Charlotte von Stein
Charlotte Albertine Ernestine von Stein (also mentioned as Charlotta Ernestina Bernadina von Stein ), born von Schardt; 25 December 1742, Eisenach – 6 January 1827, Weimar, was a lady-in-waiting at the court in Weimar and a close friend to both Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whose work and life were strongly influenced by her.
Charlotte's parents were Hofmarschall Johann Wilhelm Christian von Schardt and Concordia Elisabeth von Schardt. While her father was a wasteful eccentric, her mother who had had Scottish ancestors was said to be very quiet and dutiful.
Her parents moved to Weimar when Charlotte was yet a little child and she was prepared for working as a lady-in-waiting. Her education included literature, art, singing and dancing. They said that Charlotte was unobtrusive, witty, graceful and dutiful like her mother was. There were four things she spent most of her time on:
- Society (according to her “profession”)
- Taking cures (she had a weak constitution)
- Literature/Theater/Art (she was an avid writer and later published several dramas, including "Dido" and "Ryno")
- Animals (she had various pets, e.g. cats, dogs and doves)
Profession and family
In 1758 Charlotte became a lady-in-waiting to Anna Amalia, Duchess of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach whom she served until the Duchess's death in 1807. On 17 May 1764 Charlotte married Freiherr Gottlob Ernst Josias Friedrich von Stein (1735-1793). This was not a marriage out of love, but for social and political interests. Often Charlotte remained alone in Weimar, as her husband had to travel a lot, serving the duke of Jena-Weimar. From 1764 to 1773 she gave birth to seven children. The four daughters died, three boys (Karl, Ernst, Fritz) survived. After her seventh child was born she had to take several cures as she was physically exhausted. She was also the aunt of Amalia von Helvig, who became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.
Charlotte and Goethe
In 1774 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Charlotte von Stein met in Weimar. It was the beginning of a deep friendship which lasted for twelve years. During this time she had a strong influence on Goethe's work and life. Goethe took into his house her eleven-year-old son Fritz (her darling), in May 1783, and took over the boy's education to her satisfaction.
This period of her life might have been the happiest since she was in the center of social life and attention and met many famous personalities, e.g. Friedrich Schiller, Karl Ludwig Knebel, and Johann Georg Zimmermann. She frequently corresponded with Schiller's wife Charlotte.
In the eyes of her contemporaries
Knebel has given an outstanding depiction of von Stein's nature:
Pure, correct feeling combined with a natural, passionless, light disposition have worked together with own diligence, furthered by the contact to excellent people that harmonized with her utterly fine thirst for knowledge, to form her into a personality whose nature and existence are hardly probable to come about, in Germany, very often again. She lacks any pretentiousness or affectation; she is straight, free in a natural way, not too heavy and not too light, without enthusiasm, and yet, with spiritual warmth, takes an interest in all reasonable and in all human, is well informed and possesses a fine delicacy, even aptitude for art.— Karl Ludwig Knebel, letter to his sister Henriette, 18 April 1788
Loneliness and death
In 1786 the deep friendship between Charlotte and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ended with his sudden departure to Italy without even telling her he wanted to go. Not until after 1800 did their relationship begin to normalize and even then it never became as close as before.
After her husband had died in 1793 Charlotte retired from society and became more and more lonely. In 1794 she wrote the drama Dido— a literary self-portrait that also depicted her disappointment about Goethe's behavior. It reflected the years from 1770 to 1790 and the situation in Weimar at that time. As depicted by Virgil, Dido (Queen of Carthage) was forsaken by her lover Aeneas who set off for Italy - an obvious parallel to von Stein herself and Goethe.
Charlotte von Stein died on 6 January 1827 in the age of 85.
The German poet Peter Hacks presented his play "Gespräch im Hause Stein über den abwesenden Herrn von Goethe" (A Discussion in the Stein Home about the Absent Mr. Goethe) in 1974. This monodrama became a worldwide success and is seen as a subtle analysis of the fate of Charlotte von Stein.
- Wilhelm Bode: Charlotte von Stein, 3rd, revised edition, Ernst Siegfried Mittler Verlag, Berlin 1912, page 8
- Valerian Tornius: Goethe — Leben, Wirken und Schaffen. Ludwig Röhrscheid, Bonn 1949, p. 212
- Karl Robert Mandelkow, Bodo Morawe: Goethes Briefe. 2. edition. Vol. 1: Briefe der Jahre 1764-1786. Christian Wegner, Hamburg 1968, p. 641
- According to Karl Robert Mandelkow, Bodo Morawe: Goethes Briefe. 2. edition. Vol. 1: Briefe der Jahre 1764-1786. Christian Wegner, Hamburg 1968, p. 641. Translated by Hans Dunkelberg for Wikipedia
- Der Große Brockhaus. 16. edition. Vol. 11. F. A. Brockhaus, Wiesbaden 1957, p.193
- picture of the Stein family house in Weimar
- Full German Text of Charlotte von Stein's play Dido
- Texts on Wikisource: