Gemini Magazine
_______________
by Philip Bernhardt
SCHOPENHAUER
TIES THE KNOT
The iconic philosopher Arthur
Schopenhauer never had an easy time with
women, and his woes on that account all
began with his mother. Johanna Schopenhauer
was a self-published writer who ran an elite
literary salon in Gotha, Germany in the early
1800’s. Upon reading Arthur’s first book,
On
the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient
Reason
, Johanna commented to her son, “Your
writing is incomprehensible—let alone the title
you give it. No one will ever buy a copy.”

“Mother, you are an ignoramus,” young Arthur
shot back. “One day university students around
the world will be assigned my works, long after
you—and the rubbish you write—have been
long forgotten.”

As it would turn out, both were right. Arthur’s
first book sold zero copies and his mother is
now long forgotten, though Schopenhauer’s
influence today remains pervasive. It can be
seen in the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-
Paul Sartre and Samuel Beckett, though not
necessarily on the subject of women.  

Schopenhauer made a career out of excoriating
our fairer selves. In his view women are
“childish, frivolous, and intellectually short-
sighted.” They are “defective in the powers of
reasoning” and “possess an instinctive capacity
for cunning and deceit.” He wrote that a
woman is “not worthy of any honor or
veneration. She exists for the sole purpose of
obeying a man. She is meant to mind the home
and bear children and ought not be allowed to
mix with society. Simply put, she needs a lord
and master.”

These views are perplexing. Was Schopenhauer
merely a crotchety old man, or congenitally and
irrevocably confused? This is the same man
who once wrote that “if a woman has an
independent will she ceaselessly evolves to a
higher level of sober judgment than any man.”
With this contradiction a question begs to be
asked. Had Schopenhauer at some point
experienced an epiphany, or was he simply
insane? If one subscribes to the latter premise
there is, in fact, further evidence.

Schopenhauer found the concept of human
servitude to be intolerable. In 1860, on the
subject of American slavery, he wrote: “It is
the devil’s clutch, belonging to the blackest
pages of the criminal history of mankind.” One
has to wonder what cerebral gymnastics the
Great Thinker had to attempt in order to
square this idea with the notion that women
ought to be shackled to the crib, stove and
dairy stable.

Throughout his life Schopenhauer declared
himself to be an atheist, yet he wrote
extensively about an
a priori, singular and
intelligent, unifying principle of the universe.
He devoted himself to the study of Hindu
Vedas, Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita,
which provided him with “great joy and solace.”

In 1823, after losing a debate to Professor
Hilga Ustertaag at Berlin University on the
subject of the Pagan Roots of Teutonic
Polytheism—a woman, no less—Schopenhauer
declared to the audience: “I am not me, I am
someone else!”

His most coherent and accessible treatise was
entitled
Senilia.

                  ****

Arthur Schopenhauer sat in his drawing room
with windows closed at the height of summer,
sweating profusely and sipping on a mug of
piping hot cider as he scribbled his great
thoughts. He considered how his life had been
plagued by soured romance and professional
failure, and he considered hanging himself.
“Optimism is absurd,” he scratched with his
quill. “Life means suffering.”

At an early age the future “father of modern
Pessimism” felt that his destiny lay in
academia, and in 1811 he joined the faculty of
Berlin University as the translator of English,
Italian and Greek works of philosophy, but was
removed from that post because he imposed
his own worldview on the translations rather
than portray the genuine thoughts of the
author.

As a professor he was refused tenure because
he regularly berated his students and graded
them harshly. If he thought that a pupil lacked
scholarly substance—which would be most of
them—he called his charges “factory products”
and “bipeds.”

He failed as a lecturer as well. When Johann
Fichte, the renowned philosopher and fellow
Berlin University professor, gave lectures,
Schopenhauer became jealous because the
auditoriums for Fichte’s discourses were packed
with scores of students anxious to hear his
views on matters of theology and metaphysics.
Schopenhauer openly called Professor Fichte an
“imbecile” and decided to offer his own lectures
concurrently with Fichte’s—across the hall no
less. But few students ever attended. Those
who did merely considered Schopenhauer to be
a curiosity and heckled his histrionic bombast,
calling him “Alt Krampfenkopf” —the Old Brain
Cramp.  

He goaded publishers into printing his books
but they wisely insisted that he help finance
the endeavors. Only a handful of copies of his
works were ever sold and the stocks would
ultimately be pulped.

Yet it would be his failures at romance and
courtship that truly tormented him. Throughout
his life women were a trial, both literally and
figuratively.

