Annette von Droste-Hülshoff is considered one of the most important German-language literary figures of all time and the best-known female poet of the 19th century in the German language. She lived from 1797 to 1848.
She was born at Burg Hülshoff near Münster. Here, at the ancestral home of her family, which belonged to the Catholic aristocracy and the white majority of the population of Westphalia, she spent the first half of her life. It was here that she discovered her talent for literature: as a seven-year-old, she is said to have hidden her first poem in the roof beams of the castle.
It was a changeable and uncertain time into which Annette von Droste-Hülshoff was born, a time between restoration and revolution, determined by secularization, the Napoleonic wars, Prussian expansionism and the European reorganization after the Congress of Vienna, the increasing formation of sovereign nation states and the radicalization of colonialism in the global South. On the underbelly of many innovations and upheavals, which were perceived as threatening, the Biedermeier attitude to life, based on harmony, a sense of family and privacy, determined existence in an era whose shocks were all too clear beneath the surface and caused profound uncertainty.
Annette von Droste Hülshoff and her three siblings, the older sister Jenny and the younger brothers Werner-Constantin and Ferdinand, received a common education; among other things, they were taught several languages, history, natural history and geography by the house chaplain. After the death of the father in 1826, the eldest son took over the castle, mother and daughters moved to the nearby Haus Rüschhaus. Droste lived here not only with his mother and sister, but also with servant, maid, horse and cow under one roof.
With its seclusion and idyllic location, the Haus Rüschhaus became a cherished residence over time, which Droste designed as a poet's residence in her »snail's shell,« as she called her study and living room. Droste lived and wrote in the Rüschhaus for around 20 years.
Due to her early birth, the poet Droste-Hülshoff herself was repeatedly ill and plagued by suffering for long periods of time throughout her life, but on the other hand she also cared for relatives and acquaintances, including the nurse who had brought her into the world as a »seven-month-old«. Care also accompanied Droste-Hülshoff as a literary theme. However, the literary ambitions of the now world-famous poet were difficult to reconcile with the ideas of her aristocratic family and the conventions of the general public as well. A woman writing, especially one from the nobility, was not considered proper. Droste-Hülshoff did not publish under a clear name until the last years of her life.
Annette von Droste-Hülshoff is represented in every German-language literary history with such well-known texts as the poem Der Knabe im Moor (The Boy in the Bog) and the prose text Die Judenbuche (The Jew's Beech). In the context of the Westphalian aristocracy, she lived as an unmarried woman who, against social and family opposition, confidently entered as a writer into a terrain that was actually reserved for men.
A basic conflict in Drostes' life is certainly the tension between self-determination and docility. The poem Unruhe (Restlessness) expresses this pointedly in 1816:
To our own hearth they bind us! They call our yearning dreams and madness, And yet, my heart, this little clod of earth, Has space for all creation!
Droste died in 1848 during a stay at Meersburg Castle on Lake Constance, where her sister Jenny had previously moved with her husband and Droste made frequent visits there.
Her texts reflect a comprehensive understanding of her time, of the natural sciences, of language, law, economics and society. They bear witness to her alert eye for the political, social and societal upheavals of the early 19th century. With her powerful lyric poetry and prose texts such as the world-famous story Die Judenbuche (The Jew's Beech), she set a monument to her native Westphalia and portrayed various social milieus as well as nature, which had already been massively changed by man. »Refining natural things through poetry« - this is one of the mottoes she formulated for her own writing. Elsewhere she writes: