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Book Review

From Time to Time by Hannah Tillich. Stein and Day Publishers, 1973. 152 pages.

Reviews by RH, SN, TB, ZR

Review by RH

Autobiographies have their upsides and their downsides. On one hand, the reader is able to obtain true insight into the author’s mind, perspective, feelings, and all sorts of aspects hidden to the outside observer. On the other hand, there is the danger of an author telling a slanted version of the truth in order to present a better or ideal version of the writer for the reader. Many biographies and autobiographies are written in a style that is dry and straight to the point. Concrete evidence and personal acquaintances are often used to present the person in the most factual way possible. However, Hannah Tillich’s From Time to Time stands out among autobiographical accounts by virtue of its incorporation of various literary styles, vivid images and details that flow directly from her own psyche, and an honesty that pours forth from the soul in often disturbing yet recognizable human characteristics.

Hannah begins her tale with a series of short prose stories. It is difficult to decipher exactly what these writings intended to communicate to the reader, but it is clear that Hannah is referring to events in her life and the emotions and thoughts that accompanied them. Her husband, Paul Tillich, whom she refers to by his given name in German, Paulus, seems to be the subject of many of her poems and short stories.

Hannah’s childhood is full of fairy tales and ghost stories. She describes her own childhood using joyous events as well as horrific and bizarre ones, never allowing herself simply to ignore or deny the more troublesome moments. She mentions her chilling fear of spiders (22), the time her older brother and his girlfriend took her into the bicycle shed to humiliate her for the purpose of their own amusement (28), and her father’s addiction to alcohol (62). Experiences that most would desire to shut away and never look upon again are described in vivid detail as she progresses from her childhood to her teenage years and on into young adulthood.

Hannah tells how she explored her sexuality and all the emotions, sensations, and unexpected surprises that go with it. She unashamedly goes into graphic detail of her early encounters with human sexuality and artistically expresses the complications and frustrations of sexual feelings and desires, both with men and women. She portrays the experience of first discovering this sexuality as changing her into “a different person” (51).

Hannah’s description of her first husband is gently plotted as a kind love and affection for him, but something that lacked in comparison to the way she felt when she met Paulus. She becomes pregnant by Albert, her first husband, but the child dies shortly after birth. She paints a scene of silent horror in her telling of this event. While she makes no mention of feeling sadness or grief at the loss of this child, she describes the figure of the dead baby as “yellow and waxlike” (97) which gives a surreal account of the morbid atmosphere surrounding the child’s death. Shortly after the child’s death, she and Paulus married. They had been seeing each other for quite some time, much against Albert’s wishes.

As she presses on in her life, now with Paulus, her sense of independence becomes more and more centered around a commitment to the great theologian despite their agreement to have an open marriage. She sees this as a choice and not an unbreakable rule. She allows herself to see other men, but she becomes jealous of Paulus when he sees other women, another strikingly honest confession that makes her autobiography all the more enjoyable to read. This attitude of including others in certain aspects of their marriage continues for years until the couple is elderly and living comfortably in the United States.

With the rise of the Nazi regime, Hannah, her husband, and her young daughter, Erdmuthe, fled to the United States to escape the tyranny of the new, unrecognizable Germany. She describes her new life in the states as one big life-shattering adjustment after another. Everything in the culture is different, often in ways that make her smile, but more often in ways that are disheartening, especially since the job Paulus held at Union Theological Seminary paid very little, and the company in that institution held little promise of accepting her and her perspectives on art, sex, and the nooks and crannies of daily life. She describes the adjustment as one that caused great turmoil for her and her family. Her once close relationship with Paulus began to grow very distant. She claims that Paulus was accepting invitations to give lectures and but not accepting the pay that often came with them. This was the topic of one of several recurring arguments they were to have during this time (190). It wasn’t until Paulus accepted a new position at another institution that things began to look up.

At Harvard University, Paulus received a significant pay increase and something that money could not buy, an environment where he and his wife were surrounded by university faculty of all disciplines as opposed to the seminary crowd who perceived the German family as “artsy”. While Paulus was at Harvard, Hannah prospered. Their marriage mended as their lives grew happier in the city of Cambridge (198).

The way in which Hannah confesses every deep pore of her life is shocking and refreshingly devout all at the same time. Her poetry paints pictures on a canvas that captures the reader’s attention and holds it to the very last page. She ignores the conventional style of autobiographies and follows the path of her memories and takes pictures along the way to put in a lavish photo album for the reader. Her startling short stories are indicative of Flannery O’Connor’s chillingly awkward tales in which the American author claimed to be telling the world about God. Hannah Tillich has truly produced a marvel of literary accomplishment. The honesty portrayed in the way she puts forth her own psychological perspective is invigorating in its originality and detail. The best part of this work is the way it portrays Paul Tillich. The great theologian is uncovered. Every aspect of his personality is revealed, including the dark corners which are often kept in secret in biographical writings. Hannah has helped the reader dare to investigate a new side of the self, a place not open to the public and rarely visited by one’s private thoughts.

Review by SN

Hannah Tillich’s reflection on her life and her life with husband Paulus is an impressive demonstration of recollection. Lest such praise be misconstrued as an underhanded compliment, I hasten to add that Hannah consistently recalls the details and relevant causal processions that add richness and depth to the narrative of the Tillichs’ life together. On balance the work is worthy of praise for its candid elucidation of a rich life.

In concert with Paulus’s method in works such as his Systematic Theology, Hannah lays out the book comprehensively, dividing it into sections that proceed roughly chronologically but in a more significant way logically appropriately. Thus, Hannah is free to begin with a series of vignettes of her conversations with Paulus as an elderly couple, kept nebulous and abstract. These vignettes direct the reader’s attention to her interpretation of her life as a whole. She then outlines her early life, youth, marriage to Paulus, move to the United States, her experience of Paulus’s death, and finally an ambiguous postlude conversation between an old woman and a “proprietor.” Each section is arranged around the place in which she lived, and she always allows herself an “Interlude” of poetry, travelogue, or drama.

With respect to the thematic character of From Time to Time, Hannah’s principal discernible influence is depth psychology. She spends a surprisingly long time looking into the formative years of her early childhood. She is careful to entertain themes, such as her notable fear of spiders, in an analytic tenor. As the narrative progresses, spiders appear as primordial, subconscious demons, then as symbols of her relationship with her brothers, then as manifestations of her relationships with men, later as a complex symbol for her mother’s sexuality, and finally, in the cessation of fear, as the reconciliation of life with existential angst. Hannah’s treatment of spiders functions as the partly conscious and partly subconscious object of her psyche brought to bear on certain crucial situations in which she finds herself.

Without a doubt, the most arresting feature of the book is its pervasive, visceral consideration of sexuality. Hannah’s commitment to depth psychology makes itself manifest in the sexual threads that weave into the narrative. Far from dealing with her sexuality and that of others as a monolithic dimension of experience, Hannah always elects to discuss sexuality as an extension of the personality of the one she is describing. She often allots a good deal of space to descriptions of someone’s sexual character—almost always explicitly as understood through her (Hannah’s) experience, and always with an eye to contributing to a rich and accurate description of that person’s entire character.

Hannah never uses the term “open marriage” or other convenient labels to describe her relationship with Paulus, choosing instead to nuance the reader’s understanding of their bond throughout the narrative. Hannah provides the reader with a holistic view of her sexual life and (to a slightly lesser extent) that of her husband, and discusses those sexual lives as distinct yet closely intertwined realities that change as their relationship progresses. She writes, for example, that “Paulus considered marriage a decision of the will” (103), a view she could not share (190). She laments what she perceives as the American tendency to construe sex as “a cold bed and satisfying a physiological need only” (176). And it would be irresponsible to conclude that Hannah brings up the sexual as pervasively as she does merely for shock value. Instead, she examines one’s sexual characteristics as the natural correlate to one’s overall disposition, consciously or unconsciously apprehended, in pursuit of a full and deep description of that person.