In 1821, while trolling about the tavern Das
Kampf for convenient sex, Schopenhauer met a
seamstress named Caroline Marquet. She was
well into her schnapps when she stumbled into
him, but could tell from his clothes and bearing
that he was a man of rank and refinement. She
clutched him, and he clutched her with great
zeal. Soon enough Fräulein Marquet found
herself in the boudoir of Herr Schopenhauer
who, well into steins of lager himself, took
sexual liberties. In the morning, however,
randy Arthur realized that he had bedded a
mere “biped,” an insignificant and lowly
dressmaker, and ordered her out of his home.
But Marquet persisted with her affections. For
evenings on end she would stand outside his
doorway and sing love carols, which drove
Schopenhauer to distraction. He was convinced
that she was intentionally attempting to drive
him insane.

Finally, after his admonishments and threats
failed, the self-proclaimed Utopian wrested her
bonnet and tossed her to the ground, breaking
several of her ribs. The injury resulted in
chronic numbness on her left side, which
prevented her from practicing her trade.
Marquet sued Schopenhauer and won a
judgment—a sizeable monthly stipend for the
rest of her natural life.

Then there was Karoline Jageman—later known
as the Countess of Heygendorff—who carried
on with Schopenhauer for several years, though
there was never any sexual consummation. She
was intrigued by his intellect but found him to
be physically repulsive. In her diary she wrote,
“Arthur has an ear infection over which he
wears a bandage to absorb the puss, which
possibly explains why the old fool never fully
listens. He only cares to harangue. The
pompous old schnitzel relentlessly quotes
ancient Greek philosophers—in
Greek, no less!”

The love of his life was an actress and showgirl
named Caroline Richter. Like Karoline Jageman,
she would date Schopenhauer but never sleep
with him. In 1831 she had a child by another
man, which naturally ended her involvement
with Arthur. The other man, Louis Medon,
would eventually abandon Caroline, which
made her available to Schopenhauer once
again, but by then she had contracted
tuberculosis. His fear of contracting her
disease outweighed his love for her and he
never saw her again.

In Venice he had an affair with Teresa Fuga,
the simple-minded heir to an olive oil fortune.
They had a child together, but the infant girl
died within a year. After the tragedy she
refused to sleep with Arthur any longer—
supposedly because of his snoring. Teresa
never truly knew the name of her paramour.
After his vast despondence compelled
Schopenhauer to move back to Germany her
lovelorn letters to him were addressed to Artur
Scharrenhans.

Finally, there was the stunning and brilliant
social lioness Flora Weiss. A Jewess.
Schopenhauer was a declared anti-Semite but
when he saw her at a boat party on the Rhine
he approached her with a cluster of grapes in
order to introduce himself. Flora found him to
be “a porcupine of a man” and was offended by
his foul breath. After she accepted the grapes,
when Schopenhauer was not looking, she
tossed them overboard, concerned that he had
touched them. She did not want to catch any of
his afflictions.

Arthur Schopenhauer finished off the lukewarm
dregs of his cider and concluded that he ought
to hang himself when the weather was foul,
and from a sour apple tree at that. Such exit
from this cruel world would express divine
symmetry.  

                  ****

In 1831 an epidemic of cholera broke out in
Berlin and many of the scholars and creative
intelligentsia there migrated to Frankfurt,
which was considered cholera-proof. Once in
Frankfurt Schopenhauer joined the Gymnasium—
a gentleman’s club, library, and workout spa.
There he made rendezvous with his Aryan
supremacist, anti-Semitic, misogynist pals
Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Richard Wagner.
At the Gymnasium Schopenhauer and Goethe
endlessly discussed the nature and significance
of color. Schopenhauer advised young Wagner
to give up on his genius for composing libretto
operas and write poetry instead. How
brilliant!   

At the Frankfurt Gymnasium the hostess was
named Greta Kulp, who had been quite comely
in the 1790’s but was now rather old. The
members of the Gymnasium decided that they
wanted an attractive woman to ogle. Greta was
released and replaced by a shapely redhead
named Frija Zinger, whose appearance was
quite younger than her forty years. And
Schopenhauer was thrilled. She was a widow.

Frija had been married to a master quarryman,
an émigré from Byeloruss, but he had perished
in a fall when his anchor pins snapped. Frija
now dearly needed employment. She had to
support herself as well as her pretty,
precocious ten-year-old daughter Natasha.
Thus her employment at the Gymnasium.

Schopenhauer nervously approached Frija.
Scratching his head, he made a request: “I
would like you to retrieve
The Tempest, by
Shakespeare, and
Oedipus Tyrannus, by
Sophocles, for me please.”

