Cornelia Goethe (1750-1777)

The fate of Cornelia Goethe is exemplary for many sisters of famous men. She was born Cornelia Friederica Christiana Goethe just 15 months after her famous brother Johann Wolfgang as the second child of Katharina Elisabeth Textor and the Imperial Councillor Johann Caspar Goethe in Frankfurt am Main. Cornelia and Johann Wolfgang were the only two of the couple's seven children to live to adulthood. Cornelia initially received the same middle-class upbringing and education as her brother. This was unusual for the time, when girls were only to be prepared for their role as wives and mothers. From the age of seven, the siblings were taught languages, law, geography, writing and arithmetic by a tutor. Cornelia Goethe also received piano, singing and drawing lessons, as well as lessons in etiquette and dancing. She learned fencing and horseback riding.

Despite the careful and common education, Cornelia was not allowed to study as a woman, unlike her brother. When Johann Wolfgang began his studies in Leipzig in 1765, she had to stay behind in the domestic confines of Frankfurt. With the start of her brother's studies, Cornelia lost a confidant and interlocutor for her literary interests. That the close relationship between the siblings continued is shown by their letters from this period. However, Johann Wolfgang's letters also reveal the generally accepted differences between the sexes at the time, as well as his patronizing attitude towards his sister: for example, he points out to her the female duty to acquire the necessary knowledge of housekeeping and cooking. Cornelia Goethe's talent as a writer was evident in her secret letter diary, the "Correspondance Secrète" addressed to her friend Katharina Fabricius, which she kept in French from 1767 to 1769. Unlike her letters to her brother, who burned them, this one has survived. In these reports, descriptions, and scenes, Cornelia takes a close and scathing look at Frankfurt's better society. The texts read like autobiographical testimonies and provide insight into her suffering from the role as wife, which was predetermined for women.

At the age of 23, Cornelia Goethe finally married Johann Georg Schlosser, a friend of her brother. The room she had occupied until then in her parents' house in Frankfurt has been preserved and can be seen in the Goethe House in Frankfurt. Johann Wolfgang reacted to his sister's marriage with jealousy. Shortly before the wedding, he wrote to a friend: "I am facing a fatal loneliness. You know what I had in my sister". The newly married Cornelia Schlosser first moved with her husband to Karlsruhe, where they stayed for only half a year. Then they moved on to Emmendingen near Freiburg, where Georg Schlosser got a job. The marriage was not a happy one. Schlosser was considered a righteous but pedantic lawyer. There was nothing in the provincial town that appealed to Cornelia and appealed to her intellect. Cornelia felt lonely and became sickly. She managed her household reluctantly. Her husband, who took her seriously neither as a writer nor as an educated conversationalist, showed no understanding for his wife's sensitivity or fragile constitution.  He saw her as the housewife who was supposed to fulfill social obligations. In his eyes, women were subordinate creatures who were overburdened by any scientific activity and who should therefore consume only light intellectual entertainment. Johann Wolfgang Goethe visited his sister only once during this period. On this occasion he was accompanied by Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz. Lenz became a close friend of Cornelia Schlosser after this visit. He was an important interlocutor for her intellectual interests. Lenz himself spoke of Cornelia as his "Muse Urania" in several poems.

Cornelia Schlosser was so severely weakened by the birth of her first daughter in 1774 that she barely survived it. Two years later she became pregnant again.
She died shortly after the birth of her second daughter on June 8, 1777, at the age of 26.Her residence in Emmendingen today houses the town library.

Literature on Cornelia Goethe


    Melanie Baumann(Hg.): Cornelia Goethe: Briefe und Correspondance secrete 1767-1769. Freiburg: Kore 1990.
    Bernhard Benz: Die unsäglichen Leiden der jungen Cornelia Goethe : Szenen aus dem 18. Jahrhundert. Jungingen: Prologos-Verlag 2003.
    Ernst Beutler (Hg.): Goethe. Briefe aus dem Elternhaus. Zürich: Artemis 1960.
    Sigrid Damm: Cornelia Goethe. Frankfurt am Main und Leipzig: Insel Verlag 1992.
    Stephanie Fleischer: Literatur und Lebensgestaltung. Cornelia als Leserin zeitgenössischer Briefromane, in: Welfengarten. Jahrbuch für Essayismus, 6. Jg. 1996, S. 69-82.
    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Goethe an Cornelia: die dreizehn Briefe an seine Schwester. Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe 1986.
    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Die Geschwister. Dramen, Bd. 3. Zürich: Artemis 1962.
    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Dichtung und Wahrheit. Herausgegeben von Klaus-Detlef Müller (Goethe Werke Jubiläumsausgabe. Fünfter Band.) Frankfurt am Main: Insel 1998 [1812/14].
    Sabine Hock: Zeitlebens litt Cornelia an ihrer „Hässlichkeit“: die jung gestorbene Schwester Goethes krankte an einem unglücklichen und unerfüllten Leben, in: Wochendienst // Presse- und Informationsamt der Stadt Frankfurt am Main; 1998, Nr. 7, S. 1-2.
    Gerlinde Kraus: Cornelia Goethe – Ein typisches Frauenleben im 18. Jahrhundert? Porträt einer Frankfurter Bürgerin. Mühlheim am Main: Schroeder Verlagsbuchhandlung 2010.
    Walfried Linden: Marie, Gretchen, Helena. Goethe und seine Schwester Cornelia im Spiegel seiner Frauengestalten, in: Jahrbuch der Psychoanalyse, 27. Jg. 1991, S. 224-238.
    Petra Maisak: Johann Georg Schlosser, Goethes Schwester Cornelia und ihre Freunde in Emmendingen. Marbach am Neckar: Deutsche Schillergesellschaft 1992.
    Ilse Nagelschmidt: Briefe und Tagebücher als Effekt Biographischen Erzählens. Zwei Frauen im Spiegel des Textes. Cornelia Goethe. Brigitte Reimann, in: Regina Fasold (Hg): Begegnung der Zeiten. Festschrift für Helmut Richter zum 65. Geburtstag. Leipzig: Universitätsverlag 1999, S. 277-291.
    Ilse Pohl: Biographical miniatures of Cornelia Goethe, Adele Schopenhauer, Clara Schumann and Annette von Droste-Hülshoff. – My songs they shall survive. Frankfurt am Main [u.a.]: Frankfurter Verl.-Gruppe 2006.
    Ulrike Prokop: Die Illusion vom großen Paar. Band 2: Das Tagebuch der Cornelia Goethe. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer 1991
    Ulrike Prokop: Cornelia Goethe (1750-1777): Die Melancholie der Cornelia Goethe, in: Luise F. Pusch (Hg.): Schwestern berühmter Männer: Zwölf biographische Portraits. Frankfurt a. M.: Insel 1985, S. 49-122.
    Luise Pusch: Cornelia Goethe
    Arnd Rühle: Der große Bruder nimmt ihr ganzes Herz ein: das Goethehaus feiert Cornelia Goethe zum 250. Geburtstag. Frankfurt am Main 2000.
    Georg Witkowski: Cornelia, die Schwester Goethes. Frankfurt am Main: Rütten & Loening 1903 (2. Aufl. 1924).