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Rosa Luxemburg
Letters to Sophie Liebknecht

Wronke, February 18, 1917

... It is long since I have been shaken by anything as by Martha’s brief report of your visit to Karl, how you had to see him through a grating, and the impression it made on you. Why didn’t you tell me about it? I have a right to share in anything which hurts you, and I wouldn’t allow anyone to curtail my proprietary rights!

Besides, Martha’s account reminded me so vividly of the first time my brother and my sister came to see me ten years ago in the Warsaw citadel. There they put you in a regular cage consisting of two layers of wire mesh; or rather, a small cage stands freely inside a larger one, and the prisoner only sees the visitor through this double trellis-work. It was just at the end of a six-day hunger strike, and I was so weak that the Commanding Officer of the fortress had almost to carry me into the visitors’ room. I had to hold on with both hands to the wires of the cage, and this must certainly have strengthened the resemblance to a wild beast in the Zoo. The cage was standing in a rather dark corner of the room, and my brother pressed his face against the wires. “Where are you?”, he kept on asking, continually wiping away the tears that clouded his glasses. – How glad I should be if I could only take Karl’s place in the cage of Luckau prison, so as to save him from such an ordeal!

Convey my most grateful thanks to Pfemfert for Galsworthy’s book. I finished it yesterday, and liked it so much. Not as much as The Man of Property. It pleased me less, precisely because in it social criticism is more preponderant. When I am reading a novel I am less concerned with any moral it may convey than with its purely artistic merits. What troubles me in the case of Fraternity is that Galsworthy’s intelligence overburdens the book. This criticism will surprise you. I regard Galsworthy as of the same type as Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, a type which now has many representatives among the British intelligentsia. They are able, ultra-civilised, a trifle bored with the world, and they are inclined to regard everything with a humorous scepticism. The subtly ironical remarks that Galsworthy makes concerning his own dramatis personae remaining himself apparently quite serious the while, often make me burst out laughing. But persons who are truly well bred, rarely or never make fun of their own associates, even though they do not fail to note anything ludicrous; in like manner, a supreme artist never makes a butt of his own creations.

Don’t misunderstand me, Sonichka; don’t think that I am objecting to satire in the grand style! For example, Gerhart Hauptmann’s[8] Emanuel Quint is the most ferocious satire of modern society that has been written for a hundred years. But the author himself is not on the grin as he writes. At the close he stands with lips atremble, and the tears glisten in his widely open eyes. Galsworthy, on the other hand, with his smartly-phrased interpolations, makes me feel as I have felt at an evening party when my neighbour, as each new guest has entered, has whispered some appropriate piece of spite into my ear ...

This is Sunday, the deadliest of days for prisoners and solitaries. I am sad at heart, but I earnestly hope that both you and Karl are free from care. Write soon to let me know when and where you are at length going for a change.

All my love to you and the children.
Your Rosa

Do you think Pfemfert could send me something else worth reading? Perhaps one of Thomas Mann’s’ books?[9] I have not read any of them yet.

One more request. I am beginning to find the sun rather trying when I go out; could you send me a yard of black spotted veiling? Thanks in advance.


[8] German dramatist, born 1862. The best-known of his numerous plays, The Weavers, published in 1892, had as his theme the Silesian labour troubles of the year 1844.

[9] German novelist, born 1875. His favourite topic is the life of the rich mercantile class of Hamburg.

Last updated on: 16.12.2008