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This is a bio-bibliographic work in progress. The author welcomes suggestions, contradictions
and help with the references...
March 19, 2024
michael.neecke[a]gmail.com
Ilse von STACH (actually Ilse Margarete Asta Helene Stach von Goltzheim), Catholic
writer, b. February 17, 1879 at Haus Pröbsting near Borken, d. August 22, 1941 in
Münster.
Youngest of three children of the Protestant premier lieutenant and manor owner Baron Georg
Carl Friedrich Stach von Goltzheim (1849-1920) and his first wife Margarete Pauline Adele,
née von Barby (1856-1888).
Ilse already showed religious enthusiasm at the age of four when, after her tutor had told her
about Jesus walking on the waves of the Sea of Galilee, she wanted to cross the huge garden
pond in front of her parent’s stately home in the same manner. Of course, she was prevented
from doing so by older members of her family―however, the pattern of departure motivated
by strong faith can be found again and again in her later life. After the early death of her strictly
Protestant mother, Ilse was first given to relatives at Gut Wilhelminenholz near Aurich, then to
the educational institution of the Stift Altenburg in Thuringia. In her memoirs, she highlights
the „strictly orthodox Lutheran observance” and the aristocratic regime there: „an institution
befitting one’s rank that [...] only accepted daughters from German noble families.” In
Altenburg, Ilse becomes increasingly alienated from her family’s Protestant faith: her spiritual
mentor in the Stift is unable to give an intellectually satisfactory answer to the adolescents’
insecurities and doubts; his hard-hearted behavior, which merciless punishes a rather minor
transgression by a classmate suffering from diphtheria, disappoints and outrages her in moral
terms. Together with her friend Allie von Keller, Ilse discovers literature in the Stift as a
meaningful task and possible way of life. According to the later memoirs of von Stach her first
poems were written there and a „tragedy in 5 acts” entitled Der Bischof von Paderborn was
created by the two school girls. In the reports of Aus früher Jugend (1919), however, von Stach
declares that she had been a writer of poems since early childhood and the drama concerning
the bishop of Paderborn was exclusively a work by her own hand.
2
After her time in Altenburg, Ilse attended a teachers’seminar in Berlin; for her, life in the „free-
thinking city” meant a continuation of the development that had begun in the aristocratic Stift.
The limits of strict Lutheran observance have now finally been exceeded: At the age of 19, von
Stach published her first volume of poetry titled Wer kann dafür, daß seines Frühlings Lüfte
weh’n! Traditional themes and the modern passion of transgression are closely related in these
texts. Soon she found access to Berlin’s young literary scene, that is, in her case, to the artist
group „The Coming People”, which was founded in 1900 by the Jewish writer and publicist
Ludwig Jacobowski. There, as she would later report in her memoirs published under the title
Der Petrus-Segen, Ilse von Stach met Peter Hille, Julius Hart and Rudolf Steiner. At the weekly
meetings of the „Coming People” Else Lasker-Schuler, Peter Baum, Maria Eichhorn
(„Dolorosa”), Margarete Beutler and others also presented from their works. Given the
ideological diversity of these personalities and works, the influence of the group of artists on
von Stach can only be determined imprecisely. One consequence is the artistic and amorous
working relationship with the composer Hans Pfitzner, who was already married at the time.
Pfitzner set von Stach’s melancholic nature poem An die Mark to music in 1904 and arranged
her dramatic Christmas fairy tale Das Christ-Elflein two years later. Of course, the Christ-
Elflein only became a success after Pfitzner radically reshaped the work and created a revised
version of the text contributed by von Stach about ten years later. Previously she had worked
with Pfitzner on the libretto for the opera Palestrina. There also was some trouble concerning
the interaction between the self-confident male composer genius and his not particularly
submissive woman helper; in this case Pfitzner especially had problems with the female figures
designed by von Stach for the planned play―in the opera finally completed by the musician,
no women appear on stage at all. The composer broke off the collaboration. He later pointed to
von Stach’s pronounced feminism as the reason for the breakdown of their relationship („the
woman at the center”).
