Faculty Research Grant Makes Unique Collection of Historical Hauptmann Letters Possible

| September 24, 2014

Paula Hanssen (right) used a Faculty Research Grant to research the letters of Eliabeth Hauptmann (left), a collaborator with Bertolt Brecht before and after World War II.

First-time Faculty Research Grant recipient Paula Hanssen, associate professor in the Department of International Languages and Cultures in Webster University’s College of Arts & Sciences, is pursuing the completion of a project that has interested her for nearly 25 years.

The project involves translating and publishing the letters of Elisabeth Hauptmann, a confidant of Bertolt Brecht and collaborator with him on many of his works.

Hauptmann is credited with translating John Gay’s 18th-Century ballad opera, “The Beggar’s Opera,” into German, which served as the basis for one of Brecht’s most successful plays, “The Threepenny Opera.” But for most of her contributions to Brecht’s work, Hauptmann took no credit, and consequently she is virtually unknown. However, Hanssen believes that Hauptmann’s letters, which span six decades, tell a fascinating story that sheds light on social and literary development from World War I to the Cold War, not to mention the work of Brecht.

Applications to Women’s Issues, Theatre, Social History

“Reading Hauptmann’s letters is like learning about Brecht’s theories,” Hanssen said. “They would also be interesting for people studying women’s issues, theatre, social history, and other academic areas.”

Hanssen’s interest in Hauptmann began in 1989 with a visit to the Brecht archives in Berlin, where she found many of Hauptmann’s early letters. Hauptmann worked with Brecht in Berlin in the 1920s and 30s, but they parted ways in 1934, when they were each forced into exile during Hitler’s rise to power. Hauptmann came to the United States, spending some time in St. Louis, where she taught for a time at John Burroughs School. She later moved to New York, and then to California, where she once again worked with Brecht. She followed him back to Berlin in 1948, where she lived until her death in 1973.

“What I wanted to do with the Faculty Research Grant was to view her later letters, after she went back to Berlin,” said Hanssen. “I found out that Hauptmann wrote to people all over the world about her life, including life in East Berlin after the war.”

One of Hauptmann’s correspondents was journalist Yvonne Kapp, whose archives in the University of London housed many of the letters Hanssen was looking for. The Faculty Research Grant enabled Hanssen to visit the Kapp archives, as well as the archives at the London School of Economics, where she found more letters. In all, Hanssen has gathered more than 100 of Elisabeth Hauptman’s letters. “The grant made this possible,” Hanssen said.

The next step for Hanssen is translating the letters, most of which are written in German, into English. Once that is done, she hopes to publish them in a book, which will be the first such compilation of Hauptmann’s writings.

Apply for Faculty Research Grants by Nov. 3

The deadline for the 2015-16 Faculty Research Grant proposals is Mon, Nov. 3. For full details, faculty members are encouraged to review the Faculty Research Grant Announcement [PDF].

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Category: Faculty

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