Charlotte von Ahlefeld

Coming from the old Thuringian noble family von Seebach, Charlotte von Ahlefeld has to lead large parts of her adult life far from her place of origin and family. Her parents – Alexander Christoph August von Seebach (1735–1811), a Hanoverian regimental commander, and Albertine Wilhelmine, née von Ingersleben (1748–1813) – provide her with a girl’s education appropriate for those times. She receives instruction from private tutors and is given the opportunity to unfold her artistic sensibilities at the Weimar Drawing School. At the court of Grand Duchess Louise, Duke Karl August’s wife, this development is stimulated through gregarious lifestyles, especially in the literary realm. Already at ten years of age, Charlotte composes her first poems, which likely find favor with the courtly audience. She debuts in 1798 with the novel “Liebe und Trennung oder merkwürdige Geschichte der unglücklichen Liebe zweyer Fürstlichen Personen jetziger Zeit”. This year brings her, however, not only her first literary success, but also the separation from her known world of family and the Weimar court. The marriage with Johann Rudolph von Ahlefeld (1757–1848) from Schleswig-Holstein, the prosperous landowner of Saxtorf, Sehestedt and Ludwigsburg in Schleswig, means for her not just a change of residence. A new way of life in a foreign milieu is imposed on her, with a husband about whose behavior, along with her own isolation, she complains in letters to the friend Sophie Mereau-Brentano. Out of this marriage come three sons: Friedrich (1799–1862), Erich (1800–1853) and Hermann (1806–1855), who are for the mother, along with her literary occupation, the consolation of her lonely life. After her divorce, she remains in Schleswig, returning to Weimar only in 1821.

The marriage years prove, nonetheless, literarily fruitful: Charlotte von Ahlefeld publishes more than 30 prose works and several poems since her debut, which often come out under the pseudonyms “Elise Selbig”, “Ernestine”, or “Natalie”. Many of her novels yield success, taking up themes such as family conflicts, romantic problems or the individual’s inner struggle between duty and personal inclinations, which must end in self-denial. To these belong, for example, “Marie Müller” (Berlin: Unger 1799), “Die Bekanntschaft auf der Reise” (Berlin: Unger 1801) or “Therese. Ein Roman in zwei Theilen” (Hamburg: Hofmann 1805). Besides her literary occupation, to which also belong articles for numerous newspapers, the acquaintances made in Weimar strengthen her and enable her to stay connected to the social scene – among many others, with Sophie Mereau, Clemens Brentano, Christian Friedrich Tieck, Amalie von Voigt, Charlotte von Stein, Bettina von Arnim, Goethe. Continual correspondence with them allows her in this way to carry on participating in social life. While she is again able to dedicate herself to old (and also new) friends and acquaintances upon returning to Weimar, her state of health hinders her from unrestricted social activity. Her condition forces her into frequent stays in and later relocation to the health resort of Bad Teplitz, where she dies in 1849. She is buried in Prague.

Charlotte von Ahlefeld’s letters kept at the Jagiellonian Library thoroughly document her contact with only two people – Sophie Mereau-Brentano and Helmina von Chézy. From her correspondence with the first friend, lasting three years, and with the second, lasting almost thirty, arises the picture of a lonely woman who dreams of self-realization and happiness. The numerous reflections on the nature of love and emotional independence with which her letters are interwoven lead almost always to the attempt to define happiness, which she understands as inner contentment. The letters from the last decade of her life predominantly contain complaints about “phÿsische Schmerzen”, the transience of human life and her need to subject herself to a health resort treatment (which she brings up, for example, in her single letter to Apollonius Maltitz from the year 1848).

From the point of view of social history, Ahlefeld’s correspondence makes up a source of information about the daily life of women in the first four decades of the 19th century, about child care, home education possibilities and how life was shaped at provincial aristocratic estates. Especially for women who lived in places that were remote from the cultural centers of the time, reading, contact with new publications or knowledge of the publishing market were important forms of participation in public life and a sociable existence.

(trans. Pedro Kauffmann Amaral)

Renata Dampc-Jarosz


Lorely French:
„Charlotte Elisabeth Sophie Louise Wilhelmine von Ahlefeldt, geb. von Seebach (1777–1849)“. In: FrauenGestalten Weimar-Jena um 1800. Ein bio-bibliographisches Lexikon. Hrsg. von Stefanie Freyer, Katrin Horn und Nicole Grochowina.
Heidelberg 2009, S. 36–41.

Lorely French:
„Briefe von Wilhelmine Geißler, Charlotte von Ahlefeld und Henriette Schubart an Sophie Mereau“. In: Verbindungslinien in Zeit und Raum. Hrsg. von Katharina von Hammerstein und Katrin Horn.
Heidelberg 2008, S. 405–414.

[N. N.:]
„Ahlefeld, Charlotte Elisabeth Sophie Louise Wilhelmine Gräfin von“. In: Lexikon deutschsprachiger Schriftstellerinnen 1800–1945. Hrsg. von Gisela Brinker-Gabler, Karola Ludwig und Angela Wöffen.
München 1986, S. 11.

James Trainer (Hrsg.):
Liebe und Trennung. Charlotte von Ahlefelds Briefe an Christian Friedrich Tieck.
Bern u. a. 1999.