Sophie von Kühn
Christiane Wilhelmine Sophie von Kühn (March 17, 1782 – March 19, 1797) was the love interest and eventual fiancée of the German Romantic poet and philosopher Friedrich von Hardenberg, known to many simply as Novalis. Her image famously appears in Novalis’ Hymns to the Night, a foundational text of the literary movement known as German Romanticism.
Although Novalis’s love for Sophie has assumed mythic proportions, their time together was short and uneventful. The two met on November 17, 1794 when Novalis was twenty-two and Sophie was only twelve. They became engaged on Sophie's thirteenth birthday March 17, 1795. Sophie became sick in November 1795, and her sickness continued until her death at the age of 15 in March 1797. The loss of Sophie brought about a deep period of mourning and suffering in Novalis' life. Even so, he became engaged to Julie von Charpentier in December 1798.
The depth of Sophie’s love for Novalis is uncertain given her young age. Some of her diary entries, found in Wm. O’Brien's Novalis: Signs of Revolution, provide some insight into her relationship with Novalis:
- March 1. Today Hartenberch visited again nothing happened.
- March 11. We were alone today and nothing at all happened.
- March 12. Today was like yesterday nothing at all happened.
- March 13. Today was repentance day and Hartenb. was here.
- March 14. Today Hartenber. was still here he got a letter from his brother.
Sophie had a sister, Caroline von Kühn, and a stepsister, Wilhelmine von Thümmel.
Ludwig Tieck's biography of Novalis describes Sophie, saying: "Even as a child, she gave an impression which--because it was so gracious and spiritually lovely--we must call superearthly or heavenly, while through this radiant and almost transparent countenance of hers we would be struck with the fear that it was too tender and delicately woven for this life, that it was death or immortality which looked at us so penetratingly from those shining eyes; and only too often a rapid withering motion turned our fear into an actual reality."
- O’Brien, Wm. Arctander, Novalis: Signs of Revolution. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997.
- Regula Fankhauser, Des Dichters Sophia, 1997.