Marie-Madeleine (aka Baronness Von Puttkamer)
Note: Biographical material on Marie-Madeleine was most graciously provided
to me by one of Marie Madeleine's grandsons. He cautions that, at this
time, some of this information is anecdotal.
Marie Madeleine Gunther was born on April 4, 1881 in Eydtkuhnen (then
East Prussia, today Russian) to Karl Gunther, a merchant, and Emmy Siemssen.
On August 2, 1900, at age nineteen, Marie Madeleine married General
Heinrich Georg Ludwig Freiherr (Baron) von Puttkamer. He was 35 years
her senior. Three years later she gave birth to her only child, Jesco
Gunther Heinrich. They lived in Grunewald, a top-grade suburb of Berlin.
In her time, under the name of Marie Madeleine, she established a name
for herself as a writer of unusually lyrical, stunningly sensual, shockingly
erotic and hotly passionate poetry and prose (she wrote short stories
and novellas). She published individual poems in journals (such as "Champagne
frappe" in Das Narrenschiff [Ship of Fools]). In 1900, she published
her first collection, Auf Kypros ["On Cyprus]. Most of her early
material stemmed from the pen of a young girl of 15-16 years.
Her primary works that followed included In Seligkeit und Sunden
[In Bliss and Sin, 1905], Katzen [Cats, 1910], Krabben
[Crabs, 1910], Die rote Rose Leidenschaft [The Red Rose called
Passion, 1912], Die drei Nachte [The Three Nights], Pantherkatzchen
[Panther Kitten, 1915] and Taumel [Ecstasy, 1920].
The von Puttkamer family is an old Baltic aristocratic family documented
back to the 12th century. They have been landowners for hundreds of years
in a sandy (not very fertile) area at the coast of the Baltic Sea, later
known as Pommerania. Today the land is under Polish rule. As a family,
they held highly protected and treasured conservative traditions-a God-fearing
Protestant work ethic valuing hard work, pride in diligence, frugality
and loyal service to country and sovereign.
To the family, the publications of Marie Madeleine, both by virtue of
content and having been published by a woman, was considered shocking
and embarrassing. Critics at the time-while admiring her talent, rhyming
skill, and brightly colorful imagery-described her work with adjectives
like "shameless", "lewd", "lascivious," and "lecherous." Some saw that
her writing came from the mind of a young, well-read, impressionable,
and highly imaginative girl who probably wanted to rebel against the oppressive
"Spiessburgertum" of her time and place-the narrow-minded bourgeoisie
of the outgoing Victorian era. As a free-thinker, she was ahead of her
time, as an individual and more so as a woman.
General Major Heinrich was born in 1846. He fought in the Prussian infantry
in the wars of 1864 (against Denmark) and 1866 (against Austria) and was
highly decorated. In the 1890's, shortly before marrying Marie Madeleine
Gunther, he commanded Infantry Regiment #118 in Mainz. Later he served
in the Order of the Knights of St. John (Johanniter-Orden) and in 1914
acted on behalf of the Red Cross for the military at the start of WW I.
In the years after his retirement, General Heinrich happily made some
enemies himself by publishing incisive political-military satires and
critical analyses of the Prussian military system. In protest to the Puttkamer
Family's reactions to his writings and particularly his wife's "obscene"
poetry, he rescinded his membership in the tradition-bound Puttkamer Family
Association. On August 25, 1918, he died of pneumonia .
The reaction to Marie Madelein's first book was incredible. People were
floored. The initial shock and notoriety of the 19-year old's Auf
Kypros of course meant instant fame for the young lady. In later
years, that recognition spread in high society as she turned what had
started as the steamy imaginations of a young girl into a highly successful
career, buoyed (and driven) by a heavy and eventually lifelong morphine
habit. Apparently having neither the desire to be nor the makings for
a mother, Marie Madeleine gave her young son over to the same traditional
military Cadet's Academy (Kadettenschule) in Berlin that his father had
attended, and later was rarely available for him.
She was a very beautiful woman, dark-haired and dark-eyed. She was also
exceedingly wealthy. Residing in her stately villa with an apparently
non-descript aristocratic life-companion by the name of Herr von Cramster
she liked to travel in great style and to dress in the latest grand fashions
from Paris, with a particular penchant for extravagantly elaborate and
expensive hats. Her writings were quite popular among the sophisticated
Berlin in-crowd, particularly the somewhat blase "Offizierskorps" (body
of military officers) -- but her writings were considered too bawdy for
women. She was probably quite typical for those Roaring Twenties in Berlin
which the Nazis later called a "decadent" age,- perhaps a little a la
"Cabaret", the musical.
In 1902 (in An der Liebe Narrenseil, On Love's Fool's Leash)
she wrote about her great frustration about how the poetic experiments
of her youth, written as "dream songs" for her own amusement, had been
misunderstood as confessions of a "much-experienced" person. A verse of
hers went like this (roughly translated from German):
I cannot understand at all
why all your heads are twisted
by what I modestly call
the lyrics of puberty.
Much of Marie Madeleine's considerable wealth disappeared in the economic
crash and inflation in Germany. Some of her wealth probably also went
toward feeding her morphine habit, for which, as a hard addict, she had
a permit. If her later poems reflect actual experience, she also must
have experimented with cocaine. The lifelong heavy addiction to morphine
(close to 30 years) was quite destructive to her health. She attempted
to quit several times to no avail.
Around 1942 or 1943 she bought herself into a sanitarium in the city
of Katzenelnbogen. A relatively short time later, on Sept. 27, 1944, she
died there under obscure circumstances. When her son returned from WW
II captivity around 1951, there wasn't much left information about her
death. He believed that Nazi doctors in the sanitarium had used her addiction
to obtain what was left of her wealth and then "helped her pass on". The
sanitarium, a private institution, still exists, but the records of that
time are long gone.
Biography by Alix North
Ah me! I cannot sleep at night;
And when I shut
my eyes, forsooth,
I cannot banish from my sight
The vision of
her slender youth.
She stands before me lover-wise,
Her naked beauty
fair and slim,
She smiles upon me, and her eyes
With over fierce
desire grow dim.
Slowly she leans to me. I meet
of her gaze anew,
And then her laughter, clear and sweet,
the hollow silence through.
O, siren, with the mocking tongue!
O beauty, lily-sweet
I see her, slim and fair and young.
And ah! I cannot
Where to Read More...
- Marie-Madeleine (Baroness von Puttkamer), Auf Kypros (Berlin:
- Jeannette Foster, Sex Variant Women in Literature (1956;
Tallahassee, FL: Naiad Press, 1985)