Change Your World-NOT your Body

Monday, September 1, 2014

Doing Woman Different: Annemarie Schwarzenbach

We forget that this is a process, that the earth is in constant motion and that we too are affected by ebbs and tides, earthquakes and events far beyond our visible and tangible spheres: beggars, kings, figures in the same great game. We forget it for our would-be peace of mind, which then is built on shifting sand. We forget it so as not to fear. And fear makes us stubborn: we call reality only what we can grasp with our hands and what affects us directly, denying the force of the fire that’s sweeping our neighbour’s house, but not yet ours.
Annemarie Schwarzenbach was born in Zurich in 1908, in her short life she became a notable writer, worldly photographer and journalist. From a very early age Annemarie acclimated in behaviour/dress more in line with typical boy behaviour/dress which at the time her parents didnt dissuade.

Annemarie came from a well to do family, yet despite natural brightness, academically worked hard earning her doctorate in history by age 23 and publishing her first novel (Bernhard's Circle) shortly there after.
Annemarie having studied and taken serious interest in German literature, history, music and night life became infatuated first with Erika Mann and friends with Erika's brother Klaus, both children of Thomas Mann. Annemarie quickly got caught up in Berlin's pre nazi night life of dance, drink and drugs. Once Hitler came to power in 1933 and Berlin's avant garde bohemianism was quashed, Annemarie's right wing parents urged her to drop the Mann's as friends and support Hitler's National Socialist German rebuild, all of which Annemarie refused outright.


Annemarie traveled a great deal, often accompanied with Klaus and in 1935 on a return trip to Persia obtained a lavender marriaged to French diplomat Claude Clerac. Annemarie enjoyed various lesbian romances with many famous society lesbians in her day, including being pursued by none other than Carson McCullers herself whom was quite mad for Annemarie, dedicating a later novel to her!

In 1942 Annemarie was in a bicycle accident where a brain injury from the fall was misdiagnosed. Her mother whom she had a long difficult relationship with wouldnt allow friends (or husband) to see Annemarie and she died in hospital about a month after this accident. Annemarie's mother destroyed many of her letters, including her diary after Annemarie's death. It is only through the help of friends who rescued many of her writings and photos that they remain with us today.
Annemarie did woman differently in how she wore woman, in how women wore her, in her play (as a child and adult), in her many travels, writings, photos and limitless ways she embodied woman.

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3 comments:

  1. This post is amazing. Just want to add that the second picture shows the photographer Barbara Hamilton-Wright. She accompanied Annemarie Schwarzenbach in the late 1930s for several weeks to travel by car along the eastern coast, as far as Maine. I found her work *accidentally* at the local library when I was 15 and I have fallen in love with her since then. In fact, after reading I decided to become a lesbian. I highly recommend her best work "Das gl├╝ckliche Tal" (The Happy Valley) published in 1940. It´s kind of a lyrical documentary of her journey to Persia and her love to the landscape (it reminded her of the swiss alps) as well as her relationship with a woman. As far as I know, there are only few translation of her work (she wrote mostly in German). Her work is so tender, brave and honest. She means a lot to me.

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  2. There's a movie, Journey to Kafiristan, which is a fictionalized account of her car trip to Afghanistan with Ella Maillart, an ethnologist, very independent woman but probably not lesbian. The movie implies that they ended up spending a night together, but that is probably wishful thinking. It's a pretty good movie, although really long and historically inaccurate. I think it does capture something of Schwarzenbach's personality.

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  3. Fauchcat's comment has made me want to seek out this woman's work. I had never heard of her.

    Dirt, I really like your "Doing Woman Different" series. I've just written a post based on Bohemian women during the period 1900-1939. It is a book review. It would have been nice if the book had specifically included some lesbian women such as Annemarie Schwarzenbach

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