Whether Hannah is, on balance, sympathetic to Paulus is a difficult question. It must be stated outright that this book should be considered a work of autobiography, not as a biography of Paul Tillich. Hannah dedicates too much time to her early life and her own particular areas of demonstrated genius to be misunderstood as an unofficial biographer of Paulus. Yet she does acknowledge that, in the midst of her consideration of Paulus’ life, she must ask the question: “Where did I come in” (242)? There is a narrative movement between the ecstasies of Paulus’ ability to connect soul to soul, on the one hand, and the agonies of his aloofness, his willful deception, and his inability to fully commit to Hannah, on the other.

I conclude that Hannah is ultimately more critical of Paulus than she is sympathetic to him. She paints a bleak picture of the extent to which Paulus actually did will his marriage to succeed—that is, to succeed in the ways in which Hannah needed it to. She mentions her love and hatred for Paulus often, and often in the same breath (18), but she frequently speaks of men and women whom she “loved” in a deep sense, and she never problematizes the term, even when referring to brief relationships she had in her teenage years. It seems Hannah is deeply affected by what one could call Paulus’ structure of betrayal, and though she truly loved him, she never could reconcile herself to the thought that she was “second best” (17). Even though Hannah did understand Paulus’ theology—that she would be second best only in light of a “cosmic reservation”—she could not ultimately bring herself to write about Paulus without giving greater weight to critique than praise.

The place of Christian theology is an interesting locus of Hannah’s attention. In contrast to her husband, whose career is largely (especially in the US) occupied with Christian theological reflection and occasional preaching, Hannah seems to distance herself from the theory and practice of Christianity. She speaks of “the ecstasy of worship” in the context of her transgressive relationship to Paulus while she was married to Albert (93). Yet she refuses to take communion after her childhood and often subtly rejects the practice of religious faith. Further below the already-deep discussion Hannah conducts between herself and Paulus is the possibility that her life of faith was ultimately irreconcilable to her husband’s.

Hannah falls somewhat short of the mark in her choice to feature preludes, interludes, and postludes into an otherwise logical narrative structure. Her poems are occasionally poignant (and it must be said here that many of them were translated from the German and thus have lost something in translation), but their inclusion does not contribute well to the narrative of her life and that of Paulus. Such critique is even truer with respect to her prose pieces; the drama of God and Death in the interactions with the Nazis was interesting but largely out of place, and her miniature play “The Children of Zeus” is far afield. Hannah’s skill as a creative thinker is considerable but her work of autobiography suffers from its inclusion in From Time to Time.

Nevertheless, Hannah Tillich has performed not only an impressive retrieval of memories from long ago, but an act of courage in laying bare her life and that of her husband. Such candor is not without an ambiguous agenda that stems from an ambiguous relationship, but certainly From Time to Time is a labor of love by an impressive thinker and writer.

Review by TB

The world of Tillich studies received a new prize in Hannah Tillich’s work, From Time to Time. Almost ten years after the great theologian’s death, his wife released her own autobiography documenting her complex relationship with her husband. From Time to Time is a work in which Hannah comes to grips with and possibly exorcises the demons of her complex marriage. Approaching this text written from the pen of Hannah Tillich, who always was secondary in a relationship, I was not only sympathetic towards her but also partially skeptical of what I would find. I was sympathetic because I knew she felt Paulus had betrayed her trust. I was skeptical because I was not sure if her emotions would allow her to give a far account of her and Paulus’ relationship. After reading the text, my sympathies and my skepticism were vindicated. I knew of Hannah Tillich’s resentment toward Paulus’ relationship with other women. These relationships without doubt played into Hannah’s critique of Paul throughout the text. The tumultuous times expressed by Hannah seemed to animate the marriage itself. The times themselves perhaps gave the marriage its life. Bordering on a polemic, quite justified, From Time to Time is an account of Hannah’s frustration against the person that she truly loved, Paulus. Her critiques and understandings of her intimate relationship with her husband reveal a deep sense of longing for stability that remained unsatisfied through most of the marriage. The text itself is a testament to the disparaging intricacies and difficulties when one’s identity, namely Hannah’s, is dependent upon a relationship to a beloved public intellectual.

