Wednesday, September 02, 2009

'It started in a railway tunnel'

Let it never be said of a 'traditional bourgeois lifestyle' that it was boring.

This thought brought to you via Geoffrey Hawthorn's review (sorry, for subscribers only) of Joachim Radkau's recent biography of Max Weber in the London Review of Books.

In the manner of much biography now, he writes about Weber’s character, illness and relations with others more than about the work, which he tends to regard as little more than an expression of how Weber was feeling: about his mother, Helene; about [his wife] Marianne herself, with whom Weber appears not to have had any sexual connection and who confided her difficulties and disappointments to Helene; about his brother Alfred, ‘MiniMax’ as students called him, who, like both Max and Marianne, was in love with Else Jaffé; about Mina Tobler, Max’s other lover, who after his death tried to seduce Alfred; and about Else herself, who when she was coming closer to Max was still married to the economist Edgar Jaffé, but was already with Alfred and had recently had an affair and a child with the psychoanalyst Otto Gross, who briefly upset her by starting a relationship with her sister Frieda. (Frieda’s next husband but one was D.H. Lawrence.) Marianne and Else were at Weber’s bedside together when he died, aged 56, in 1920. Marianne died in Else’s arms at 84 in 1954. Mina died in her arms at 87 in 1967. Else herself lived to 99 and died in 1973, in the same home in Heidelberg as the other two.


Radkau reads him against the backdrop of his own erotic life. In 1909, Weber had realised that he was in love (as much of Heidelberg had been) with Else Jaffé, his aristocratic, intelligent and desirable doctoral student of years before. Marianne, torn between her own feelings for Else, a sharpened disappointment with her marriage, and her commitment to independence and expressiveness in women, was in some agony. Max was soon not pleased either, for in 1910 Else was to prefer the more open and sexually abandoned Alfred (they stayed together for the next 40 years). She and Max were not to connect again until she came to a lecture of his on Judaism in 1917 and allowed a brief affair (it started in a railway tunnel) two years later. In 1912, he turned to Mina Tobler, a pianist, younger and no less perceptive, who had delighted him by reading the argument on the Protestant ethic as if it were a novel, took him to Bayreuth and elsewhere, and adored him for the rest of his life.

One wonders: where, in the midst of all this romantic intrigue, did these people find the time and energy to write?

I must admit, had I known all of this, my reading of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism back in grad school would have been considerably more...well...interesting.

I mean...'Bayreuth and elsewhere': talk about romance!

What, in the end, was Weber so disenchanted about?

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