I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Help me out. please

I have a problem.  I would appreciate views (especially from women), be they profound or glancing.

Mid-19th century Robert Schumann published a song cycle Frauenliebe und -leben (A woman's love and life). To me the music is utterly lovely but the lyrics (in German) are thought sexist. "Irrefutably," insists The Guardian - not alone in this matter.

I take women's rights seriously and try to reflect this in my novels. Yet almost every decent diva has recorded these songs. Listen to the grave, yet impassioned Helen Watts, the first version I heard:


Careful, you may catch my infection.

By sexist we're not talking boobs, asses, slags or other laddisms. Rather applause for women who willingly lose themselves in men. Here are extracts from the most suspect eight songs:

FIRST SONG I have no wish to join
My sisters with their playthings;
I would far rather go and weep
Quietly in my room

SECOND To watch from where I stand’s enough
To experience utter bliss and sadness, too.

An ordinary girl, nothing to you,
You star of all that’s marvellous!

THIRD Here cradled on his breast,
Embracing death with happiness,

FOURTH I want to serve and live for him,
To be his own by right,
Freely give myself to him,
Transfigured by his light

FIFTH You stand before me,
Shall I reflect your radiance?
Then, let me bow my head
In all humility

EIGHTH (Husband dies)
So I withdraw into myself,
Quietly draw down the veil;
There I will find the joy I’ve lost,
You, my whole world, without fail.

Copyright © 2014 Uri Liebrecht

You get the idea. Is there room for such doormat sentiments in the twenty-first century? Does the text corrupt the notes? Should I go on listening?


  1. Even though I know how much you enjoy playing the devil's advocate and laying word traps, I will answer your post.

    Love, deep selfless love, makes doormats of us all, to one degree or another, regardless of gender. I think there will always be room for that depth of emotion, else why love? The rational mind that despises, abjures emotion cannot know that kind of love. I suspect their disdain covers their longing for and attendant fears they’ll never have it.
    I don’t know the music and there is no clue in your post as to whether her feelings were reciprocated. I would hope they were. If not, then she was the pathetic version of the doormat.

    As to your continuing to listen, I doubt that you would if you thought the woman truly were a doormat. The women in your novels are proof of that.

  2. What The Crow said.

  3. Surely love is the strongest thing in all of us, the best and maybe the worst that we can be?

    In which case, the lady concerned is only demonstrating feminine strength. She was almost certainly a six foot striding Blonde!

  4. The CrowMikeM: I tried to emphasise that this was serious, that there were no traps.

    Let me elaborate. The eight songs are a sequence in time. The woman sees the man, they marry, they have a child, the husband dies. The person writing in the Guardian is a man and he says the sentiments are sexist. Over the years many others, men and women, have supported this view: taken as a whole the songs the encourage an over-submissive role for women. That they offend some of the tenets of feminism. Do you really favour the idea that the woman ceases to exist as a woman? This surely isn't an ideal relationship, the woman has become terribly vulnerable. There is no suggestion in the songs that she has suffered through her vulnerability but in this state she could. True she got her way - married, had a child - but that's the fairy tale; reality starts just when the fairy tale ends. Those who argue against these sentiments fear that women may believe that what is expressed here is the desirable norm, that this is something women should aim for.

    However you are ignoring a significant point. If we were talking only about the text I wouldn't have bothered. I need no help in identifying the suicidal sexism in these verses. Of course such a state may happen but it isn't to be applauded; one would hope for something closer to emotional equality. But these words are linked to the most beautiful music (I provided a link so you could sample the songs) which makes the sentiment unassailable. Helping imply that such submission is desirable, appropriate and possibly inevitable.

    VR, a woman, loves the music but has a good deal of trouble with the words. She echoes my view: just because a lot of woman have experienced these feelings (and survived their own self-abnegation) doesn't mean it's a good thing. The wife beatings and murders in the daily news are proof of another outcome.

    B2: Strength? I'd ask if this was ever your experience but that would be intruding. Let me put it another way, if this state of mind never occurred for you, do you envy the woman in the song. She may have been Blonde to start with but there's a good chance she would, by now, be grey.

    This is a portrait of a submissive woman. Guess what many men do when faced with such a proposition.

  5. Sexist because it was written by a man, describing the views of a woman? If the expression is considered a longing for a woman with such "attributes", I suppose it might be considered sexist in a latter day context, at least. But can we allow that these sentiments were actually expressed to the poet (Chamisso), in the early 1800's, and he is recalling them, perhaps leaving his reciprocal feelings out of this particular cycle? A different day and age, different societal norms and expectations, a poet known for both romance and sarcasm. Schumann followed on Chamisso's heels with a musical adaptation. Do we know Schumann's interpretation of the lyrics? Did he recognize them as profoundly romantic,tortured, while in the midst of a torturous romance? Do we know that he was not extrapolating his own emotions into the ode? Do we even know thar Chamisso was not? I'm sure, at least, that he didn't imagine 21st century journos dissecting his motives for the sake of our beautifully evolved civilization. Great art and disordered personalities go hand in hand anyway. Stop listening to this if you find it horrifying, but by all means avert your eyes the next time you are faced with a van Gogh. And shield your children from all such madness.

