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FrL & FPG's 1904/5 'Fanny Essler' Complex (Seven Poems & One Novel)
How to cite this 2005 e-Article

Else von Freytag-Loringhoven & Felix Paul Greve

Felix Paul Greve's & Else von Freytag-Loringhoven's
1904/5 'Fanny Essler' Poems: His or Hers?
Revised e-Edition in Ten Parts
by Gaby Divay, University of Manitoba Archives, ©25Mar2005


If Greve ever kept his promise and sent Gide "his" Fanny Essler poems, he must have done so after completing the cycle in late March 1905. Only when seen together (2005 eEd. ; PEd 40-47) can their clever composition be fully appreciated.

They are indeed carefully structured to resemble a medieval wing-altar triptych:
First, the fictitious author (Else) deplores in two long, lyrical poems (3 stanzas of 13 lines & 7 stanzas of 4 lines; PEd 40-42) the absence of her unnamed lover (Greve) as she admires in bitter-sweet loneliness the beauty of exotic plants and landscapes in southern climes. "Tunis, Herbst 1903" is specified next to the generic title "Gedichte/Poems."

Central in position and importance, the next sequence (PEd 43-44) has the title Ein Porträt: drei Sonette. The triplicity of names in Greve's letter to Gide is repeated here in the functions of author (Fanny Essler), subject (Greve) and narrator (Else). The unity was then provided by Greve as author who wrote under each of these names. Here, everything revolves around Greve as subject.

The attempt to describe Him by addressing three distinct, characteristic details is similar to neo-impressionist, particularly pointillist, painting techniques. It also points once more to the centre piece of a medieval altar triptych which often represents the Holy Trinity in fructification scenes. This layer of visual allusion to things medieval is reinforced by a clear, intertextual reference to love poetry in the Petrarchan tradition. The three   sonnets follow the strict canon is in form and theme,[26] each presenting in turn Greve's hands (feminine, yet brutal), eyes (cold and sharp, but clouded by masks), and mouth (sensuous, but prone to lies) in typically static close-ups.

Common to all three poems is the contradictory nature of the attributes employed, but despite of this pervading ambiguity, the narrator succeeds in conveying the essential coldness and potential brutality of her object of adoration. This corresponds with Greve's depiction as the elegant Reelen in the novel Fanny Essler, in Freytag-Loringhoven's autobiography, and in her poetry.

The two concluding untitled "Gedichte" (5 stanzas of 7 lines & 12 stanzas of 4 lines) evoke a northern setting in the same way the two initial poems suggested a southern one: the only flaw in the otherwise perfect experience of a spectacular sunset in Husum (PEd 45), or of fresh snow on a sunny winter day on a Frisian shore (PEd 46-47) is again the lover's absence.

The perfect formal symmetry of these seven poems is reflected in their content: in the centre, the elusive lover is described in a strangely timeless, spaceless, and fractioned manner. His central "portrait" is evenly flanked by two wings of the narrator's personal reminiscences, employing multiple North/South, Day/Night, Sun/Moon, Fall/Winter, and Before/After dichotomies. These are charged with symbolism and allow today to both locate and date the scenes described.

The all-pervading theme is the polarity of Absence in the four wing poems, and Presence in the central sonnets. The latter, however, is negated in a dialectic process: paradoxically, the lover has far more present when Fanny/Else deplores his absence than when he is the absolute centre of her attention in his abstract portrait. The impression of coldness governing the central three sonnets contaminates the north and south flanks as well: the northern landscape remains in tune with conventional winter themes, but even the combination of a cheerful, blue sky and glittering, white snow cannot make up for the void he creates. The description of the southern setting, traditionally associated with themes of spring or summer, fails to reflect the couple's initially blissful experience in Palermo. Instead, rather somber fall and evening modes prevail which correspond to narrator Else's aggravation caused by Greve's involuntarily confinement, and the related, shocking revelation that he was not the independently wealthy dandy he had pretended to be.

The structural and symbolic resemblance to a wing-altar triptych can be represented like this:

Left wing


Right wing

Biblical events:
time & place (historical)
Often before Crucifixation
Trinity (3 in 1):
eternal & omnipresent
Biblical events:
time & place (historical)
Often after Fructification


Ein Porträt: Drei Sonette


2 untitled poems
1. Fall / Sunset
2. Night / Moon
Greve's absence
After: = Fall 1903
Title/Trinity (1 in 3: hands, eyes, mouth)
Directionless / Centre
Greve's presence
2 untitled poems
Husum=Wyk auf Föhr
1. Winter / Sunset
2. Day/Sun
Greve's absence
Before: = Fall 1902

Note that from present-day perspective, a reversal of the final northern and the initial southern wings would be required. It was in Dr. Gmelin's Sanatorium in Boldixum, near the town of Wyk on the Frisian island Föhr (not Husum which is across the North Sea on the mainland) that Else Endell pined for Greve and started writing poetry about him in the fall of 1902. This was several weeks before they became lovers at Christmas that year. In Palermo, in May 1903, Fanny/Else had occasion to miss Greve after he had cut their blissful elopement short: going to Bonn for a brief business matter, he was never to return. Two long weeks later, she found out by correspondence that he had been arrested, tried, & sentenced.

[26]The beloved woman was to be celebrated in sonnets with canonized details, such as her blond hair, dark eyes, delicate eyebrows, red lips, etc. The result had the statuesque, sculptural, "Petrarchan" quality of contemporary paintings.
Originally published:
Divay, Gaby. "Fanny Essler's Poems: Felix Paul Greve's or Else von Freytag-Loringhoven's?"
Arachne: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language and Literature, v. 1, no. 2 (1994), 165-197.

How to cite this e-Version:
Divay, Gaby. "Felix Paul Greve's & Else von Freytag-Loringhoven's 1904/5 'Fanny Essler' Poems: His or Hers?" e-Edition, ©March 2005

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