During her relatively short time in Berlin, two of the feminist artist’s marriages failed. The
report on this in her memoirs is very sparse. Some biographical reconstructions therefore are
based on the plot structure of Ilse von Stach’s novel Non serviam (1921), which apparently
refers to these events: At the meetings of the Berlin artist group „The Coming People” (!), a
young female poet meets her first husband and goes with him to Paris. There a daughter is born,
but the marriage breaks up. After the divorce, the young woman returns to Berlin. In this town
she marries again, but this relationship does not last either, etc. However, such a biographical
understanding of Non Serviam must be seen as problematic: Ilse’s first child is by no means a
3
daughter, but rather the son Lutz. In addition, the plan to go to Paris only appears in the memoirs
when the second marriage, concluded on January 15, 1902, from which the sons Klaus and
Thomas emerged, had already broken down. This relationship with the polar explorer Theodor
Lerner can be clearly traced in the realm of contemporary history, but the opposite applies to
the previous relationship. If there wasn’t some archival evidence („1. Ehe mit Schulze
geschieden”, Standesamtsregister – StA Charlottenburg, Heiratsregister Nr. 18/1902), the
assumption of a „free motherhood”, as Margarete Beutler presented it to the circle of „The
Coming People”, would have to be considered the most likely interpretation of the available
(auto-) biographical data. The relationship between Ilse von Stach and Theodor Lerner was
poetically portrayed by Martin Mosebach in his 2001 novel Der Nebelfürst. The distance to the
historical events that can be noticed there must probably also be assumed for von Stach’s Non
serviam. In-depth archival work remains a desideratum.
In 1905, Ilse and her three children set off for a journey to Rome. On this trip von Stach really
feels „like a fugitive on the run”. Later she will explain, that it was actually an escape―an
escape towards God. Near St. Peter’s cathedral she converted after some time of hesitation and
self-reflection to the Catholic faith. On this occasion, she, like the children, also received a
„conditional baptism” for the case the German Protestants had not carried out the baptism rite
correctly and in full form once in the past. In Rome she also met her third husband, the art
historian Martin Wackernagel. After all obstacles to marriage from von Stach’s time in Berlin
were removed by the church through a papal dispensation, the two married in 1911. A doctor
then advised von Stach against further pregnancies for medical reasons. However, trusting in
the support of St. Peter, she does not follow this advice; the marriage resulted in two sons, Peter
and Karl Martin, and finally the „dream child”, daughter Maria Elisabeth („Marlis”). After
dwelling in Planegg near Munich and afterwards Leipzig, the family lived in Münster from
1921, where von Stach’s husband taught as a distinguished professor at the university.
Ilse von Stach’s metamorphosis into a Catholic writer can be observed from about the time she
left for Rome: After a night spent in the train, which seperated her from Berlin, the displaced
author made a stopover in Munich on New Year’s Eve 1905 to meet the Catholic publicist Carl
Muth. The two don’t just talk about von Stach’s novella Monika. Muth also recommends the
„on the run” poet first transforming the Nepomuk drama she is currently working on into a
novella. This text appears under the title Die Beichte in the 1906/7 volume of the Hochland
magazine published by Muth. In 1908, the year of von Stach’s conversion, the novella Monika
4
was published in the Deutsche Rundschau. In 1909 the drama Der heilige Nepomuk was
published by Oesterheld. In the literary niche of cultural Catholicism, Ilse von Stach quickly
achieved a certain level of recognition and attention with her plays, poems and prose texts. At
the center of her work could be found the effort to create a Christian theatre that is not just a
stage play, but also a worship service. The big breakthrough, of course, remains elusive. For
her drama Petrus (1924), „a truly romantic product with an enormous amount of personal effort,
ghosts of famous historical men and women and saints and allegorical figures” (Floeck 1926),
she expected a success that would go beyond the bubble of cultural Catholicism: The author
considered it certain that Max Reinhardt would stage the piece; the performance in a yet-to-be-
built festival hall near the town of Witten was firmly planned and a Hollywood movie
adaptation seemed within reach. None of this came to pass; von Stach’s conviction „that her
work was suffocated to no small extent by Catholic criticism” (Spael 1934) is certainly on the
point in view of the upheavals within German Catholicism that arose as a result of the
Modernism dispute. On the other hand, the author’s enormous literary self-confidence is only
incompletely redeemed by the texts she created: contemporary criticism, for example, stated
that in von Stach’s drama about St. Peter, which she not entirely modestly subtitled A Divine
Comedy, the path „from the sublime to the ridiculous” is often not that far and that the poet
„stumbles” at various points (Rall 1936).
