Book Review: “The Birth of Novalis”

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The Birth of Novalis: Friedrich von Hardenberg’s Journal of 1797, with Selected Letters and Documents by Bruce Donehower. (SUNY series, Intersections: Philosophy and Critical Theory)



“This book offers, for the very first time, a reliable and lucid translation into English of the most important primary sources pertaining to the biography of the German Romantic poet-philosopher Novalis. Here we glimpse the inner workings of a now legendary event: the transformation of the mining student Friedrich von Hardenberg into the romantic poet Novalis. The idea to gather letters and supporting biographical material from precisely this period and unite them into a single volume is both a masterly and welcome enterprise. It finally allows an English-speaking audience direct access to one of the most fascinating and enduring love relationships in literary historythat of Sophie von Kühn and Friedrich von Hardenberg. Donehower’s insightful introduction and thoroughly readable commentary interspersed between the letters does a great deal to separate the fact from the fiction and myth in Hardenberg’s biography.”

David W. Wood, University of Paris IV, Sorbonne


“Making this material available in English is a great service and long overdue. It offers the materials to contextualize Novalis’ other writings, showing how his work responds to his particular biographical context (unavoidable, given the strong mythmaking surrounding Novalis’ personal losses and their fictionalizations).”

Katherine Arens, author of Empire in Decline: Fritz Mauthner’s Critique of Wilhelminian Germany


The Birth of Novalis … the title of which recalls the outworn image, actually dismantles the Novalis legend. This invaluable biographical collection concentrates on the engagement to Sophie von Kühn, from the poet’s meeting with the twelve-year-old to her excruciating death at just fifteen. … The diaries are filled with references to social events, to conversations, meals, walks, and so on. There are also some fairly frank notes on his sexual activity, what Novalis calls ‘the satisfaction of my fantastical desires.’”

 The Times Literary Supplement


Preview or Purchase The Birth of Novalis