Throughout the text, the reader is made aware of the difficulties that haunted Hannah. From her mother’s illness to the observation of her father’s weakness (46), Hannah seemed to grow up a young girl who found consolation in affirmation from others. From her first sexual encounter with her friend Annie, Hannah gained a sense of identity through the pursuit of pleasure. This pleasure seemed to give order to her life in ways that other pursuits could not. In particular, the First World War seems to mirror the sense of chaos that Hannah experienced in her life. To pursue pleasure was to pursue order in spite of the disorder that the war created. This pursuit of order through pleasure would only grow more emphatic as Hannah grew older. It seems to have given her a sense of stability when her early youth required much re-location because of her father’s vocation. At this time she also began to fill her mind with the sensuous pleasures of literature and art. These disciplines permitted her to express herself in ways that were otherwise not possible for her.

From Time to Time allowed Hannah to express her deep sense of both literary and artistic talent and at the same time cope with the tumultuous times in which she lived. Written lucidly and tactfully, the text explains how the first Great War overtook (73) her and her family about the time she went to art school. Everyone in Germany was affected by the war both physically and psychologically. Her time in school, documented in the text, allowed her to convey a sense of longing and a felt sense of approval once she found a new person or discipline to explore. She constantly probed the landscape for new experiences with a child-like infatuation. The end of the war meant a new Germany. Hannah’s new experiences and encounters changed her life forever. She met Paulus right after the conclusion of the war at a fancy-dress ball (83). Once again, Hannah’s infatuation with new pleasures would lead her into experiences she had never had before. Paulus was like no one she had ever met. Hannah vividly explains the first sexual encounter between her and Paulus. It left Hannah with a renewed sense of life and purpose: when he first entered her, “the world had become whole. I doubted nothing. I asked nothing. With heart-rending intensity, I was his” (86). The ordered life that she longed for, that the War would not permit, was revealed to her in Paulus. From their first sexual encounter until Paulus' death, Hannah found her identity in Paulus. This was an identity that she had perpetually longed for and hoped would come and was finally achieved.

As a result of the spiritual passion that Paulus created in her, the marriage of the two simply began the process of perpetual polarity between ecstasy and anxiety. The two became enmeshed in the very themes that would pervade Paulus’ thought. While both welcomed the ecstatic in their relationship, both individuals had unending anxiety about their identities in Europe. They would be unable to express themselves fully if they continued to live in Germany. As liberal intellectuals and objectors to Nazism, they both knew that, as the Nazi regime gained power, neither would be safe. As a result, they were forced to be refugees in a foreign land, the United States. The United States meant a new sense of freedom. Paulus was given new opportunities as a lecturer and teacher. Both Hannah and Paulus were able to socialize openly with the Jewish population in America as well as become enmeshed with the cultural opportunities that New York City offered. They each gained a new outlook and a sense of having a home away from home (171). It was a definitive turning point in the relationship that did not preclude moments of jealousy and instability. Although moments of a successful relationship were revealed in the text, a growing sense of disgust on Hannah's part toward Paulus began in the United States.

In various moments throughout the text, Hannah excavates those feelings of disgust. Hannah exposes the idiosyncratic features of Paulus’ personality and belittles his character as his fame in the American intellectual landscape began to grow. She also exposes her longings for the caress of many different individuals because of Paulus’ moments of distance from her. Once again, Hannah sought order in a lifestyle that granted pleasure. Revealing Paulus’ multiple sexual endeavors and his childish temperament when his aspirations were not met, each turn of the page is a glimpse into a scorned woman’s psychology. Repeatedly commenting on Paulus’ role as the taker of her virginal innocence, Hannah’s vignettes underline Paulus’ inadequacy to fill her emotional needs. He was believed to be distant yet ever penetrating, close without presence, passionate yet detached. Each of these attributes may have been the case, but Hannah was also a constant for Paul. Throughout the text, it is apparent that their relationship was dependent upon one another’s support. There is another side to Hannah's story that is untold. This other side is without voice because Paulus did not write a memoir detailing it. By her own admission, Hannah’s emotions continually are expressed in the midst of Paulus’ rational thought processes. The emotions that she conveys are often believed to fall on Paulus’ deaf ears. Her emotive expressions contrasted drastically with Paulus’ rational and structured thinking. She seemed to be the polar opposite personality to counter Paulus’ ordered sense of self in the world.

