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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


In the 1905 Fanny Essler novel describing Else's life and loves in Berlin in the 1880s, there are numerous intertextual references to passages of symbolic significance in Flaubert's Madame Bovary, so it comes as no surprise that Greve admired the French author to the point of wanting to be like him as much in art as in life. Or, as Else so aptly puts it, he "esteemed Flaubert highly as, he tried to be Flaubert" (Ab 34/35; emphasis hers). Heroine Fanny's death scene from malaria, for instance, documents in minute detail the medical symptoms and the exact course of the fatal illness. It is a transparent imitation of the similarly precise and realistic description of Emma Bovary's death from arsenic poison.

Greve's novel ends at precisely the time when Greve was arrested in real life in May 1903. The epilogue states that by her untimely death Fanny was spared the worst disappointment of her life, which is more than one can say for Else. With Barrel/Endell's suicide after Fanny/Else's & Reelen/Greve's massive betrayal, this ending is the most significant departure from biographical facts in the novel.

Far more important than the Flaubert emulation is Else's testimony concerning her role in the genesis of "Greve's" two novels about her. Two relevant passages concerning them in her autobiography illustrate the more or less subtle process by which Greve made use of her biographical material. First, Else states that she had

"already begun to write a story of my childhood -- from sheer ennui-urge of own inner occupation -- interest that he himself promptly contradicted as a 'swelled head'[30] in ironical derision on account of my literary attempt that he regarded shoulder-shruggingly contemptuous -- but with leniency, since he could not hinder it, in a sense of 'Let the child -- or silly female -- have her play..." (Ab 105).

That "story of (her) childhood" was published as Greve's second novel Maurermeister Ihles Haus. Like Fanny Essler, it is entirely based on Else's experiences, but covers her early years until she moves to Berlin at age eighteen. The following passage confirms that the fictionalized rendering of her adult years -- and the concurrent Fanny Essler poems by extension -- was governed by an identical mechanism:

"Felix had written two novels. They were dedicated to me in so far (ms.: "dictated by me as far...") as material was concerned; it was my life and persons out of my life. He did the executive part of the business, giving the thing the conventional shape and dress...He took it all outwardly as mere industry, except for the material in it. They must be fearful books as far as art is concerned." (Ab 35, emphasis mine).

Particularly noteworthy is her emphasis on his technical skills. She adds that she cannot bring herself to re-read them at the time of writing nearly twenty years later, and that she disliked their style à la Flaubert even then, which opinion Greve smugly "put down to [her] not yet enough developed intellect and taste" (p. 35). Talking about Fanny Essler, Markus Behmer comments to Else's former lover Ernst Hardt (Ehrhard Stein in the novel)[31] that Greve was prostituting her in it:

"Fanny Essler ist ja fabelhaft: wenn Else Ti solange keine Hure geworden ist, trotz ihrer hurenhaften Natur, so hat sie nun endlich ihren Louis gefunden, der sie mehr prostituiert, als wenn er sie à 50 Pfennig besteigen liesse. -- Das Buch ist auch maaßlos (sic!) frech, gegen die anderen Persönlichkeiten: und es ist nicht viel gelesen worden? -- Sonderbar, trotz dieser tierischen Gemeinheit?" (19.2.1907, Hardt, 53).

However nasty his comment, Behmer recognized that Else's material had been exploited for Greve's benefit. Greve was disappointed by his first novel's lack of success, having hoped it would "at least make as much impression as (Thomas Mann's) Buddenbrooks" (Ab 35). Else partially agrees with Greve: "...though they are not art, and though pretentious, yet there are scores and scores of books that are considered 'literature' much worse...for instance, to name one example, 'Peter Camenzind' by Hermann Hesse" (Ab 37).

In analogy with Else's report of Greve's condescension towards her embryonic childhood story and his clever literary transformation of her biographical material into two novels of his own, it can safely be assumed that she conceived and penned prototype versions of the 'Fanny Essler' poems on the three occasions she described in her autobiography, and that he "did the executive part of the business, giving the thing the conventional shape and dress" (Ab 35). He took the matter in his expert hands, polished the poems into their symmetric formal perfection, included the visual evocation of medieval wing-altars, introduced the Petrarchan intertextual references in the central sonnets, and managed to place the results through personal acquaintance with Friedrich Huch or Alexander von Bernus in Die Freistatt.

It is indeed revealing that his earliest known translations are six sonnets from Dante's Vita Nuova dating back to 1898 (Stefan George Archiv, Stuttgart), and that there exists a beautifully crafted double sonnet with the title "Retrospection" in Grove's typed "Miscellaneous poems" (UMA, Mss2, Box 18, Fd. 24; PEd., 182-183). The authorship of the seven 'Fanny Essler' poems can therefore neither be attributed to Greve nor Else alone.

They collaborated within the framework of a fairly obvious division of labour: she provided Greve with the raw material of her rich, biographical experience in some kind of admittedly unpolished form, he applied his remarkable forming and marketing talents. For the novels, Else received no credit for her contribution whatsoever. For the poems, she was at least indirectly, if insufficiently, acknowledged by using a woman's name for the joint pseudonym.[32]

Why the choice of this particular name for the poems and the novel's title? It is likely that Greve intended to confuse the reading public by its proximity to Fanny Elssler, the name of a famous Viennese dancer (1810-1884) who was receiving much attention at the time in various memoirs and biographies.

Note that both family names, Essler and Elssler, contain "Else". Fanny Elssler's first name was really Franziska which provides further, and direct links to the artistic scene in Munich: Franziska Gräfin von Reventlow's (1871-1918) official given name was Fanny which she continued to use in her diaries and correspondence. She was renowned for her unconventional lifestyle, including single parenthood. She was affiliated with the cerebral Klages, the gregarious Wolfskehl and many others, and there is evidence that both Greve and Else knew her, though at different times.[33]

She had published her autobiographical novel Ellen Olestjerne in 1903. Its focus on childhood and early adolescence closely matches the scope of Maurermeister Ihles Haus (1906). However, Fanny Essler was a timely parallel to Reventlow's similar, real-life experiences in Munich. As a roman-à-clef of the group surrounding Stefan George in Berlin, it is more closely related to Reventlow's later fragment, Herrn Dames Aufzeichnungen (1913). Franziska-Fanny was, incidentally, born and raised in Husum, which strongly suggests that the opening line of Fanny Essler's sixth & second last poem, "Und hinter Husum hin die Sonne schwand..." (PEd 45, st.1, l. 1), is a deliberate reference to Reventlow's background.

[30]This expression is also used several times in Grove's correspondence (113), and apparently related to his Swift ventures: " will be a wonder if I don't, like Swift, get the swelled head." Pacey (114) believes that it stems from The Tale of a Tub which Greve translated in the four large volumes of the author's Prosa Werke, 1909/10.

[31]Hardt's play Der Kampf ums Rosenrote (1903), where Else appears as Käthe (Spettigue, 1992, p. 14), is persiflaged as Der Kampf ums Veilchenblaue in Fanny Essler (p. 344), and Else, in her very witty fragment about her stormy affair with him in 1898, calls it Der Zank ums Zuckersüsse.

[32]Upon the publication of Greve's, Grove's and Fanny Essler's poetry (Poems/Gedichte, Dec., 1993), the National Library has accepted it as such, with cross-references from Greve/Grove and Freytag-Loringhoven.

[33]The archaeologist Herbert Koch comments to Reventlow about Fanny Essler, noting that they and Helene Klages are "not yet" represented in it. His judgement: "...arg talentlos und etwas gemein" (Stadtarchiv München, communicated by Irene Gammel, 7.1994).

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 at

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