Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln

Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln

by Glückel von Hameln

Begun in 1690, this diary of a forty-four-year-old German Jewish widow, mother of fourteen children, tells how she guided the financial and personal destinies of her children, how she engaged in trade, ran her own factory, and promoted the welfare of her large family.

Accepting this situation as given, she boldly and fearly promotes her business, her family and her faith.

This memoir is a document in the history of women and of life in the seventeenth century.

  • Language: English
  • Category: History
  • Rating: 3.80
  • Pages: 336
  • Publish Date: September 21st 2011 by Schocken Books
  • Isbn10: 0805205721
  • Isbn13: 9780805205725

What People Think about "Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln"

The things that were perhaps most notable to me, in no specific order of importance: -As previously mentioned, the book's narrators and tone are surprisingly "modern". A person living in the 21st century - at least one brought up Orthodox - would have no trouble relating to a woman who, despite being married at twelve, was educated, seemed to coexist mostly in equal partnership with her husband, and deal with men and the world by herself and face-to-face. There is a nice glossary provided at the end of the book for people who may not have a trove of Jewish knowledge at their fingertips, but I am glad to say that I referred to it only three times, to look up specific minor historical events.

Not only could she read and write - in a time when most women had no formal education at all -, she also proved to be an energetic business woman after the early death of her first husband. As the name indicates, Glückel was born in Hameln, and got engaged at the age of 12, as was the habit at that time, to a boy called Chajm to whom she was married two years later. Although the marriage was arranged at an age that seems unsupportable from the point of view of today and was concluded in a rather business-like manner, Glückel and her husband seem to have been a good match. When he died at the age of 44, it must have been a catastrophe for his widow who was from one moment to the next alone and with very little funds but had to support many children who were still living with her at that time. Also Glückel's life was everything than dull and average, although she must have been a modest person that frequently blamed herself for her own mistakes; once she writes about a successful business transaction she never forgets to thank God or to mention the part that other people had in this success. Since the book was meant for her family members, she refrains from mentioning the names of some persons that behaved badly towards her or her first husband when these persons were still alive at the time she wrote the autobiography. In neighboring Hamburg the situation was different: the Senate, the representative government body of the rich traders and bankers was rather friendly to the Jews; the Burgerschaft, the lower house of the Hamburg parliament on the contrary made life for the Jews very difficult by introducing rules that made it almost impossible for Jews to live in Hamburg. To marry off her children to a good, i.e. a wealthy family, is the major concern for her and her husband. As a reader we never get the intention that Glückel or her husband were gready people; if necessary, they part easy with their money. Glückel's autobiography also reflects political events, for example several wars which affected the life of the family or of friends and business partners. Another aspect of Glückel's writing that I find fascinating are her descriptions of her or her husband's traveling. The original manuscript was passing within the family from generation to generation; the first publication was issued in 1896 in Yiddish; Bertha Pappenheim, a descendant of Glückel - readers of the book Studies on Hysteria by Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud know her as Anna O., one of the most famous case studies in the history of psychoanalysis - , translated the book 1910 in German for a non-public edition that was circulated in the family; in 1913 a second German edition followed, this time for a general audience.

As I feel inspired by her deeds and the way she builds not only a strong long lasting dynasty, at the end Glickl happens to disappoint a modern reader as she suddenly gives up her independence, financially and personally, to re-marry again and loose everything.

As a modern Jewish woman who suffers from general anxiety and clinical depression, I often found myself surprised by how little she stopped to worry or stress about her situation, even when things went wrong.

This edition has a wonderful introduction providing historical context for Gluckel's life and times, and Gluckel herself writes with flair, showing both a sharp eye for human nature and the details around her, but also is able to quote frequently from Jewish sources including the Psalms, the Prophets, and more, underscoring her education. Married at 14 and eventually giving birth to 14 children (several died), Gluckel explains her purpose in writing her life story (which she began to do at 44) as a way to deal with her grief over the death of her beloved husband, Chayim Hameln.

She puts to paper the story of her life, partly to help her deal with the grief over the loss of her husband of thirty years, but also to provide her children, grandchildren, and all future generations with the story of their antecedents. My main critique of this memoir is that Glückel spends a lot of time moralizing to her children.

I loved this book. I love this book because Glückel puts me in touch with the 17th century daily life, but more than that, she reminds me of the infinite chain that links us all; and in particular infinite connection that all women share, Jewish or not. Glückel simply reminded me of the universality of our experiences, transcending centuries, religions and cultures.