Perhaps the moments when Paulus seemed most disordered are also the moments in which Hannah’s rationality prevailed. She had to make sense of her perceptions of him. Hannah sought order in her chaotic relationships. Unfortunately her search for order conflicted with her passions for her pleasure-seeking lifestyle. She began trying new things to cope. From Yoga, which she called “the great liberation” (191), to her peaceful times at Harvard (197), Hannah explains how she learned to flourish in the United States. Although enmeshed in a bustling lifestyle, Hannah found some solace in the cities where Paulus worked. The move to the United States marks a definitive shift in the autobiography. She was liberated from the pressures that Germany created and yet she still worried about her relationship with her husband. Hannah needed to find something that she disagreed with in her husband’s lifestyle. As a result, she objectified Paulus as an intellectual driven by his desire for the seduction of those whom he impressed intellectually. In light of the text of this book, there is a secret life of Paulus that was hidden from the world. One of the obvious motivations for this text is the exposure of the erotic seductive life of Paulus’ most guarded subject, his sexuality. This personality trait was masked from society at large. Unaware of the precise motivation for Hannah’s exposure of Paulus’ ways of being in the world, I can only postulate that jealousy of Paulus's fame motivated much of the aggression of the text. Regardless, many who feel betrayed by the ones that they love often have a very difficult time letting go of the past that is clouded by a feeling of loss. When someone is betrayed it can feel as if a part of you has died and you will do anything to recover that which you once experienced. Hannah’s critique of Paulus’ character should be understood in that light.

The bluntest critique of Paulus’ extramarital activities is revealed in the final section of From Time to Time. Hannah returns to a house that she and Paulus owned in East Hampton to find in Paulus’ office evidences of his infidelity. As Hannah relives the many memories of her and Paulus’ tumultuous yet satiable marriage, it seems as if she finally is capable of speaking of the psychological effects and persistent hurt that her husband’s actions created. Although no longer alive, the spirit of Paulus looms ominously in her memory. After stating that “many women” (241) had deteriorated their marriage Hannah seems to molt out of the skin she felt forced to inhabit, the poor unassuming wife. She believes that the most intimate moments that she and Paulus ever experienced involved a bottle of wine and a hangover in the morning. Despite her respite she seems to gather herself enough to gain a sense of closure. But by what means does she gain her prize? After years of teetering on the “seesaw of suffering and hate” (241), Hannah expresses her deep feelings of regret for marrying someone who, she realized at his death, she never truly knew. In the locked drawers of Paulus’ desk and dressers, Hannah uncovered images and letters of her husband’s past for the first time. These words and images flooded into Hannah's mind and she could not help but express her feelings of repugnance and resentment. She was hurt, provoked to anger, and she wondered about her place in this fractured world of deception and vice. Feeling ever apart from Paulus’ ultimate concern she ends the narrative by filling the void of her own personhood with every demeaning statement that would portray Paulus as a spiteful, arrogant and childish monolith. She is begging for a voice amongst the tattered vestiges of the husband she once knew. At the end, she seems alone in a world that diverges dramatically from everything she thought she knew.

