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The Red Countess

Hermynia Zur Mühlen

Translator’s Introductory Note

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Hermynia Zur Mühlen in the garden of the estate at Eigstfer, Estonia, c. 1910. Courtesy of Dr. Patrik von zur Mühlen.

1In the first two chapters of this volume we present Hermynia Zur Mühlen’s 1929 autobiographical memoir, The End and the Beginning (Ende und Anfang. Ein Lebensbild), in a revised and extensively corrected version of Frank Barnes’translation of 1930 (New York: Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith), which, though readable enough, contains many errors. A surprisingly large number of words and phrases in the 1930 translation were simply misunderstood (e.g. ochrana [okhrana in the usual English transcription]–the Russian secret police – translated as “the Ukraine”), and on more than one occasion Zur Mühlen was made to say quite the opposite in English of what she wrote in German. In addition, the original title has been restored in the present edition, as has the original lay-out of the text. The title of the 1930 translation, “The Runaway Countess,” was doubtless designed to attract a particular class of readers, probably readers of the popular romances of the time. As the present edition is directed rather toward readers interested in the social and cultural history of the period covered by the narrative and, in particular, in women’s writing and women’s history, it seemed appropriate to restore Zur Mühlen’s own title, which has a political rather than romantic resonance. The original German title was intended to evoke the end of one social and political order and, with the Russian Revolution of 1917, the beginning of another, in the author’s eyes far better one, and at the same time, in her own personal life, the end of dependency and the beginning of a new existence as a free woman, capable of determining her own identity and her own destiny instead of having to submit to those imposed on her by history and tradition. Zur Mühlen also gave titles to the 77 sections of varying length into which she divided her narrative. These were dropped from the 1930 translation, which was divided instead into 24 untitled sections. There seemed to be no reason to prefer that arrangement of the text to the author’s own. The latter has therefore been reinstated.

2A supplementary chapter, written by Zur Mühlen in 1950 for a post-World War II re-publication of the 1929 German text in the Socialist magazine Die Frau, has been translated and placed, as Chapter 2 of the present book, at the end of Zur Mühlen’s original text, immediately after the final section, “Zdravstvui Revolyutsia.”

3It was not always possible to reproduce certain characteristic features of Zur Mühlen’s literary style in English translation – notably the effect of impressionistic immediacy achieved by means of punctuation and the elision of co-ordinates like “and”–and it was virtually impossible to convey the Viennese flavour of her language. Translation is inevitably subject in considerable measure to conditions imposed by the target language. Every effort was made, however, to stay as close to the original as possible.

4The attraction of Zur Mühlen’s memoir lies not only in the charming freshness with which it narrates a young woman’s struggle to be a full, free, and independent human being, in defiance of the conventions and expectations of her time and social class, but in its sharply observed and often humorous portrayal of a bygone world from the unusual angle of the headstrong, rebellious daughter of an Austrian aristocrat and minor diplomat. The numerous individuals and events referred to in the memoir, some quite prominent and well known, many obscure or now forgotten, serve as a reminder that the world that disappeared in the fires of the First World War was full of colourful characters whose often surprising careers can be unexpectedly revealing. In addition, the memoir touches lightly and naively on major issues of the time, such as the interconnected Balkan and Moroccan crises and the climate of revolution in czarist Russia. In the hope of restoring some sense of the author’s world, a fair number of the individuals and events mentioned in the narrative have been identified and described, most often quite briefly, sometimes at considerable length in Chapter 3. In a few especially interesting cases, these notices take the form of little essays. As much information as could be accommodated in the book without expanding it unduly has been provided, in particular, about Zur Mühlen’s family members and about figures little known in the English-speaking world, such as the poets Freiligrath and Anastasius Grün. Where information about those figures was hard to come by, the editor has listed some of his sources for the convenience of the reader. Thumbnail images accompany some of the descriptive endnotes.

5This revised edition of the Open Book Publishers 2010 publication contains material not included in the earlier volume. Chapter 4 contains a sampling of the hundreds of short narratives that Zur Mühlen wrote for newspapers and magazines. These were selected and translated for this edition because of the light they shed on Zur Mühlen’s principles and practice as a politically committed writer, who also earned her living by writing and translating. In addition, translations of two of her socialist fairy tales for children have been included in order to give the reader an idea of the work for which she won an international reputation in leftwing circles in the 1920s and 1930s. Chapter 5 consists of a substantial synopsis in English of a vigorously anti-Nazi novel written by Zur Mühlen in 1934, suppressed in Germany and Austria, and never translated into English. This is followed in Chapters 6 and 7 by the translator’s essay on Zur Mühlen’s life and literary career and by a list of her works in English translation. To close, Chapter 8 offers a sampling of illustrations by the artists George Grosz and Heinrich Vogeler of two of Zur Mühlen’s fairy tale collections and one of her numerous translations. This new edition of Zur Mühlen’s memoir is supplemented by an online appendix available at​product/​834#resources. It contains a short extract from the Memoirs of Sándor Márai, in which the celebrated Hungarian novelist gives a vivid, highly personal, and amusing account of his association with Zur Mühlen and her partner Stefan Klein in Frankfurt in 1919–20; a study of Zur Mühlen’s relation to the aristocracy and to her own past by the historian Patrik von zur Mühlen; and two short essays by the editor – one on Zur Mühlen as the translator of Upton Sinclair into German, the other on the background of Zur Mühlen’s widely read “socialist” fairy tales.

6The English translations of three of Zur Mühlen’s novels, which are no longer covered by copyright – We Poor Shadows, Came the Stranger, and Guests in the House – have been posted on a women’s literature website and may be read at​women/​_generate/​authors-Z.html

Lionel Gossman, May 2018

Table des illustrations

Légende Hermynia Zur Mühlen in the garden of the estate at Eigstfer, Estonia, c. 1910. Courtesy of Dr. Patrik von zur Mühlen.
Fichier image/jpeg, 253k


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