Ilse von Stach’s Die Frauen von Korinth evoked a lively discussion in the german Catholic
press and environment at the end of the 1920s. In these dialogues, the author speaks out against
the excessive demands of the male gender to be the only voice allowed to proclaim the truth in
the church. Pope Pius X. is presented here as a kind of feminist who, through the beatification
of Joan of Arc, ensured that women in the church „should no longer be the social outcast”.
Today’s feminist theology finds it difficult to connect with this work: as later in the Tetralogie
der Mütter, Ilse von Stach combines a progressive-emancipatory interpretation of the Catholic
faith with an affirmative understanding of ancient Germanic traditions.
From around 1931, von Stach developed a relapsing, progressive nerve problem. There is no
conclusive diagnosis; Ilse herself sees X-ray radiation in 1927 as the trigger for the disease.
Various therapy attempts, ultimately beyond the rules of art, do not bring about any
improvement, and even a stay in Lourdes does not produce the longed-for healing. During this
time, von Stach’s literary productivity was repeatedly interrupted by long breaks due to illness.
The author intentionally left unpublished a literary representation of her illness that she wrote
5
at the time. In the time of the Third Reich, only von Stach’s memoirs Der Petrus-Segen were
published in book form by the Catholic publishing house Regensberg.

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Ilse von Stach (1879-1941). A bio-bibliographic work in progress

  • 1. 1 This is a bio-bibliographic work in progress. The author welcomes suggestions, contradictions and help with the references... March 19, 2024 michael.neecke[a]gmail.com Ilse von STACH (actually Ilse Margarete Asta Helene Stach von Goltzheim), Catholic writer, b. February 17, 1879 at Haus Pröbsting near Borken, d. August 22, 1941 in Münster. Youngest of three children of the Protestant premier lieutenant and manor owner Baron Georg Carl Friedrich Stach von Goltzheim (1849-1920) and his first wife Margarete Pauline Adele, née von Barby (1856-1888). Ilse already showed religious enthusiasm at the age of four when, after her tutor had told her about Jesus walking on the waves of the Sea of Galilee, she wanted to cross the huge garden pond in front of her parent’s stately home in the same manner. Of course, she was prevented from doing so by older members of her family―however, the pattern of departure motivated by strong faith can be found again and again in her later life. After the early death of her strictly Protestant mother, Ilse was first given to relatives at Gut Wilhelminenholz near Aurich, then to the educational institution of the Stift Altenburg in Thuringia. In her memoirs, she highlights the „strictly orthodox Lutheran observance” and the aristocratic regime there: „an institution befitting one’s rank that [...] only accepted daughters from German noble families.” In Altenburg, Ilse becomes increasingly alienated from her family’s Protestant faith: her spiritual mentor in the Stift is unable to give an intellectually satisfactory answer to the adolescents’ insecurities and doubts; his hard-hearted behavior, which merciless punishes a rather minor transgression by a classmate suffering from diphtheria, disappoints and outrages her in moral terms. Together with her friend Allie von Keller, Ilse discovers literature in the Stift as a meaningful task and possible way of life. According to the later memoirs of von Stach her first poems were written there and a „tragedy in 5 acts” entitled Der Bischof von Paderborn was created by the two school girls. In the reports of Aus früher Jugend (1919), however, von Stach declares that she had been a writer of poems since early childhood and the drama concerning the bishop of Paderborn was exclusively a work by her own hand.