What can one make of such a harrowing tale of marriage? First, one must understand the politics of storytelling. Second, one must be aware of how those politics play out in the othering of another person through discursive poetics. The politics of storytelling creates identities through a narrative framework. These narratives in turn express value judgments about those portrayed in the story. If that is the only encounter a reader has with an individual, then the individual, in this case Paulus, is a maligned character. I am sure Paulus’ memoir would have discussed his disapproval of some of Hannah's actions as well. The creation of Paulus’ identity in From Time to Time is conveyed in the discursive poetics of the narrative. As a result Paulus is conveyed as a deviant other who diverges from the proper path. Hannah creates the deviancy of Paulus as a means to distance herself from his memory. Understandably, she was hurt and felt betrayed by the man who always helped order her world. Is her objectification of Paulus correct? Of course, she had whatever feelings she had for her husband. She was heartbroken and frustrated by his deceit. If I had been betrayed by someone who I loved for so long, I believe that I too might need to write down my feelings and display them to the world.

The beginning of the narrative conveyed a sense of cohesion between Hannah and Paulus. So much a part of one another, they seemed to share their lives completely. As From Time to Time concludes, the audience is left with a scar that seems to penetrate deep into the theological flesh that the theologian Paul Tillich nourished so imaginatively. What are we to learn from a narrative about a fallen hero and the compassionate woman who seemed ever at his side yet never acknowledged? Perhaps one can glean the diversity in the polarities of these two fascinating minds. Yes, there seemed to be a depth dimension to the love that Hannah and Paulus shared. But masking that depth is the secret life of the emotions that one can never fully bridle. To bridle such emotions would inevitably suppress the ecstatic. Perhaps the final glimpse that we gain into the life of Hannah in her East Hampton house is exactly what troubles the individual who is plagued with such proximity to great individuals. Sacrifice befits us all in some measure. Being great and being affiliated with great individuals creates a necessity for sacrifice. People must be neglected in order to pursue greatness. And that can produce deep-seated feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and longing on all sides. Success on any level will often leave those, who are not as successful, begging for a voice to be heard and willing at any opportunity to tarnish the gloss that idols receive. Paulus was an idol that Hannah refused to polish and as a result she coped by trying to make a name for herself. From time to time we all become jealous and capable of pushing away the things we truly love.

Review by ZR

To fully explain the complicated bond between Paul and Hannah Tillich is nearly impossible. The culture, historical moment, and personalities of both Tillich's combined for an intricate and unusual relationship. Its blatant protest against the conventional lifestyle can be disconcerting and even offensive.

For Hannah Tillich to attempt an explanation can only be described as courageous. Personally, I feel this courage as it permeates through the pages of her autobiography, From Time to Time. An unorthodox woman, Hannah Tillich writes with what many readers do not expect: absolute honesty. She does not “pull any punches.” She is bold, critical, and extremely self-reflective. Her style can be eccentric, but when closely Hannah Tillich invites the reader to intimately understand her life.

Often thought of as “a biography of Paul Tillich,” From Time to Time is not centrally concerned with the life and thought of Paul Tillich. He is only a part of Hannah Tillich's story. I feel that is why reviewers and readers have unappreciated this books' insight. They are excepting to hear about who and what Paul Tillich was. However, this is a story about Hannah Tillich: a German, an artist, a wife, and a mother.

 The layout of the book is a blend of poetry, fiction, and biography that constructs the “life of Hannah Tillich,” as a play with the different acts representing the stages of her life: childhood, youth, marriage, and the United States. Each of these “acts” and their stories/memories are told as a “stream of consciousness.” This style can be incoherent; however, its movement and rhythm give insight into the personality of Hannah Tillich. Her thoughts and stories are sporadic and seemingly random, but she shows the reader, leaving out little detail, the most significant moments in her personal development. Now please, let us all be seated. The show is about to begin...

Act I: Childhood

With vivid memory, Hannah recalls the intense feelings and moments of her childhood. Her father was school administrator and minister and her mother was an American, a foreigner, who seemed to be a peculiar role model for Hannah (30-1). Her mother had an independent spirit, indifferent to criticism and convention, which seems to describe Hannah's lifestyle as well.  She discusses her parents by embodying the immaturity and naiveté of a childlike innocence. Through the lens of child, Hannah avoids the tendency of some biographers to rationalize the roles and relationships of their parents. The reader sees who her parents were from a child's perspective, which supports to the concept of the whole book as a chronological development of both her thoughts and feelings.

