Book Talk 55: Courtney B. Hodrick and Amir Eshel on Hannah Arendt's "Rachel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewish Woman"

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Hannah Arendt said that she had one life-long “best friend.” That was Rachel Varnhagen, a Jewish woman who lived in Enlightenment-era Berlin around 1800 and died 73 years before Arendt was born, in 1906. Arendt wrote her first book, a startlingly original literary biography of Varnhagen who founded one of the most celebrated yet short-lived salons in Enlightenment era Prussia. I spoke with Courtney Blair Hodrick, a doctoral candidate completing a book-long study of Arendt, and Professor Amir Eshel, both of Stanford University to discover what is at stake in Arendt’s unusual biography, why the book meant at once so much to Arendt and why she nonetheless almost neglected to publish it, and what this biography of a Jewish women in 19th century Berlin can teach us today about questions of identity, belonging, assimilation, women, Jews, anti-Semitism, freedom, politics, the private and the public, and many of the other topics that concerned Arendt throughout her lifetime.

Uli Baer teaches literature and photography as University Professor at New York University. A recipient of Guggenheim, Getty and Humboldt awards, in addition to hosting "Think About It” he hosts (with Caroline Weber) the podcast "The Proust Questionnaire” and is Editorial Director at Warbler Press. Email ucb1@nyu.edu; Twitter @UliBaer.

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