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Ida Gräfin Hahn-Hahn, German author, 1805-1880

By Elisa Müller-Adams, Universität Trier, and Kerstin Wiedemann, University of Nancy II

Being from aristocratic and protestant origins, Ida Countess Hahn-Hahn led a rather unconventional life. At the age of 21, she married her cousin Friedrich Count Hahn (hence the double-name Hahn-Hahn) in order to support her impoverished family. The marriage was unhappy and after two years Hahn-Hahn and her husband separated. Even so their matrimony brought forth one daughter, Antonie, who was apparently disabled and given into care. Hahn-Hahn never married again, but found a friend and partner in Baron Adolf von Bystram with whom she lived until his death in 1849. Hahn-Hahn started her literary career at the age of 25 establishing herself quickly in the German literary marketplace as a professional writer, publishing poems and very popular travelogues as well as emancipatory novels.

Often referred to as the 'German George Sand', Hahn-Hahn’s novels in this first period of her literary production centered on heroines who strive to fulfill both their potential as artists as well as their romantic aspirations, but are often disillusioned by the limitations set by gender conventions. A good example of this is her most famous novel Gräfin Faustine ("The Countess Faustina"), which was published in 1840 and saw several editions in the following years. In these earlier novels, Hahn-Hahn offers a very detailed and critical portrayal of the lifestyle of the upper classes from a female perspective.

Hahn-Hahn also undertook extensive travels and her travelogues proved very popular, especially her Orientalische Briefe ("Letters from the Orient", 1844) which attracted a lot of attention throughout Europe. She also published books on her travels to Scandinavia, France, Italy and Spain; Meine Reise in England records her journey through England; written in 1848, it was, however, never published during her lifetime.

After having become a very successful author, Hahn-Hahn decided to convert to Catholicism in 1849. This decision was taken under the guidance of the later archbishop of Mainz, Wilhelm Emanuel von Ketteler, and was possibly motivated by Bystram's death in the same year. The conversion, described by Hahn-Hahn in Von Babylon nach Jerusalem ("From Babylon to Jerusalem", 1851), produced a religious turn in her literary work which can therefore be divided into two phases: the first one of the very fashionable and mundane author, popular for her travelogues and emancipated novels, as well as for her early poetry, and the second phase when her writing was clearly influenced by her religious awakening and consisted of prose novels inspired by her new faith, religious autobiographical writing and other genres like hagiography and the history of religion. After her conversion, Hahn-Hahn founded a convent in Mainz for young unmarried mothers. Writing then became an important source of income needed to build up and run the convent where she lived herself as a layperson until her death in 1880.

Ida Hahn-Hahn is one of the most important German female authors of the 19th century. She can also serve as an example for the ambiguous position of a woman writer: Her writing was praised as a model for female writing as well as criticised for promoting 'female egotism' (e.g. in Fanny Lewald's satirical novel about Hahn-Hahn, Diogena). Judgements about Hahn-Hahn's writing also almost always mixed with moral judgments about her unconventional lifestyle, her illicit relationship with Bystram was the object of constant gossip and her conversion to Catholicism was commented on extensively both in Germany and abroad. Neglected for a long time by scholarly research, Hahn-Hahn was 're-discovered' by feminist literary critics in the 1970s and -80s. More recently, it is her travel writing, especially the Letters from the Orient, that has attracted attention from a postcolonial perspective.

Ida Hahn-Hahn is of great interest for the COST project "Women Writers in History: Toward a New Understanding of European Literary Culture": Not only was she read throughout Europe, her works being translated into, for example, English, French, Italian, Dutch and Swedish, but also her very particular literary career opened up her work to very different reading audiences and comments, especially when the texts are translated and presented abroad.


Key works:

  • Gräfin Faustine, Berlin: Duncker, 1841
  • Reisebriefe, 2 vols. Berlin: Duncker, 1841
  • Erinnerungen aus und an Frankreich, 2 vols. Berlin: Duncker, 1842
  • Orientalische Briefe, 3 vols. Berlin: Duncker, 1844
  • Sibylle. Eine Selbstbiographie, 2 vols. Berlin: Duncker, 1846
  • Von Babylon nach Jerusalem, Mainz: Kirchheim und Schott, 1851
  • Maria Regina, 2 vols. Mainz: Kirchheim, 1860
  • Meine Reise in England, Mainz: Hase & Köhler, 1981

Twentieth and twenty-first century editions:

  • Gräfin Faustine. Nachwort von Annemarie Taeger. Bonn: Bouvier 1986.
  • Orientalische Briefe. Ed. by Gabriele Habinger. Vienna: Promedia. 1991.
  • Meine Reise in England. Ed. by Bernd Goldmann. Mainz: v. Hase & Koehler 1981.