Hannah, progressing into her early teens, describes the sexual relationships she has with two women. She recounts, in detail, her first experiences of both giving and receiving physical pleasure (51).  These relationships may lead one to conclude that she is a lesbian; however, Hannah seems to have had a more complex understanding of her sexuality than that. There were accusations from her school mates that she was a lesbian, a taboo both then and now (65). It seems though that Hannah did not think in such polarized terms. Her attraction was to beauty, with gender being secondary. Looking at her entire life, one could frame her early sexual experiences as a sexual awakening through lesbian encounters, and sexual understanding through her heterosexual relationships.

Act II: Youth

She started art school in 1911 (63). Finding her place within in art community, there was a constant self-reflection that seems to have made people uncomfortable. Her strong personality led to many tense relationships with her professors. Perhaps it was arrogance or insecurity, but that is the gradual process of maturation. However, at this time in Germany, many young people had to cope with the change of life quickly as World War I began. Hannah claims that her “narcissism died” around this time, as she became “hungry and holy” (76). We are given a unique historical perspective in this part of the autobiography. We do not hear the details of the “front line” war and its horror, but the effects of war on common people in Germany who were depressed and starved. During the war, Hannah finished art school and was able to find a position as an art teacher for children (77). However, this did not last long as the war ended and she was married.

The war's end brought revolution to Germany. It was in this time of confusion and rebellion that Hannah met Paulus. Their first meeting at the “Fancy-dress ball” in February of 1919 was not “love at first sight” (83). Each of them was somewhat passive in their first meeting. With their intense personalities, they exchanged awkward pleasantries, but then were quickly intrigued by one another. Paulus explained how Hannah reminded him of his recently deceased sister (85). As he talked, Hannah felt connected to him, as if he was the only human being amongst the reception. 

In their following encounters, Paulus and Hannah quickly became lovers. They each had a magnetism that drew them closer and closer together. At this time, Paulus was not officially divorced yet, and Hannah was betrothed to another man (87). Pleading with her, Paulus and his friends begged Hannah to cancel her engagement, but she refused saying she still did not trust Paulus (87). However, she finally agreed to be with Paulus, but it would only be after she was married for one year. It is almost incomprehensible why Hannah did this, but it again shows her independence and strength, perhaps even obstinacy. She had committed herself to another man, and it was her responsibility to be with him, if only for a while.

Act III: Marriage

Hannah married Albert, a man she had met during her days in art school. The relationship seems to have been one Hannah could control. Albert adored her, thus beckoning to her every whim (92-3). She continued her affair with Paulus while she was married. It was finally after she became pregnant by Albert, a child that she eventually lost, that she decided to leave for Paulus and Berlin. In a cold act, Hannah left Albert with a note saying she was divorcing him (95). Why did she keep a part that made her appear so disgusting in this autobiography? Why did she not try to frame it better, as to not disgust the reader? It is yet another example of her courage. She knew what she had done was wrong and it was obviously something she had carried with her forever. It was after the World War II that Hannah visited Albert again to apologize for her terrible behavior (97). There was a soft reconciliation between the two, a realization of emotional imbalance and selfishness.

In 1924, Hannah and Paulus were married, but with the stipulation that the relationship stay “open.” This meant that they could have sexual partners inside the marriage. This is the part of their relationship that people tend to focus on the most. It seems like such a foreign idea, but it was the time and place in which they lived that brought about these ideas of marriage. Constantly pushing the social limits, their community found that though boundaries could be pushed to develop the mind; creativity could also be found in the exploration of the body. It was with the understanding that Hannah began her relationship with Heinrich, the man who “taught [her] how to make love” (119). She became romantically involved with Heinrich, who was an ethics scholar in Marberg at the time when Paulus began to teach at the university.