  6. Shame on me. (As in fool me once, shame on you…blah, blah, blah.)

    You play to our vanities, we take the bait, and as you reel us in, you show us the errors in our thinking…the first one being that you were genuinely interested in what we think. What pedantic, sophistic claptrap.

    Like I said, shame on me.

  7. I often have the same problem. We are talking about a remote culture from ours. The sentiments have have had their day. But the music survives. Perhaps the words need rewriting.

  8. I suppose men riding off to battle was a form of "suicidal sexism" as well. Or is there gallantry in consuming love?

  9. MikeM: The same problem lies closer to home. Shakespeare for instance. Modern-day audiences are uncomfortable with The Merchant of Venice (anti-semitism) and The Taming of the Shrew (high order sexism). As you must know from your researches, Schumann ended up in the mad-house. The problem is that the music is sublime and might well give the sentiments "a lift".

    Crow: Sorry about that. Must mend my ways. A chronic condition too. One interim palliative: shorter comments.

    Joe: What we need is a musical equivalent of Wilfred Owen, doing for sexism what he did for dulce et decorum and using a work of art to do it.

    Mike M: Depends on the battle. WW2 represented a genuine threat, the Crusades were another thing entirely.

  10. So WW2 was a case of suicidal sexism...the men to the fray (rockets dropping on Britain notwithstanding) protecting women in the motherland. Plenty of brave girls to be sure, but hardly the standard for combat in those days....or today. Of course suicidal nationalism and suicidal culturalism come to play here too, but what of a man who would leap in front of a bus, pushing his wife aside to take on the blow? There are many who would, there are many who think of this in advance and mull where instinct or forethought might lead them in such a moment of truth. People are generally not poets and so generally do not gush sentiments such as these onto pages, or even speak them aloud, but there is an element of profound love (perhaps it's more obvious if one considers one's children, or children in general, or even beloved beasts)that might be labelled suicidal. Suiting up for border defence (the c for you)is as submissive as becoming "a fruitful vine in the recesses of the home", a psalm (128)that always grates.

  11. MikeM: Gosh, it's as if someone has thrown away the pole and we're drifting in a punt towards a part of the river we've never travelled before. Truly a well-stuffed fruit cake including a notwithstanding, a culturalism and a mull. Ending with a piece of literary pefection: "that always grates". Nicely put Quasimodo, nicely put.

  12. You have redeemed yourself with that last sentence.

    Quasimodo - ha!

  13. I'll take the bait.
    Political correctness, while it has its uses, is guilty of trying to sanitise, compartmentalise, therapise and organise the messy maelstrom that is human passions and emotions. Seen under that bureaucratic microscope, everything becomes suspect and if it's not yet a burning of all the books it sometimes looks like it could be heading that way.
    Having got that rant off my chest I'll now say what I meant to say. I have felt the feelings expressed in the words of those songs and they were accompanied internally by beautiful but often desperately sad music and 'doormat' is a poor, banal, irrelevant word to tag onto a complicated experience which some writers, musicians and artists, of either gender, have vividly expressed. That Guardian critic, whoever he/she is, hasn't lived or loved deeply enough.

  14. Natalie: This re-comment limited to 30 words (starting after the colon) to meet Crow's terms for my redemption:

    Were these sensations desirable? Rewarding? Would you recommend them as desirable guidelines for other women? Should girls be brought up to expect them? What percentage of (UK. US) women would...

  15. Stuff and nonsense!

    That isn't what I meant, and I think you knew that.

  16. I hope you're pulling my leg, Roderick because if you're serious,I fear I'll have to relegate you to the bureaucrats' committee room where your quiz can be processed, stamped and sent out for distribution and publication in women's magazines etc.

  17. Both: Still abiding by terms and conditions. Reply starts after colon:

    Crow: Two comments - two last lines. First I'm too smart, now I'm too stupid. In fact I'm both. 30 word limit instructive. Leave it be for a while, eh?

    Natalie: Better a bureaucrat than a sexist. Bureaucratic sexist? Jury still out. All this for asking questions? Twas my trade. Women's mags - created by women for what gender of reader?

  18. No offense meant, Robbie. Your quiz was okay but I didn't answer it because it's asking me to generalise on personal experience, as if it should serve as guideline or education to other women. Everybody knows about love, passion, obsession etc. but every individual's experience is different. If I wanted to elaborate, I'd put it in novel form or in paintings etc. (have done some of that). But it's the modern hunt for what is not 'correct' (in sexist terms) in love relationships that sometimes exasperates me. The losing of self in another is not a modern or popular concept but it's deeply rooted in human history, sacred and profane; eroticism, mysticism and religion have that in common. Christian saints, Hindu gods and goddesses,and innumerable characters in great literature etc. can't be dumped in a bin labelled 'sexist' because they frequently advocate what may be seen as submissiveness.

  19. Natalie: Terms and conditions apply.
    Can't answer questions? Civilisation breaks down. "Correct" sometimes over-rigorous; not wrong by definition. Hindus, eroticism, goddesses - you're losing me. Last sentence a gross misinterpretation of what I said..

  20. Wow, Rodrigo, you've evidently hit on a subject that could elicit endless commenting and re-commenting. I could go on but terms and condition apply. Gross misinterpretation is not something I do, or only involuntarily.
    Let's declare peace?