Thursday, January 31, 2008

Gertrud von le Fort

I have long been an admirer of Gertrud von le Fort and her novel Song at the Scaffold, about the Blessed Martyrs of Compiegne. Baroness von le Fort's short but powerful depiction of the sixteen Carmelite nuns guillotined in 1795 during the Reign of Terror was the inspiration for the play by Bernanos and the opera by Poulenc, Dialogues des Carmelites. Here is a short account of Gertrud von le Fort's life:

Baroness Gertrude von Lefort (1876–1971) is the author of over 20 books (poems, novels and short stories), honorary Doctor of Theology and «the greatest contemporary transcendent poet». Her works are appreciated for their breath-taking profoundness and virtuosity, beauty and actuality of her ideas, and for the sophisticateGertrud von le Fortd refinement of the form. Hermann Hesse, who evaluated her talent, proposed her as a candidate for the Nobel Prize.

Von le Fort was born in Westphalia, Germany, and studied at the Universities of Heidelberg and Berlin. A Protestant of Huguenot descent, von le Fort converted early to Catholicism.

Her novel Die Letze am Schafott (The Last or Song at the Scaffold), by far her most famous work, was the basis for Dialogues of the Carmelites. Set during the time........... of the French Revolution, the von le Fort novel tells the story of a troubled, frightened, and strange girl, Blanche de la Force, who has lived in fear from the moment of her birth. To overcome her affliction, she decides to become a nun of Carmel. Little does she know that she is no safer from fear at this convent than in the secular world.

The character of Blanche was von le Fort’s creation, but the other nuns in the story historical figures. Notice the similarity of "von le Fort" to "de la Force." This was no coincidence: much of Gertrud von le Fort’s inspiration for her novel came from her own experiences during World War II and her hatred of Nazism.

She recorded the origin of her 1931 novel: " The point of departure for my creation was not primarily the destiny of the sixteen Carmelites of Compiègne but the figure of the young Blanche. In a historic sense she never lived, but she received the breath of life from my internal spirit, and she cannot be detached from the origin, which is hers. Born in the profound horror of a time darkened by the signs of destiny, this figure arose before me in some way as the embodiment of the mortal agony of an era going totally to its ruin."

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3 comments:

julygirl said...

Thanks for the insight into the life of this gifted writer.

Anonymous said...

Elena, do you know if the Baroness married or had children? I tried to search for the info, but could find nothing. Interesting to me: her writing "took off" after her conversion to the RC Church when she was about fifty years old....

elena maria vidal said...

I don't know, Susan, I will try to find out!