In Girl’s Clothing


Little Rainer Maria Rilke

 

René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke(4 December 1875 – 29 December 1926), better known as Rainer Maria Rilke, was born in Prague, capital of Bohemia (then part of Austria-Hungary, now the Czech Republic). His childhood and youth in Prague were not especially happy. His father, Josef Rilke (1838–1906), became a railway official after an unsuccessful military career. His mother, Sophie (“Phia”) Entz (1851–1931), came from a well-to-do Prague family, the Entz-Kinzelbergers, who lived in a house on the Herrengasse (Panská) 8, where René also spent many of his early years. The relationship between Phia and her only son was colored by her mourning for an earlier child, a daughter who had died only one week old. During Rilke’s early years Phia acted as if she sought to recover the lost girl through the boy by dressing him in girl’s clothing. His parents’ marriage failed in 1884. His parents pressured the poetically and artistically talented youth into entering a military academy, which he attended from 1886 until 1891, when he left owing to illness.

He skillfully foiled his father’s martial expectations, and lack of funds freed the aspiring poet from his family’s next plans for him: law school. In fact, though he attended several universities, soaking up lectures on diverse subjects throughout his life, he never graduated from any of them. About such a practical matter as a sheepskin, the finest German lyricist since Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote as an adolescent, “And even if I never reach my Arts degree / I’m still a scholar, as I wished to be.”

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