When, at 17, I read Lou Andreas-Salomé’s biography for the first time I was fascinated and impressed by the author`s and psychoanalyst’s determination to live and fight for her own freedom. Lou lived in a world where women’s lives were determined by stereotypes. Even as a young girl she followed her own needs and instincts and refused to surrender to social norms. She was a woman who went her own way so she could stay true to herself. Her independence and desire for freedom in life and thought, her life outside of conventions, against the expectations of her family and society made her a “femme fatale” in the eyes of many of her contemporaries. Many men fell in love with her for her independence and stylized her as a man-eating feminine myth of her time. Frank Wedekind, for example, whose earth spirit and “Loulou” were created in her image, as well as Gerhart Hauptmann and Theodor Fontane, whose literary female characters were also inspired by Lou. But my research at the Lou Andreas-Salomé archive, reading her unpublished notes, as well as her psychoanalytical and spiritual-philosophical essay and autobiographic novels, shows a different kind of woman. Lou wasn’t a “femme fatale” striving to surround herself with adoring men in order to make herself feel empowered. She lived for herself and that was enough.
After her death Lou was remembered as a scandalous friend of famous men rather than an independent thinker. That is why I think it is important to hear Lou’s voice in this film and I integrated a lot of original quotes into the dialogue and the voice-over. She had to pay a price for her freedom. She never found long-lasting love, she terminated her only pregnancy at the age of 41 and married a man with whom she had a strictly platonic relationship in order to maintain her independent lifestyle. She spent her whole life searching and finally found the key to herself when she met Sigmund Freud and discovered psychoanalysis.
Reading Salomé’s texts I realized how careful she was about not leaving behind private information in her diaries and letters. She didn’t want to leave herself open to further attacks and burned more of her diaries and letters about her personal life. Many details have thus been lost to us and this contributes to the myth of the “femme fatale” surrounding her.
The promise she made to herself, at the age of 17 after her adored tutor proposed to her, to never fall in love was a defense mechanism against losing herself in a man. Later at 36 when Lou experienced the rush of love for the first time with 21-year-old Rilke, she knew she would never be able to lose herself in it completely. This pattern would repeat itself throughout her life. The 10-year relationship to the Viennese doctor Friedrich Pineles is never mentioned in her memoirs “Looking Back”. The end of the relationship coincided with a pregnancy she terminated herself. Tragically, being a mother would have brought her closer to becoming her own feminine ideal, which she described in a psychoanalytic essay and which didn’t relate to Freud’s “penis envy”. Lou considered the female gender to be stronger and in a way superior to the male. But because she never had children, she never became her own ideal woman and considered herself as androgynous.
All these contradictions made me curious about the woman behind the myth – the contrast between self-perception and the perception of others, between the choice to be alone and the involuntary loneliness. Lou tried to solve the puzzle of her own personality with the help of Freud’s psychoanalysis and she largely succeeded. She found the key to herself when she took part in one of Freud’s studies; her difficult relationship with her mother, whose love she never felt, the strong bond with her father and the resulting erotic fixation on younger men were laid bare.
At the end of her “mysterious life” she was at peace with herself. Even in her last years, marked by sickness and difficult political circumstances of National Socialism, she maintained the same pattern of relationship with Ernst Pfeiffer. The man, 40 years her junior, was deeply in love with her, dedicated to her as a friend, visiting her every day and would have done anything for her. A confidant, who she treasured in her old age and who, ultimately, became the executor of her estate.
Lou’s last platonic love relationship in Göttingen in 1933, when Lou and Pfeiffer’s friendship began, is the emotional framework of the film. Lou tells Pfeiffer about her life. Lou’s charisma is evident, despite sickness and beyond her beauty of youth. I met several Lou-experts, such as Dr. Inge Weber at the Lou Andreas-Salomé-Institute, who knew Ernst Pfeiffer and who told me about his dedication to her all his life.
I am interested in the person behind the myth, what motivated Lou Andreas-Salomé, what she felt and desired. I have been researching her for about two years and have read everything I could find about her. The secrets she built like a wall around herself still have an effect today. Lou was a myth even when she lived and she deserves to be rediscovered today as the woman behind the myth.
Nadine France Ellman