Two points of view struggled for supremacy in me

Adelheid PoppI did not only like to read novels and tales; I had begun, as I have already mentioned, to read the classics and other good books. I also began to take an interest in public events. I was barely fifteen when a state of martial law was proclaimed at Vienna. One of the proclamations, which began, “My dear Count Taffe,” was nailed up in the street in which I worked. As far as I remember, it forbade the assembling of several persons. I read this proclamation with the greatest interest. I cannot now say what kind of mood overcame me; but I know very well that I mounted on our work-table and made a speech to my “brothers and sisters,” in which I made known the proclamation of martial law. I did not really understand anything of the matter; I had no one to talk with about it, and I was, moreover, not democratically inclined. I was full of enthusiasm then for emperors, and kings and highly placed personages played no small part of my fancies. But everything political interested me vividly. On Sundays I very often paid a visit to an old man, an acquaintance of my mother, because he would tell me of wars and historical occurrences. The Mexican imperial drama of the Austrian Archduke Maximilian was discussed again and again.

Even whilst I was an apprentice, I often went without food to be able to buy a newspaper. It was not the news that interested me, but the political leading articles. Now that I had a fixed wage, I bought myself a paper that came out three times a week. It was a strict Catholic paper, that criticised very adversely the workers’ movement, which was attracting notice. Its aim was to educate in a patriotic and religious direction. Two points of view struggled for supremacy in me. I took the warmest interest in the events that occurred in the royal families, and was much better informed on the deeds of archdukes and the surroundings of princesses than on the things which concerned my nearest neighbours. I mourned with Spain for Alphonso XII, and I treasured as though it had been a relic the picture which came with my newspaper of Marie Christina as she showed herself to her subjects with her infant in her arms. For the sake of Alexander of Battenberg I desired war and defeat for Russia, and the Bulgarian Prince was to be found for a long time in my picture gallery. I took the death of the Crown Prince of Austria so much to heart that I wept a whole day. But not only the fate of dynasties affected me, political events held me in suspense. The consideration in my paper of the possibility of a war with Russia roused my patriotic enthusiasm. I saw my brother already returning from the battlefield covered with glory, and I would have much liked to see myself in the role of the “heroine of Worth,” of whom I had read in a novel, and whom William had distinguished with the “Iron Cross.”

I read, besides, the histories of the French and Viennese revolutions, which were lent me by the father of one of my companions.  I could not for a long time understand and interpret them completely.  Indeed, when a particularly strong anti-Semitic feeling was noticeable in political life, I sympathised with it for a time.  A broad sheet, “How Israel attained to power and to the sovereignty over all the nations of the earth,” fascinated me.  There I acquired (in addition to the many atrocious deeds which were wrongly ascribed to the people of Israel) a knowledge of the fabled human sacrifice in their ritual.  I read further that the Jews would insult “the daughters of the Christians” to spare their own wives and daughters.  This assertion influenced me most.  I also wanted to contribute towards keeping in check the Jewish attacks; and I resolved to withdraw my custom from the Jewish shops where I had hitherto bought my clothes.  I persuaded my companions to do the same.

About this time an Anarchist group was active. Some mysterious murders which had taken place were ascribed to the Anarchists, and the police made use of them to oppress the rising workmen’s movement. I followed it all with burning interest. None of those details for the sake of which people say women read the papers appealed to me. I scarcely glanced at them. I followed the trials of the Anarchists with passionate sympathy. I read all the speeches, and because, as always happens, Social Democrats, whom the authorities really wanted to attack, were among the accused, I learnt to know their views. I became full of enthusiasm. Every single Social Democrat whom I learnt to know in the papers seemed to me a hero. It never occurred to me that I might join in their fight. Everything that I read of them seemed so high and lofty that it would have appeared absurd to me to think that I, an ignorant, unknown, and poor creature might also one day take part in their struggles.

Adelheid Popp, The Autobiography of a Working Woman Translated by E.C. Harvey (Chicago: F.G. Browne & Co., 1913), pp. 82-86.

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One Response to Two points of view struggled for supremacy in me

  1. Tim Lacy says:

    Turn-of-the-century socialists always seem to refer to intense newspaper reading, and some history of exposure to the great books or classics.

    – TL

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