  • 2. 2 After her time in Altenburg, Ilse attended a teachers’seminar in Berlin; for her, life in the „free- thinking city” meant a continuation of the development that had begun in the aristocratic Stift. The limits of strict Lutheran observance have now finally been exceeded: At the age of 19, von Stach published her first volume of poetry titled Wer kann dafür, daß seines Frühlings Lüfte weh’n! Traditional themes and the modern passion of transgression are closely related in these texts. Soon she found access to Berlin’s young literary scene, that is, in her case, to the artist group „The Coming People”, which was founded in 1900 by the Jewish writer and publicist Ludwig Jacobowski. There, as she would later report in her memoirs published under the title Der Petrus-Segen, Ilse von Stach met Peter Hille, Julius Hart and Rudolf Steiner. At the weekly meetings of the „Coming People” Else Lasker-Schuler, Peter Baum, Maria Eichhorn („Dolorosa”), Margarete Beutler and others also presented from their works. Given the ideological diversity of these personalities and works, the influence of the group of artists on von Stach can only be determined imprecisely. One consequence is the artistic and amorous working relationship with the composer Hans Pfitzner, who was already married at the time. Pfitzner set von Stach’s melancholic nature poem An die Mark to music in 1904 and arranged her dramatic Christmas fairy tale Das Christ-Elflein two years later. Of course, the Christ- Elflein only became a success after Pfitzner radically reshaped the work and created a revised version of the text contributed by von Stach about ten years later. Previously she had worked with Pfitzner on the libretto for the opera Palestrina. There also was some trouble concerning the interaction between the self-confident male composer genius and his not particularly submissive woman helper; in this case Pfitzner especially had problems with the female figures designed by von Stach for the planned play―in the opera finally completed by the musician, no women appear on stage at all. The composer broke off the collaboration. He later pointed to von Stach’s pronounced feminism as the reason for the breakdown of their relationship („the woman at the center”). During her relatively short time in Berlin, two of the feminist artist’s marriages failed. The report on this in her memoirs is very sparse. Some biographical reconstructions therefore are based on the plot structure of Ilse von Stach’s novel Non serviam (1921), which apparently refers to these events: At the meetings of the Berlin artist group „The Coming People” (!), a young female poet meets her first husband and goes with him to Paris. There a daughter is born, but the marriage breaks up. After the divorce, the young woman returns to Berlin. In this town she marries again, but this relationship does not last either, etc. However, such a biographical understanding of Non Serviam must be seen as problematic: Ilse’s first child is by no means a
  • 3. 3 daughter, but rather the son Lutz. In addition, the plan to go to Paris only appears in the memoirs when the second marriage, concluded on January 15, 1902, from which the sons Klaus and Thomas emerged, had already broken down. This relationship with the polar explorer Theodor Lerner can be clearly traced in the realm of contemporary history, but the opposite applies to the previous relationship. If there wasn’t some archival evidence („1. Ehe mit Schulze geschieden”, Standesamtsregister – StA Charlottenburg, Heiratsregister Nr. 18/1902), the assumption of a „free motherhood”, as Margarete Beutler presented it to the circle of „The Coming People”, would have to be considered the most likely interpretation of the available (auto-) biographical data. The relationship between Ilse von Stach and Theodor Lerner was poetically portrayed by Martin Mosebach in his 2001 novel Der Nebelfürst. The distance to the historical events that can be noticed there must probably also be assumed for von Stach’s Non serviam. In-depth archival work remains a desideratum. In 1905, Ilse and her three children set off for a journey to Rome. On this trip von Stach really feels „like a fugitive on the run”. Later she will explain, that it was actually an escape―an escape towards God. Near St. Peter’s cathedral she converted after some time of hesitation and self-reflection to the Catholic faith. On this occasion, she, like the children, also received a „conditional baptism” for the case the German