The only picture showing Max Frisch and Ingeborg Bachmann together, taken in Rome in 1962.
Daniel ArnettEditor of the Sunday Blick magazine
It is the sensation of this autumn of books: the publication of the correspondence between the Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973) and the Swiss writer Max Frisch (1911-1991). From the middle of 1958 to the end of 1962 they form an intellectual model couple in the German-speaking world.
But much remains hidden. There is only one photo that shows them together – he with a pipe in his mouth, she on the edge of the picture. Almost symbolic for the later reading of the relationship. After the final sentence: “It was murder” in the novel “Raspberry” (1971), Bachmann’s literary treatment of the time they shared, and her early death by fire in Rome in 1973, it is clear to many: Macho Frisch pushed her out of life.
Ingeborg Bachmann took the initiative
The letters now show a different picture: it is not the man who imposes himself at the beginning, but Bachmann; In the end, it is not Frisch who cheats first, but the woman. “The correspondence between Ingeborg Bachmann and Max Frisch is (…) decisive on the way to a balanced understanding of their relationship and thus also for both biographies,” Thomas Strässle (50) and Barbara Wiedemann (69) write in the epilogue.
The Swiss and the Germans are in a team of four that now publishes the correspondence in a sample run of more than a thousand pages. According to Frisch’s will, 20 years after his death in 2011, they were allowed to open a safe in a Zurich bank, where they found a bundle of about 300 letters from and to Ingeborg Bachmann.
This was not Bachmann’s intention: she asked Frisch to “burn everything so that one day no one would play”. He answered her: “I will not fulfill your wish. Your letters belong to me, just as my letters belong to you.” Which wasn’t entirely true, because he often kept copies of his letters to her, or typed them.
But not from the first missing letter: Frisch, excited by Bachmann’s radio play “The Good God of Manhattan,” wrote to the publisher in the spring of 1958 about how important it was for the young author to give women a voice. Bachmann immediately answers. This shows that Frisch made no further progress. Instead, she is bold: “I want to send a quick letter asking if I can see you when I arrive in Zurich on Sunday.”
First meeting in the city of love
They met in Paris on July 3, 1958 – Frisch was 47, Bachmann 32. While Bachmann was living away from his wife and three children with his mistress Madeleine Seigner (1908–1991), Bachmann broke up with the poet for good. Paul Celan a day earlier (1920–1970) separately. And now Frisch and Bachmann have fallen head over heels in love.
A year-long struggle begins: “Of course I can’t believe that we would be a disaster to ourselves, why shouldn’t we have a great chance,” writes Bachmann. And Frisch later: “I want you to be my wife, Ingeborg, that we get married and find a facility that doesn’t prevent you from working and being yourself, but a real marriage with full commitment.”
But things turned out differently: in the spring of 1962, Bachmann fell in love with the Italian Germanist Paolo Chiarini (1931–2012). Frisch found out about this and wrote to her: “Don’t make a decision based on the feeling that I am oppressing you. Nothing good will come of it.” Shortly thereafter, he met a young German student, Marianne Oellers, who married him in 1968 and took the name Marianne Frisch (83).
While Frisch writes “dear Ingeborg” and “my best regards” in further correspondence, Bachmann switches to a distanced “dear Max Frisch” and “friendly greetings”. She suffered a fire in Rome at the end of September 1973 and died on October 17. On July 15, 1974, the Italian authorities dropped the investigation into the suspected murder.
Ingeborg Bachmann/Max Frisch, “We Didn’t Go Well – Correspondence”, Piper and Suhrkamp Verlag; the book will be released on November 21