When I married my husband, I did not have the sort of understanding of marital happiness one finds in novels. I had the peculiar idea that I should marry in order to remove a burden from you, and since at the time I was in the rather unhappy disposition of thinking there was no happiness in any case, it was almost a matter of indifference to me just how I was to be unhappy.
Providence brought a good, upright man into my life, and had I but followed my fate without rapturous enthusiasm, many subsequent things would likely never have happened. Although I had both respect and affection for him, with my effusive emotions I made myself fall in love with him during our correspondence. At my wedding, I was indeed quite content to be marrying him, and before he came my idea was to continue a cordial correspondence with Herr Meyer, to whose contents my husband would always be privy.
It was Forster who first introduced the idea of a three-part alliance, one I never quite trusted but with regard to which I was glad to deceive myself even though I never considered anything that emotionally rapturous capable of constancy. But my heart was flattered, and my imagination found something as romantic as Forster’s offer quite attractive. Meyer consented, albeit with considerable reserve, being sooner swept up by Forster’s own sincere warmth. This rapturous enthusiasm, which never diminished the entire time we were in Vilnius, made our good Forster seem quite likable and affable to me.
Meyer rarely wrote me, and then only quite serious letters, and often so severe that Forster had to console me regarding his coldness, and even reproached him for it. I was never dissatisfied with my domestic happiness, and my house, as poor as it was, always made me happy. But as it became poorer yet, and I was, after all, supposed to live among the refined members of society and take on a certain polish, through which, unfortunately, our limitations were nonetheless visible, toward the end all this made me detest our situation.
Had Forster acquiesced to my pleas and allowed me to withdraw entirely from society, I would have been quite content. I was supposed to pay people visits, and yet I lacked even what the least in society had, and my housework went undone. When I told you that I had to work like a maid, perhaps it sounded as if I wanted sympathy, but that is something I do not need; I was, moreover, quite happy keeping Forster’s household together and through my presence trying to keep his character from going to ruin in Poland. I view these two years as the happiest, most instructive, and most meritorious of my entire life.
In situations where everyone, if not ignored me, then at least was more preoccupied with him than me, he himself basically neglected me, at the very least he was able to chat away a not inconsiderable amount of time with the uneducated, insipid Madam Langmeyer [a neighbor in Vilnius], during which I, fatigued from housework, sat alone in my room. I was annoyed that I was not able to entertain him better than she did, and was happy when he returned so cheerful.
When he decided to leave me alone here during his grand trip (now thwarted), I again had absolutely no plans of the sort one finds in novels. I was happy to see Meyer again, since I had nothing but respect for him and knew that my friendship with him had hitherto contributed more good than harm to my happiness in the marriage.
I no longer know exactly what Forster has said about our relationship since we have been here, it was always very serious, and the forced element that the uninterrupted presence of a third person imposes — and be he ever so beloved — soon made our relationship itself forced, passionate, and sad. Forster again began making plans of the sort found in novels concerning how all three of us might unite together in a single place, plans Meyer never entered into and which he never believed in.
When I noticed how this was upsetting Forster, I immediately offered to break off my contact with Meyer, or to leave Göttingen. I offered this to him whenever he became vehement, and he swore, and always insisted that Meyer was no obstacle to him, but rather only my insensitivity, which was caused, after all, both by his sultan-like behavior and by my feelings toward a man who had always inculcated to me my duties toward my spouse and who never intended to weaken my sense for them.
Forster did not want to accept my offer to distance or remove me from Meyer, and even 4 weeks, or less, before the sad, violent scene, did not want to accept Meyer’s own offer, insisting instead that he was not jealous.
Then my mother told you about our discord, but presumably not everything involving this relationship with Herr Meyer, out of a kind but false desire to spare me, which I did not suspect because I knew very well that our relationship was not at all a normal one. My own inclination at the time, and up till the time when Forster’s fate was decided regarding where he was to settle next, was to hold things at arm’s length for good or ill simply to save myself the grief and vehement scenes, and afterward, in whatever manner, to break off my contact with Herr Meyer.
I then spoke with you, my dear Father, and you advised me to be cold and serious toward my husband, presumably my good mother had not told you that Meyer and I had made errors and mistakes; I thought you knew everything, so I took your advice. And this prompted the open break, and now you concurred with my wish that Forster go away, indeed you even strengthened it, so I persuaded my husband, he left, and from that moment on you turned away from me.
From your letter to me, which I received with my husband’s first billet from Berlin, and even earlier from your remarks, I saw that even if my own will and feeling did not condemn me, I would nonetheless have to strive to put everything back on the normal track. So I wrote my husband, promised what I could promise, certainly everything I was permitted to promise commensurate with my character, and calmed down.
The letter you kindly passed on to me from my husband hurt me more than any of the pain otherwise associated with my situation — time could change anything as long as I had complete respect for Forster; that letter contained the weakest self-deception or falseness and lies, and to receive that from my own husband, whose honor was so precious to me, completely incensed me. He cast aspersions on me to you, I did not want to answer them, and I hope that with time I will forget it all, or will be able to reconcile it with the character of an honorable man. The letter is untrue, Forster did not always think thus, or he misled me into error through dissimulation.
That is how things are now, my dear Father. I erred, transgressed, but I never deceived, was never thoughtless, I bore my situation with a heavy heart, but even had I done all the bad things I in fact never did — I have nonetheless now consented to everything, surrendered everything, and cast everything aside. What more can I do? I can feel ever so deeply the loss of your cordial disposition toward me, but I did not commit transgressions, so I can also stand alone, albeit terribly alone, for I am not the sort of woman who has and needs confidantes, but after having suffered so much so early, I do not deserve to be robbed of the one thing whose enjoyment you would have shared — your kindness.
[*] From Therese’s letter to her father, Christian Gottlob Heyne, between 22 and 28 February 1788 (Ludwig Geiger, “Aus Therese Hubers Herzensleben,” Westermanns illustrierte deutsche Monatshefte 81 , 638–41; Therese Huber Briefe, 1:245–48 [dating ibid., 600]). Back.
Translation © 2011 Doug Stott