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This article is taken from PN Review 242, Volume 44 Number 6, July - August 2018.

Lou and Fritz
Sensible Shoes meets Starstruck
Iain Bamforth
TELL ME WHAT stars we fell from to meet up here…

This cosmic swoon – a man and woman dropping off heavenly bodies and more or less straight into each other’s arms – was Friedrich Nietzsche’s opening gambit in his attempt to sweep the precocious Louise von Salomé – born in St Petersburg as Luíza Gustavovna Salomé and known universally as Lou – off her feet when he met her in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome in April 1882. … ‘Von welchen Sternen sind wir uns hier einander zugefallen?’ Overblown, portentous, conniving – a sentence like that must have been prepared in advance: its sentiment would have hardly been out of place in a Groschenheft or penny romance. In his very fine translation of Nietzsche’s letters (Selected Letters, 1969) Christopher Middleton draws attention to the ‘archly ophidian’ phraseology of Nietzsche’s letters in the 1870s – noting that it often ‘conspires to conceal, rather than reveal, his feeling and thought’.

Nietzsche, thirty-seven years old but a sexually inexperienced and even slightly prudish man, to judge by the comments he makes about women in his writings (though lacking all prudery in matters of the mind), had previously made the acquaintance of Lou only through the letters sent him by his philosopher friend Paul Rée, who also had a romantic interest in Lou. ‘Give my regards to the Russian lady if that makes sense: I yearn after this kind of soul,’ he had written to Rée a month before meeting her, expressing his desire to meet a ‘intelligent ...

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