Frija was incredulous. “That duty was not
described to me in my employment interview,”
she replied. “I am very busy cleaning up after
all the great minds who spill so much wine
around here. I am afraid that you will have to
gather those works for yourself.”  

“What?” Schopenhauer responded, taken
aback. “Greta always accommodated my
requests.”

“Well, I am not Greta.” She pointed. “The
works you seek are in the stacks behind you.”

Schopenhauer immediately fell in love. This
woman had stood up to him! He sensed that
she was his equal, perhaps his superior.

“I am Arthur Schopenhauer, you know,” he
offered.

“Yes, I know,” Frija replied. “The stacks are
still behind you, to your left once you turn
around to go.”   

Schopenhauer was head over heels. He hastily
looked for his own works in the stacks, which
he plucked in order to hide them. He did not
want Frija to read his ignoble thoughts on the
subject of women. The brilliant philosopher hid
his works amongst the Greek tragedies which
were seldom ever perused or borrowed.

Upon returning to the library desk
Schopenhauer once again engaged Frija. “May
we possibly enjoy a cup of piping hot cider
together?” he asked.

“Oh, I am afraid not. My late husband Illya is
still with me. I will always love him and no one
else.”

Yet day after day Schopenhauer made
overtures to Frija. He asked her out to taverns
for dinner, to waltzes and the opera and the
theater. He had deluded himself into thinking
that the reason she kept declining his
advances was the venue. He had a vivid
imagination and kept thinking of different
things for them to do together. He asked her
to attend concerts and fairs and flower shows,
to take walks in parks and apple orchards, but
Frija simply resorted to the strategy that
women have employed to discourage unwanted
suitors since the dawn of mankind. She gave
lame excuses. She claimed that she had to
attend to her ailing aunt, or set her daughter’s
hair, or clean her cupboard, or make candles, or
groom her horse. But Arthur never gave up.
And so Frija decided to give him an excuse so
absurd that he could not possibly help but get
the message.

Every day after school Frija’s daughter Natasha
met her at the Gymnasium. Usually she would
hesitantly stroll or saunter there because she
did not like the smoky men’s club. But today
she was skipping with joy. Natasha was
excited because her mother had let her in on
the plan. It was their little secret.

That afternoon, predictably, Arthur tentatively
approached the object of his desire. “Dear
Frija,” he offered, “perhaps you are aware that
the master balladeer Jakob Sweelink will be
performing at Botanscher Garten this evening.
I am wondering if you would care to attend
with me.”

“No, no Herr Schopenhauer. I am afraid that I
will be busy.”

“Oh? How so, Frija?”   

“I must shampoo my chickens.”

Old Arthur turned purple. “Lying is both habit-
forming and contagious, Frija,” he uttered
before storming off. Little Natasha could barely
conceal her laughter. “He is so strange,
mother,” she giggled. “He always looks as if
his head is going to explode.”

Mother and daughter winked at one another.

Schopenhauer had meanwhile left the
Gymnasium. He finally got the message. The
great Rationalist decided to go for a long walk
along the River Main in order to clear his head.

“I will not participate in this world any longer,”
he muttered to himself.

While meandering along the riverside he ran
into an old acquaintance, Klara Freudlander,
the owner of a dog kennel on the outskirts of
Frankfurt. She was walking her poodle Brigitte.

“Hello Klara,” said Arthur, his eyes suggesting
dyspepsia. “It has been such a long time.”

“Yes, yes it has,” she replied. “Are you well,
Arthur?”

“I have had better days,” he offered as the
poodle sniffed playfully about him, which
seemed to brighten his spirits. “Where have
you been Klara?”

“Oh, tending to the puppies,” she replied.
“Brigitte had a litter this past winter. I have
had trouble selling the females because they
tend to get pregnant. Would you like one?”

Schopenhauer initially seemed stumped, but
replied with a wink, “I do need a bitch who will
possibly put up with me.”

Frau Freudlander and the reluctant Humorist
laughed.

For the rest of his days Schopenhauer could be
seen walking his dear poodle about old
Frankfurt and along the River Main, tethered by
a taut leather slip-knot leash. He would never
again court a woman.
Philip Bernhardt recently
completed a historical novel,
"Bastards of Plimoth: Myles Standish,
the Failing Colony at Wessagussett
and the Indian Massacre of 1623."
Another of his stories appeared in
the July 2009 issue of Gemini. He
lives in Weymouth, Massachusetts
and can be reached at
philipbernhardt@yahoo.com.