The father’s hand (3)

In part one of this series, I described how Immanuel Hermann Fichte was falsely accused of having presented a philosophical essay of his dead father Johann Gottlieb Fichte, wanting to make it pass for his own. The accusation was based on a denial of intellectual genealogy that had its roots in a commonly admitted rule according which sons of scholars should not operate in the same disciplinary field as their fathers, and certainly not publish together with them. In order to take Immanuel Hermann Fichte’s defense, August Boeckh opposed to it the bad reputation of Johann Heinrich Voß, whose cooperation with his son I presented in the second part of this series. When he tried to abide by another intellectual father figure, young Voß was finally rejected by him and turned back to his father. The symbiotic relationship they then developed made him almost blind for their bad reputation and unable to connect to his old university friends: he lived his short life apart from all generation, being old before having really been young.

These two cases are rather well documented, contrarily to the third example of a child-father collaboration that I would like to explore now. Men had the tendency to preserve their work traces and letters much better than women did – especially those who aimed only at staying in the shadow. I would like to begin with a small digression on the fact that there were literary active women who still wanted to socially fit in in any possible ways.

We, today’s women researchers, are naturally more attracted by earlier women scholars who either managed to take advantage of the publication system and turn it to their advantaged (as Bettine von Arnim in many ways did) or by those that are not known but whose texts prove that they had developed subversion strategies to make themselves heard, if not by all, then at least by some. It is singularly irritating to be confronted with highly intelligent and knowledgeable women with zero literary ambition. There were some though, and I would see them as a counter-example of what Mannheim says about being original in one’s generation:

“The way that this fight  between individual disposition, a spiritual attitude socially fitting to him or her and the prevailing direction in which the concerned period of time goes will turn out for the single individual, is going to be subject to differences. Only a very powerful personality will be able to impose his or her personal character if the general spiritual attitude of their environment has opposite strivings.”

To close this digression: We don’t only have to look out for those who put up a grand fight. We also have to look out for those who refuse the fight.

(3) Dorothea Tieck (1799-1841)

Dorothea Tieck is the first born and only legitimate child of Ludwig Tieck. She was taught by her father, especially in the modern languages. When she was 19, she began to help him out with his translations from Spanish and English. Around 1830 – after translating Shakespeare’s sonnets – she associated with Wolf von Baudissin to realize the translation of the plays that A.W. Schlegel had not translated and that Ludwig Tieck had promised his Berlin publisher Reimer to edit (for which Reimer had incidentally already partly paid Tieck). Dorothea Tieck and Wolf von Baudissin at first both translated the same text and tried to merge their translations, but the merging was too complicated and the procedure too slow, so that they split the corpus for the raw translation, which they then revised together with Tieck himself. The extent of Dorothea Tieck’s contribution to her father’s glory as a translator has been revealed more and more precisely by research since the 1980s.

It is surprising that it took so long for the research to make Dorothea Tieck enter properly the history of literary criticism and the less akin to canonization history of translation. Had one wanted to see and read to what her contribution really extended that it would not have been so complicated to find proofs of it. The post-face to the Shakespeare translation edited by Ludwig Tieck makes several laudatory mentions of Baudissin and “another younger translator”. But even before the last of the Shakespeare volumes was thus issued, the publisher, Reimer, had informed interested circles in Berlin that Dorothea Tieck was working on the translation. When she translated for her father’s friend Friedrich von Raumer a few years later, even Jared Sparks, whose Life of George Washington she then brought to the German public, knew her excellent reputation as a translator. Her role as a translator under her father’s name was internationally known, but she always stepped back to the shadow – at least in those documents that have been preserved. I would tip on the fact that it was no different in those documents that were burned or that disappeared due other more or less natural causes.

She presents herself as a contributor to the family enterprise, trying to make up for her father’s lack of reliability, especially towards friends and publishers. No rebellion against her father, no strategy to step out of her duty or of his footsteps. Her awareness for the singularity of her situation does not extend to the recognition of having to “do something” of her intelligence and culture for herself. She does not consider that this is adequate for women and is bitterly critical towards Bettine von Arnim and her Goethe book for instance. She thus writes to one of her few literary active (male) friends Friedrich von Uechtritz:

“When one is not able to create anything, it is truly the highest pleasure to deepen completely in a great spirit’s creation, as one has to do in translations.”

 It is difficult to reconstruct the extent of her role in the intellectual creation of her father. She copied many manuscripts for the publishers, and according to her letters, it seems that she intervened only in those texts that have a scholarly dimension (translations, introductions to translations), not in literary creations like poems or novels. She even refused to write a letter in Englishin the late 1830s, considering that her English was not good enough for it, as if autonomy of discourse was scaring her. One could say that she placed her hand in the only possible spot where it could fit in her father’s work, according to social rules regarding the role of women in scholarly activities.

Eingangsseite der Handschrift von Ludwig Tiecks Phantasus, Hand Dorotheas. Weiterverwendung nur mit Erlaubnis der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-PK

Eingangsseite der Handschrift von Ludwig Tiecks Phantasus, Hand Dorotheas.
Weiterverwendung nur mit Erlaubnis der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-PK


One point that appeared with variations in the three case studies is the role played by the unique, big name of the father. Adding one’s name to the father’s is considered socially reprehensible, whereas strategies to subsume oneself under the one father’s name, as his invisible hand, were somehow more acceptable procedures.  Being the father’s hand means, one way or another, giving up being an autonomous individual.



Further readings:

Erinnerungen an Friedrich von Uechtritz und seine Zeit in Briefen von ihm und an ihn, mit einem Vorwort von Heinrich von Sybel, Leipzig, 1884

Roger Paulin: Ludwig Tieck. A literary biography, Oxford, 1985

Christa Jansohn, Shakespeares Sonette in der Übersetzung Dorothea Tiecks, Tübingen, 1992


Anne Baillot

I studied German Studies and Philosophy in Paris where I got my PhD in 2002. I then moved to Berlin, where I have been living & doing research ever since. My areas of specialty include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history. I am currently working at the Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin as an expert in digital technologies for the humanities.

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