Ahen everything is already in pieces, but at least before they are also to be trampled on, Ingeborg Bachmann writes to Max Frisch: “Otherwise I hope . . . that nothing will ever reach another person, not even those who are most familiar to you – I mean that this whole complex, which I don’t need to describe in more detail, is forever preserved in your and my silence.” The letter with the claim to the ex-lover disguised as hope dates from May 3, 1963; Four years and eight months earlier, on July 3, 1958 – so much accuracy must be, because the date will play an important role in Bachmann’s work – the two had become a couple, in Paris, on terrain that was unfamiliar to them and him alike . They were still strangers to each other at the time – it was their first personal encounter after years of mutual literary admiration. Nevertheless, Bachmann seems to have immediately demanded a decision on love from Frisch, because three days later he wrote to her: “You come into my life, Ingeborg, like a long-awaited angel who asks yes or no.”
Frisch’s answer to the heavenly intervention (his wording alludes to the Sermon on the Mount) was yes, and the most famous love affair in German-language post-war literary history was complete. One about which Frisch would judge with resignation four years and ten months later: “We just became a famous couple, unfortunately, without our doing anything.” When the thirty-two-year-old Austrian and the Swiss, fifteen years older than him, came together, they were already stars of the literary world: in 1956, with her second volume of poetry, “Anrufung des Grossen Bären”, Bachmann had the (also sales) success of her debut, “Die gestagete Zeit ‘ was even surpassed. With ‘Stiller’ (1954) and ‘Homo faber’ (1957) Frisch was one of the most widely read German-language novelists, and in March 1958 he premiered his epoch-making drama ‘Biedermann und die Brandstifter’; in the fall he will be awarded the Büchner Prize, which Bachmann was also to receive: 1964, the year when the shards of the earlier relationship were crushed.
Now the reality of this love is coming to light
The beginning and end of this love were known, but the exact circumstances of each, let alone the actual events of the intervening years, were not known. So far, they have been reconstructed by what was literaryly inspired by them: including Bachmann’s novel “Malina” or the “Book Goldmann” edited from her estate, von Frisch’s novel “Mein Name sei Gantenbein” and the story that only appeared after Bachmann’s death “Montauk” – just to name the most important ones. Frisch stayed closer to what had happened in his lyrics, but Bachmann was much more adept at mystifying, including by incorporating key relationship dates like July 3 in “Malina.” And so more and more legends grew about the love between Ingeborg Bachmann and Max Frisch, and if there is a book that the public and literary scholars have been waiting for with equal excitement, then it is the Correspondence between the two, which is finally being published. Did he mess up her life and thereby drive her to her early death, as Frisch was repeatedly accused of? Was she the Joan of Arc of literature, which could not help but end horribly?