Fanny Tarnow

Fanny Tarnow is born in Güstrow as the first child of the jurist and city secretary (Johann) David Tarnow (1756–1780) and his wife Amalie Justine née von Holstein (1745?-1815). She grows up with four siblings, among whom she is closest to her sister Betty (married name Kaufmann). Nonetheless, she leads a lonely life as a child, since, as the result of an accident, she is hardly able to move and has to relearn how to walk. This forced isolation allows her to discover an interest for reading, through which her illness and lack of contact with peers become easier to bear. Her childhood years, marked by bodily weakness and spent partly at her family home and partly with her aunt Wilhelmine von le Fort (1771–1841), come to an abrupt end with the impoverishment of the family. Facing the financial difficulties of her father, she must then become independent and finds employment as an educator in the family of the district administrator von Oerzen, at Roggow in Mecklenburg. Starting in 1805, her first essays and literary texts appear in different newspapers and magazines: first in local publications, such as “Die Monatsschrift von und für Mecklenburg”, then in national ones (for example, in the “Journal für deutsche Frauen”). Fanny finds a supporter of her talent in her mother, who encourages her to write and, against her daughter’s will, sends her debut story “Alwine von Rosen” (1805/1806) to the publisher Friedrich Rochlitz. This prose work is successful (though coming out anonymously), and is followed by others which are already printed under Fanny’s name: “Ottilie” (1807), “Natalie. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des weiblichen Herzens” (1811) and “Thekla” (1812). After the death of her mother (1815), for whom she cared during her last years of life, she leaves her homeland and decides to move to Petersburg, to stay with her friend Charlotte Henschel. The time spent in Russia (1816–1818) allows Fanny Tarnow to experience a foreign culture, something unknown to her until that time. She recounts this experience in her travel notes: “Korrespondenz-Nachrichten aus Petersburg” (1817) and “Briefe auf einer Reise nach Petersburg an Freunde geschrieben” (1819). In Petersburg, she establishes contacts with Friedrich Maximilian Klinger, August von Kotzebue and the German-Baltic diplomat Jacob Johann Sievers.

Upon returning from Russia she then expands her social contacts. In Berlin, she meets, among others, E. T. A. Hoffmann and deepens her acquaintance with Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, Julius Eduard Hitzig, Rosa Maria Assing, Rahel Levin Varnhagen and her husband Karl August. As educator of Julius Hitzig’s foster daughter, she changes her place of residence to Lübeck. She later moves to Hamburg, where, together with author Amalie Schoppe, she runs a school for girls from 1818 to 1819. Due to a falling-out between the two women, this life situation also proves temporary and forces Fanny Tarnow into a further move. This time her destination is Dresden, and shortly thereafter Schandau (1820–1829). Her new friendship with Helmina von Chézy, documented through several letters, likewise breaks down. Especially as she loses her sight, she finds support in Countess Julie von Egloffstein (who was mainly active in Weimar and was also friends with Charlotte von Ahlefeld and Amalie von Voigt), as well as in Elisa von der Recke, Ludwig Tieck and Christoph August Tiedge. Her friends then publish a selection of her works on a subscription basis (“Auswahl aus Fanny Tarnow‘s Schriften”, 1830). This initiative frees Fanny from “heavy earthly concerns” (“schweren Erdensorgen”; Fanny Tarnow: An meine Freunde. Dresden 1829; SV 241 Tarnow Fanny, Bl. 142) and grants her financial support. She receives further assistance from her sister Betty and goes to live with her in Weißenfels (1829). The last twenty years of her life are spent in Dessau.

Fanny Tarnow’s works comprise mainly prose texts: stories, sketches and novels written for magazines (“Journal für deutsche Frauen”, “Morgenblatt für gebildete Stände”, “Zeitung für elegante Welt” etc.). After the complete edition of her works (1830), she still occasionally publishes historical novels and stories (e.g. “Kaiserin und Sklavin. Ein historischer Roman aus dem 3. Jahrhundert der christlichen Kirche”, 1840). Due to her childhood experiences, Fanny Tarnow creates heroines who seek refuge amid illness and lead peculiar and secluded lives. In this way, they attempt to overcome their internal and external limitations. The integration into bourgeois society sought by her female characters founders, in most of her works, on the patriarchal role allocation (“Natalie”, “Blätter aus Theresens Tagebuch”) or on bourgeois morals. Here faith proves to be a “remedy” (“Heilmittel”) – according to Birgit Wägenbaur – and an alternative for a woman striving for self-realization (“Paulinens Jugendjahre”).

Fanny Tarnow’s constant relocating, her professional activity as an educator and the resultant mobility contribute to the creation of her own particular network of correspondents. To this network belong many people who influenced the cultural life of the time, including Rahel and Karl August Varnhagen and Helmina von Chézy. Tarnow’s estate of letters kept in the Jagiellonian Library (containing 62 letters) allows one to reconstruct the author’s way of thinking against the background of historico-cultural changes (of which she herself may be perceived as a seismograph). This way of thinking is interesting and is one that further develops from letter to letter. Moreover, one is able to get to know from many sides her numerous mail correspondents. The dynamic of the inner processes of the first person narrator makes this correspondence especially valuable, particularly as it mirrors Fanny Tarnow’s personal unfolding from her youth to her last year of life.

(trans. Pedro Kauffmann Amaral)

Renata Dampc-Jarosz


Amely Bölte:
Fanny Tarnow. Ein Lebensbild. Berlin 1865.

Ariane Neuhaus-Koch:
„Bettine von Arnim im Dialog mit Rahel Varnhagen, Amalie von Helvig, Fanny Tarnow und Fanny Lewald“. In: Dies. (Hrsg.): „Stets wird die Wahrheit hadern mit dem Schönen“. Festschrift für Manfred Winfuhr zum 60. Geburtstag.
Köln und Wien 1990, S. 103–118.

Reinhard Rösler:
„Weibliche Identität und weibliches Selbstbewußtsein in Texten der populären Literatur des frühen 19. Jahrhunderts am Beispiel Fanny Tarnow.“ In: Aus dem Schatten treten. Hrsg. von Kurt Erich Schöndorf.
Frankfurt am Main u. a. 2000, S. 127–141.

Adolf Thimme:
„Fanny Tarnow. Eine Skizze ihres Lebens nach neu erschlossenen Quellen“. In: Jahrbücher des Vereins für Mecklenburgische Geschichte und Altertumskunde 91 (1927), S. 257–278.