  • Kraft, Helga W., Ida Hahn-Hahn. - In: Elke Frederiksen/Elizabeth G. Ametsbichler (Hg.), Women Writers in German-speaking Countries, A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, (Westport/Conn.: Greenwood Press 1998, pp. 189-198).


  • Borowka-Clausberg, Beate: '"Wie soll ich es fertigbekommen, die ganze Welt zu sehen ?" Das bewegte Leben der Ida Gräfin Hahn-Hahn (1805-1880)', in: Unterwegs zum Orient, ed. by Beate Borowka-Clausberg (Würzburg: Bergstadtverlag W. G. Korn 2007), pp. 9-26.
  • Marie Helene (= Elisabeth LeMaitre): Gräfin Hahn-Hahn. Ein Lebensbild nach der Natur gezeichnet (Leipzig: Friedrich Fleischer, 1869)

Criticism and Comparative analysis:

  • Argyle, Gisela, 'The horror and the pleasure of un-English fiction : Ida von Hahn-Hahn and Fanny Lewald in England', in Comparative literature studies, 44 (2007),144-165
  • Brisson, Ulrike, 'Ida Hahn-Hahns Orientbild zwischen Vorstellung und Wirklichkeit', in Wege in die Moderne Reiseliteratur von Schriftstellerinnen und Schriftstellern des Vormärz, ed. by Christina Ujma (Bielefeld: Aisthesis 2009), 243-254.
  • Borowka-Clausberg, Beate: '"Ich reise um zu leben" : Ida Gräfin Hahn-Hahns literarische Lebensfahrt mit Kalesche und Eisenbahn', in Wege in die Moderne Reiseliteratur von Schriftstellerinnen und Schriftstellern des Vormärz, ed. by Christina Ujma (Bielefeld: Aisthesis 2009), 69-79.
  • Chambers, Helen: '"Ein schwer definierbares Ragout": Ida Hahn-Hahn’s Gräfin Faustine – Vapours from the Hexenküche or Social and Psychological Realism ?', in Perspectives on German Realist Writing. Eight Essays, ed. by Mark G. Ward (Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press 1995), 79-94.
  • Maurer, Karin, 'Der panoramatische Blick auf das Andere in Ida von Hahn-Hahns Reisebericht Orientalische Briefe (1844)', in The German Quarterly, 83 (2010) 153–171.
  • Möhrmann, Renate, Die andere Frau. Emanzipationsansätze deutscher Schriftstellerinnen im Vorfeld der Achtundvierziger-Revolution (Stuttgart: Metzler 1977).
  • Oberemt, Gert, Ida Gräfin Hahn-Hahn. Weltschmerz und Ultramontanismus. Studien zum Unterhaltungsroman im 19. Jahrhundert. Bonn: Bouvier, 1980.
  • O'Brien, Traci: 'A "Daughter of the Occident" Travels to the "Orient": Ida von Hahn-Hahns "The Countess Faustina" and "Letters from the Orient"', in Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature & Culture, 24 (2008), 26-48.
  • Osinski, Jutta, ‘Von der Nachfolgerin George Sands zur Grande Dame des katholischen Milieus: Ida Gräfin Hahn-Hahn’, in Kanon Macht Kultur. Theoretische, historische und soziale Aspekte ästhetischer Kanonbildungen, ed. Bey Renate von Heydebrand, Stuttgart: Metzler 1998, 524-539.
  • Sagarra, Eda, 'Gegen den Zeit- und Revolutionsgeist', in Deutsche Literatur von Frauen, ed. by Gisela Brinker-Gabler , vol. 2. (Munich: C.H. Beck 1988), 107-119.
  • Wiedemann, Kerstin, 'L'orient aux yeux des femmes : la poétique du regard dans les "Lettres orientales" (1844) de la Comtesse Ida Hahn-Hahn', in: L'Orient dans la culture allemande aux XVIIIe et XIXe siècles. Actes du colloque organisé par le Centre d'Etudes Germaniques et Scandinaves (LIRA) de l'Univ. Nancy 2 (9 et 10 décembre 2004), ed. by Philippe Alexandre (Nancy: Presses Univ. de Nancy 2007), 73-83.

AsK May 2011

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