I was continually with my thoughts in quite another world

Adelheid Popp“I loved to read. I read without choice whatever came into my hands, whatever acquaintances lent me–they did not distinguish between what was suitable and unsuitable for me–and whatever I could borrow at a second-hand bookshop in our suburb by paying a halfpenny, whch I saved from my money for food. Stories of Indians, romances hawked about the streets, newspaper stories–I took them all home. In addition to stories of robbers, which particularly fascinated me, I was extremely interested in the stories of unhappy queens. Besides ‘Rinaldo Rinaldini’ (which was my particular favourite), ‘Katerina Kornaro,’ ‘Rosa Sandor,’ “Isabella of Spain,’ ‘Eugenie of France,’ ‘Mary Stuart,’ and others, the ‘White Lady in the Imperial Palace’ in Vienna, all the romances of the Emperor Joseph, ‘The Heroine of Worth,’ and ‘Emperor’s Son and Barber’s Daughter,’ gave me historical information. To them were added novels of the the Jesuits and stories, in a hundred parts, of a poor girl who, after overcoming many and horrible difficulties, became a countess, or at least the wife of a manufacturer or merchant. I lived as if in a dream. I devoured number after number. I was withdrawn from real life, and identified myself with the heroines of my books. I repeated to myself all the words they spoke, and felt with them their terror when they were imprisoned, buried alive, poisoned, slain with a dagger, or smothered. I was continually with my thoughts in quite another world, and neither saw nor felt anything of the misery around me, nor felt my own. As my mother could not read, no one exercised any supervision over my reading. So I read Paul de Kock; but the frivolous French tales left me so harmless that I related the contents down to the smallest details, and did not understand why my brother and his friend laughed where I found nothing amusing. I have always remembered on passage. A marquis had led a girl into a wood, and then it went on ‘When they came out again the girl was walking, pale and with faltering steps. She cast one last look back on the place where she had lost her innocence.’ The two young men laughed, without my finding a reason for it.”

Adelheid Popp, The Autobiography of a Working Woman Translated by E.C. Harvey (Chicago: F.G. Browne & Co., 1913), pp. 35-37. Popp later became an activist in the German Social Democratic Party and the editor of Arbeiterinnen Zeitung. Thanks to David Montgomery for suggesting this source.

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