Protestants had not carried out the baptism rite correctly and in full form once in the past. In Rome she also met her third husband, the art historian Martin Wackernagel. After all obstacles to marriage from von Stach’s time in Berlin were removed by the church through a papal dispensation, the two married in 1911. A doctor then advised von Stach against further pregnancies for medical reasons. However, trusting in the support of St. Peter, she does not follow this advice; the marriage resulted in two sons, Peter and Karl Martin, and finally the „dream child”, daughter Maria Elisabeth („Marlis”). After dwelling in Planegg near Munich and afterwards Leipzig, the family lived in Münster from 1921, where von Stach’s husband taught as a distinguished professor at the university. Ilse von Stach’s metamorphosis into a Catholic writer can be observed from about the time she left for Rome: After a night spent in the train, which seperated her from Berlin, the displaced author made a stopover in Munich on New Year’s Eve 1905 to meet the Catholic publicist Carl Muth. The two don’t just talk about von Stach’s novella Monika. Muth also recommends the „on the run” poet first transforming the Nepomuk drama she is currently working on into a novella. This text appears under the title Die Beichte in the 1906/7 volume of the Hochland magazine published by Muth. In 1908, the year of von Stach’s conversion, the novella Monika
  • 4. 4 was published in the Deutsche Rundschau. In 1909 the drama Der heilige Nepomuk was published by Oesterheld. In the literary niche of cultural Catholicism, Ilse von Stach quickly achieved a certain level of recognition and attention with her plays, poems and prose texts. At the center of her work could be found the effort to create a Christian theatre that is not just a stage play, but also a worship service. The big breakthrough, of course, remains elusive. For her drama Petrus (1924), „a truly romantic product with an enormous amount of personal effort, ghosts of famous historical men and women and saints and allegorical figures” (Floeck 1926), she expected a success that would go beyond the bubble of cultural Catholicism: The author considered it certain that Max Reinhardt would stage the piece; the performance in a yet-to-be- built festival hall near the town of Witten was firmly planned and a Hollywood movie adaptation seemed within reach. None of this came to pass; von Stach’s conviction „that her work was suffocated to no small extent by Catholic criticism” (Spael 1934) is certainly on the point in view of the upheavals within German Catholicism that arose as a result of the Modernism dispute. On the other hand, the author’s enormous literary self-confidence is only incompletely redeemed by the texts she created: contemporary criticism, for example, stated that in von Stach’s drama about St. Peter, which she not entirely modestly subtitled A Divine Comedy, the path „from the sublime to the ridiculous” is often not that far and that the poet „stumbles” at various points (Rall 1936). Ilse von Stach’s Die Frauen von Korinth evoked a lively discussion in the german Catholic press and environment at the end of the 1920s. In these dialogues, the author speaks out against the excessive demands of the male gender to be the only voice allowed to proclaim the truth in the church. Pope Pius X. is presented here as a kind of feminist who, through the beatification of Joan of Arc, ensured that women in the church „should no longer be the social outcast”. Today’s feminist theology finds it difficult to connect with this work: as later in the Tetralogie der Mütter, Ilse von Stach combines a progressive-emancipatory interpretation of the Catholic faith with an affirmative understanding of ancient Germanic traditions. From around 1931, von Stach developed a relapsing, progressive nerve problem. There is no conclusive diagnosis; Ilse herself sees X-ray radiation in 1927 as the trigger for the disease. Various therapy attempts, ultimately beyond the rules of art, do not bring about any improvement, and even a stay in Lourdes does not produce the longed-for healing. During this time, von Stach’s literary productivity was repeatedly interrupted by long breaks due to illness. The author intentionally left unpublished a literary representation of her illness that she wrote
  • 5. 5 at the time. In the time of the Third Reich, only von Stach’s memoirs Der Petrus-Segen were published in book form by the Catholic publishing house Regensberg.