Bettina von Arnim

Bettina von Arnim

Bettina von Arnim as drawn by Ludwig Emil Grimm during the first decade of the 19th century
Born Elisabeth Catharina Ludovica Magdalena Brentano
April 4, 1785(1785-04-04)
Frankfurt am Main
Died January 20, 1859(1859-01-20) (aged 73)
Resting place Wiepersdorf
Pen name Beans Beor
Occupation Writer, publisher, composer, singer, visual artist
Language German
Genres Romanticism
Spouse(s) Achim von Arnim

Clemens Brentano (brother)

Gisela von Arnim (daughter)

Bettina von Arnim (the Countess of Arnim) (4 April 1785, Frankfurt am Main – 20 January 1859, Berlin), born Elisabeth Catharina Ludovica Magdalena Brentano, was a German writer and novelist.

Bettina (as well: Bettine) Brentano was a writer, publisher, composer, singer, visual artist, an illustrator, patron of young talent, and a social activist. She was the archetype of the Romantic era’s zeitgeist and the crux of many creative relationships of canonical artistic figures. Best known for the company she kept, she numbered among her closest friends Goethe, Beethoven, and Pückler and tried to foster artistic agreement among them. Many leading composers of the time, including Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt, Johanna Kinkel, and Johannes Brahms, admired her spirit and talents. As a composer, von Arnim's style was unconventional, molding and melding favorite folk melodies and historical themes with innovative harmonies, phrase lengths, and improvisations that became synonymous with the music of the era.


Family and early life

Bettina von Arnim was closely related to the German writers Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim: the first was her brother, the second her husband. Her daughter Gisela von Arnim became a prominent writer as well.

Bettina was born in Frankfurt on Main, Germany, on April 4, 1785, into the large family of an Italian merchant. Her grandmother, Sophie von La Roche, was a novelist, and her brother was Clemens Brentano, the great poet known for his lyric poems, libretti, and singspielen. He was a mentor and protector to her and inspired her to read the poetry of the time, especially Goethe.

After being educated at a Ursulines convent school in Fritzlar from 1794 to 1797, Bettina lived for a while with her grandmother at Offenbach am Main and from 1803 to 1806 with her brother-in-law, Friedrich von Savigny, the famous jurist, at Marburg. In 1807 at Weimar she made the acquaintance of Goethe, for whom she entertained a significant passion, which the poet did not requite, though he entered into correspondence with her. Their friendship came to an abrupt end in 1811, owing to Bettina's behaviour with Goethe's wife.[1]

In 1811 Bettina married Achim von Arnim, the renowned Romantic poet. The couple settled near Berlin and had seven children. Achim died in 1831, but Bettina maintained an active public life. Her passion for Goethe revived, and in 1835, after lengthy discussions with the writer and landscape gardener Hermann von Pückler-Muskau she published her book, Goethes Briefwechsel mit einem Kinde, which purported to be a correspondence between herself and the poet.[1] She continued to write, inspire, and publish until January 20, 1859, when she died surrounded by her children.

From 1991 until 31 December 2001, her portrait was printed on the German 5-Mark bill.


During the years of 1806 to 1808, von Arnim helped gather the folk songs that comprised Des Knaben Wunderhorn, the collaborative work of her brother and her future husband, Achim von Arnim, later put to music by Gustav Mahler. The collection became a touchstone of the Romantic musical and poetic style. From 1808 to 1809 she studied voice, composition, and piano in Munich under Peter von Winter and Sebastian Bopp. She published her first song under the pseudonym Beans Beor, which she occasionally used later as well.[2] Bettina sang briefly in the Berliner Singakademie and composed settings of Hellenistic poems by Amalie von Helvig.

Though domestic duties connected to her 1811 marriage to von Arnim diminished her productivity, several art songs from the period have been recovered and have been published in Werke und Briefe. Von Arnim was the first composer to set the poet Hölderlin’s work to music.

She was a muse to the progressives of Prussia, linked to the socialist movement and an advocate for the oppressed Jewish community. She published two politically dissident works but evaded chastisement because of her friendship with the King of Prussia.

After the 1831 death of her husband, Bettina continued her dedication to the creative community. She published a collection of seven songs in public support of Prussian music director Gaspare Spontini, under duress at the time.


  • Briefwechsel mit einem Kinde, 1835 (Correspondence with a Child – English translation)
  • Die Günderode, 1840 (a fictionalized correspondence with her friend, the poet Karoline von Günderode [1780-1806])[1]
  • Dies Buch gehört dem König, 1843
  • Clemens Brentanos Frühlingskranz, 1844
  • Ilius Pamphilius und die Ambrosia, 1848
  • An die aufgelöste Preußische Nationalversammlung, 1849
  • with Gisela von Arnim: Das Leben der Hochgräfin Gritta von Rattenzuhausbeiuns, 1840
  • Bettine von Arnim/Hermann von Pückler-Muskau, »Die Leidenschaft ist der Schlüssel zur Welt«. Briefwechsel 1832-1844, complete edition with commentary by Enid Gajek and Bernhard Gajek, Cotta, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-7681-9809-X


The German-American settlement of Bettina in the state of Texas was founded in 1847 and named by its progressive, idealistic founders after Bettina von Arnim. Located near the joint of Elm Creek and the Llano River, it lasted only a year. No trace of the Bettina community survives, though two of its three founders, Gustav Schleicher--later a U.S. congressman and namesake of Schleicher County--and Dr. Ferdinand Ludwig Herff, who in 1854 became the first surgeon to use anesthesia in Texas, subsequently became prominent.[3] The community's third founder was Hermann Spiess.

Part of von Arnim's design for a colossal statue of Goethe, executed in marble by the sculptor Karl Steinhauser (1813–1878), was displayed in the museum at Weimar in 1911.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d  Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "Arnim, Elisabeth (Bettina) von". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  2. ^ Hirsch, Helmut (1987) (in German). Bettine von Arnim (6th ed.). Rowohlt. ISBN 978-3-499-50369-6. 
  3. ^ Lyman Wight's Mormon Colony in Texas excerpt from "Mormon Trails" chapter in Hill Country travel guide by Richard Zelade. Accessed August 6, 2007.

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