Whoa … where did this come from?! ‘Discovering’ a book like this is one of the joys of reading to review. Marie Madeleine was not likely to be on my radar, but I found her work to be significant.
Baroness Gertrud Freifrau von Puttkamer (born Gertrud Günther) was a German writer of lesbian-themed erotica. She published under the name ‘Marie Madeleine’. It is interesting that so few of us know anything about her today given that her first book, Auf Kypros (On Cyprus), sold over a million copies in her lifetime. She published nearly thirty books of plays, short stories, poetry, and novels.
Those who know me or have read my reviews for awhile now probably know that I do not care for poetry. Only one book of poetry has ever appealed to me (Galway Kinnell’s The Book of Nightmares) … until now. Many of the poems here had a great deal of power and imagery. I particularly liked “Hate”
Sex-hate! — an odd vibration of
nerves, Remembrance from ancient times,
When lust and cruelty were In tender embrace
I’ve loved your love always
But your hate is hotter in my heart.”)
and the incredibly brief “After!” (so short I can’t quote a portion of it). And “The Hangman” … wow, so powerful.
The stories are equally impressive. The erotica might make a modern reader blush. But Marie Madeleine’s love isn’t just for human flesh (which was mostly lesbian Eros), but for morphine as well. She was quite addicted, which apparently was not uncommon in the 1910’s-1920’s Europe. There is a wonderful historical note by Ronald K. Siegel titled “Morphine – The Origins.”
A warning to the reader who might be anxious to dig into Marie Madeleine’s work … there are nearly 60 pages of introductions and notes before we get to sample the forbidden fruits of Madeleine’s work. But don’t be put off by this … the notes are helpful and fascinating in their own right.
The book is liberally illustrated with a variety of artwork from the period, often noting how the themes and subjects of Marie Madeleine’s work were similarly found in other works of art from the period.
My only complaint is that we don’t have all of the Baronesses works here. In some cases we have only reviews of some of the books.
So… if Marie Madeleine was so well-known to have sold a million copies of her work, back when a million was extremely uncommon, why is it we don’t know of her today? The answer is simple… Nazi Germany.
Marie was born to Jewish parents. She wrote lesbian erotica. She was addicted to morphine. The Nazi’s denounced her work as depraved and burned all the copies of her books that they could gather. It didn’t take too long for them to discover her true identity – that of Baroness Günther – and have her arrested … though officially the Nazi doctors were treating her for her morphine addiction. She died while under their care.
Editor Ronald K. Siegel clearly has a bit of a love affair with his subject (the woman and her work) and I think rightfully so. This work needs to be kept alive and studied by a new generation.
I wasn’t sure how much I would like this book, especially once I saw how much poetry was here, but, to quote Marie-Madeleine:
I love you not. And yet, ah me! —
Shall I surrender to your plea
So fiercely urged!
(from the poem “Bohême”)
Looking for a good book? Priestess of Morphine by Marie-Madeleine and edited by Ronald K. Siegel has historical and literary significance and deserves to find a modern audience.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
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Priestess of Morphine: The Lost Writings of Marie-Madeleine in the Time of Nazis
editor: Ronald K. Siegel
translator: Eric A. Bye
paperback, 360 pages