures and practices. In the countryside the serfs were freed, and in the cities the power of the guilds was broken, which meant that the freedom to exercise any trade was now granted to everyone. At the same time, compulsory military service was introduced. The improvements also benefited the Jews. One by one, the myriad of special laws governing their exceptional status were repealed. Jews were now permitted to settle in the towns and the countryside, to take up any profession, to be appointed in the civil service as teachers, administrators, and officials at the communal, though not at the national, level. And finally, after more than two hundred years as more or less tolerated "aliens," the Prussian Jews were recognized as citizens in the Emancipation Edict of 1812.

But this was only one side of the picture. In contrast to the reforms in France, those in Prussia and other German states were not the result of pressures from the population at large; they were implemented by the Napoleonic occupation forces and by a small number of liberal, mostly aristocratic, German leaders. The new legislation in effect amounted to

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Rahel Levin Varnhagen: The Life and Work of a German Jewish Intellectual
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Note on the Translations x
  • Introduction 1
  • I - Beginnings 17
  • 2 - The Early Letters 53
  • 3 - Hopes Betrayed 91
  • 4 - Madame Varnhagen Von Ense 139
  • 5 - Return to Berlin: the Salon Varnhagen 179
  • Notes 227
  • Index 255
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