It is interesting to see how she describes the development in Paulus' thought at this time. She speaks of Paulus' interactions with Heidegger's philosophy in Marberg and his monumental speech at the Kant Society. She expresses Paulus' development and success with the utmost admiration and affection, calling him “the instrument of the powers of thought; he was the word” (102). And though she writes with this respect and care for Paulus, she is also committed to the physical relationship that she fosters with Heinrich (116-7). This is an example of how this open marriage worked. Though there is the physical relationship with Heinrich, one can see her loyalty and love for her husband. It expresses the complexity with which Hannah dealt with her relationships. Much in the same way that Paulus did, she strained or split herself so to accommodate the feelings and lives of those closest to her.

As the situation in Germany gradually became more confused and enraged, Paulus began openly speaking out against the rising National Socialist movement and its leader, Adolf Hitler (149). Many Germans found the situation hopeless and began to flee. Paulus, according to Hannah, was not one to flee. It seems as though he would have stayed until the end, even if it meant his death. Hannah knew this and loved him all the more for it (156). However, he realized his responsibilities to his the family and by staying any longer, he was putting them all in danger.

Act IV: The United States

The Tillich’s were able to come to the United States after Paulus was offered a teaching position at the Union Theological Seminary in New York (171). As Hannah discusses their new lives in America, it seems like the shift from German to American culture and social life was dramatic. There was superficiality about American mannerisms, like the “friendly sociability,” that annoyed Hannah (172). Becoming a seminary wife also troubled her. She was losing her sense of independence and identity in this new setting; a setting that Paulus was thriving in.

The United States was beginning to recognize the voice of Paulus and the radicalism of his work. He was catapulted into a higher level of fame and respect than he had in Germany. With this new fame came more opportunities for lectures and relationships, particularly sensual ones. Paulus would be traveling a great deal, trying to make money to support the lifestyle that Hannah and he refused to give up (184). With the increase in both of their sexual partners, the new country, and fame, Hannah began to develop an estrangement and disgust for Paulus. His own distance from the family did not help. She came close to divorcing him, but was talked out of it (190).

The “other half of fame” is never talked about publicly. Often, we see the respected figure on a pedestal and forget that this figure, Paulus, has a family and life that they trying to maintain in the wake of success. Hannah captures that side of fame in her writing, showing the difficulty that both she had to deal with alone, and in her relationship with Paulus.

It seems like their relationship came to an understanding when Paulus was offered a position as University Professor at Harvard University (197). It is towards the end of her life with Paulus. Hannah found meditative practices to help cope with her pent up emotions that had come from their long relationship. I get the sense that Hannah realizes the value of time that they have left together and it is in Boston that they begin to reconcile their complicated and unconventional life. Paulus received another professorship at the University of Chicago in 1962 and it was three years later that Paulus died. Their last days together in the hospital were ones of restoration and love. They each forgave the other for the pain that they caused. Sharing poems together and reading letters was how Hannah comforted Paulus in his last days (223).

After his death, Hannah returned to East Hampton. She remains strong through her loneliness and the last few pages of the book show how this really was a telling of her life with and without Paulus. She says, “I decided to look at my own life and try to come to an awareness of what I had lived” (243), an important quote to remember before judging the bias of this autobiography.

The curtain closes

How could a woman break so many social and cultural taboos? How can someone be so “in-touch” with who and what they are? The introspection of Hannah Tillich leaves some annoyed and nervous. Her blunt honesty is offensive. We, as the public, are used to more conservative and even Puritanical perspectives, particularly in the United States. Hannah Tillich breaks down these notions and shows you who she truly is.  

By writing down her experiences as a German who watches her country spiral out of control, an artist who views and engages the world as creative and limitless, a wife who shares a complex relationship with one of the most prolific theologians of the 20th century, and a mother of two children, the reader should feel a sense of empowerment. These pages give strength to overcome social inconsistencies and embrace yourself for who you are. This book is about owning your guilt and your hypocrisy. This book is about courage.

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