Hannah Arendt’s biography of Rahel Varnhagen—a great swan song of Jewish assimilation in Germany. The book was begun at the end of the Weimar Republic, when the storm clouds had long been gathering; Arendt finished a preliminary version in exile in Paris in 1938. The book was only published twenty years later, first in English translation, then in German.
A copy of the first version, the Berliner Fassung from 1933, was preserved in the papers of her teacher and friend Karl Jaspers, and is published here for the first time. In addition to the texts in the printed volume, we present a typescript from 1957, the New Yorker Version, a typescript of the German Foreword, a typescript of the appendix, the first edition of 1958, two pre-prints, Arendt’s bibliographies and chronologies as well as a “Verzeichnis der Briefe und Tagebuchstellen” from the German edition. We present the typescripts according to our editorial principles. In the Berliner Fassung, twenty-two pages were typed by Arendt herself; for the constituted version, orthography, grammar, and typing have not been altered. Pages not typed by Arendt have been edited according to the following adjusted rules for a constituted text: Typing errors and grammatical mistakes have been corrected, missing letters, punctuation and quotation marks have been added, superfluous letters have been deleted.
Texts that were published by Arendt herself follow their original printing, though in the printed volume obvious misprints and misspellings have been corrected. The digital texts include annotations with our emendations.
In the annotations to the texts any underlinings and remarks in Hannah Arendt’s books, held by Bard College’s library, and especially in her copy of Rahel. Ein Buch des Andenkens für ihre Freunde (1834), held by the Leo Baeck Institute, New York, have been reproduced. We give references to this edition in brackets following those referring to the first complete edition of the Buch des Andenkens (2011). Arendt often quoted from Rahel Levin Varnhagen’s letters over the course of paragraphs or even pages. We provide the complete citation when the reference first appears. The annotations for the only French text, “Rahel et Goethe”, are provided in English.
We call the protagonist of Arendt’s biography Rahel Levin Varnhagen, despite the fact that she never bore this name. She was born Rahel Levin, when she died her name was Friederike Varnhagen von Ense. For a short period of time, she called herself Rahel Robert; she came down to us as Rahel Varnhagen. Rahel Levin Varnhagen, a name probably created by Bertha Badt-Strauss in her review of the English book, 1 repeated in 1974 on the dust jacket of the American edition, points to the fact that a Jewish woman who lived around 1800 never was granted a proper name. When we speak of the character in Arendt’s biography, we call her—as did Arendt—Rahel Varnhagen.
Looking back, Arendt wrote that, apart from the Jewish question, she had been drawn to what, around 1800, the thinker Rahel Varnhagen had understood by “destiny”: “Everyone has a destiny who knows what kind of destiny he has.” She called Rahel Varnhagen her best friend, who had unfortunately already been dead for a hundred years.