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Hedwig Lachmann

Biography

Hedwig Lachmann (1865–1918) was a German poet and translator, best known for her translation of Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé.

Lachmann was born in Stolp, Pomerania. Her father was a Jewish cantor and teacher of religion. She studied languages in Augsburg, passing her teaching examinations at the prodigiously early age of 15. She later worked as a governess in England and in Dresden and Budapest, and in 1889 settled in Berlin. There she became a close friend of the poet Richard Dehmel (whose works inspired some of Richard Strauss’s greatest songs), though she rejected his offer to join him and his wife in a ménage à trois. In 1899 she fell in love with Gustav Landauer, an anarchist, pacifist and writer who she married in 1903. In the same year, Lachmann published her translation of Wilde’s Salomé. It was performed soon after in Berlin at the Schall and Rauch Theatre, in a production by the great impresario Max Reinhardt. Richard Strauss was stunned by the work and – with some cuts – used Lachmann’s translation as his libretto for Salome. Lachmann later wrote a monograph on Wilde (1905) and translated The Picture of Dorian Gray (1909).

Lachmann’s other work included translations of Edgar Allan Poe, Rabindranath Tagore and various Hungarian poets, and of Honoré de Balzac’s novel Lost Illusions. She died in February 1918, an early victim of the international flu epidemic. Her Collected Poems were published in 1919.