Press Release 68/2022
German Literature Archive acquires Rainer Maria Rilke’s Literary Estate
The descendants of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) are entrusting his literary estate to the German Literature Archive Marbach. The estate has been held in private hands for almost 100 years. Apart from Kafka, Rilke is one of the world’s most important German-language authors of literary modernism. The poet’s literary estate is surprisingly intact, considering Rilke’s numerous moves, and large sections of the estate are as yet unknown. With the Gernsbach Rilke Archive, one of the most important author’s archives of the twentieth century is now available for international research and to the public at large at the German Literature Archive Marbach.
The acquisition of the Gernsbach Rainer Maria Rilke Archive was made possible through the joint efforts of the public sector and private foundations. Many thanks are due to the Baden-Württemberg Stiftung, the Kulturstiftung der Länder, the Wüstenrot Stiftung, the Berthold Leibinger Stiftung, the State Minister for Culture and the Media, and the Carl Friedrich von Siemens Stiftung for their generous support.
Rainer Maria Rilke’s literary estate comprises a total of more than 10,000 handwritten pages with drafts of his works and notes, roughly 8,800 letters and more than 470 books and journals from his library – in German, French, and Russian, among other languages – which were compiled roughly between 1897 and 1918, and which include numerous annotations, marginalia, and dedicatory poems. Also contained within the estate are 131 previously unknown drawings by Rilke, roughly 360 photographs from all phases of his life, and other biographical materials. The documents span all life stages: from the first photographs and children’s drawings from the time he was four, children’s books and textbooks from school, all the way to the poem Komm du, du letzter den ich anerkenne, which he wrote down in a notebook shortly before his death.
Manuscripts exist for almost every one of Rilke’s literary works. Preparatory work, drafts, and fair copies allow us to reconstruct the genesis of his famous poetry collections – Stunden-Buch, Buch der Bilder, Neue Gedichte, Duineser Elegien, and Sonette an Orpheus – and prose books such as Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke, Worpswede, Auguste Rodin, and Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge. 86 sketchbooks and notebooks that were previously largely unknown contain notes, excerpts, drafts of poems and letters, as well as diary-like records, thus providing new insights into biographical contexts and the historical contexts of his works.
Rilke’s extraordinarily extensive correspondence, considered by scholars to be a crucial part of his literary oeuvre, encompasses 2,500 letters written by him – consisting of more than 7,500 pages – as well as roughly 6,300 letters addressed to him. Among the surviving correspondence are letters written by and to Lou Andreas-Salomé, Max Brod, Hans Carossa, Eugène Carrière, Eleonora Duse, Stefan George, André Gide, Oskar Maria Graf, Gerhart Hauptmann, Hermann Hesse, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Harry Graf Kessler, Ellen Key, Paul Klee, Oskar Kokoschka, Annette Kolb, Karl Kraus, Else Lasker-Schüler, Gustav Meyrink, Robert Musil, Boris Pasternak, Alfred Polgar, Walter Rathenau, Auguste Rodin, Romain Rolland, Arthur Schnitzler, Georg Simmel, Paul Valéry, Heinrich Vogeler, Clara Westhoff-Rilke, and Stefan Zweig. They show how intensively Rilke was involved in the European literary and artistic scenes of his time. Numerous letters written by readers and admirers, as well as by young writers and political groups asking the author for creative contributions, have also survived. Statements of accounts from publishers and applications for subsidies provide us with information regarding his at times precarious financial situation.
Born in Prague, the author saw himself as a European and a citizen of the world. He spent long periods of his life in France and Italy, in Germany and in Switzerland, where his grave is located. Extensive travels took him to Russia and Spain, Scandinavia and Egypt. He wrote poetry not only in German but also in French and Russian, and translated works by Gabriele d’Annunzio, Augustine, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charles Baudelaire, André Gide, Jens Peter Jacobsen, Sören Kierkegaard, Mikhail Y. Lermontov, Stéphane Mallarmé, Michelangelo, Francesco Petrarca, William Shakespeare, and Paul Valéry, among others.
Following its archival and library indexing, the estate will become available for international Rilke research, in digital form and without restrictions. In order to present the wide range of these materials to a broader audience for the first time, a large exhibition at the Museum of Modern Literature in Marbach, beginning in late 2025, will shed a new spotlight on Rilke: as a contemporary of cultural and political movements that continue to have an effect into our present day.
»It is a small sensation that this Rilke Archive can now be made available to the public and to researchers. Rainer Maria Rilke is one of the most important poets of the twentieth century and continues to capture people’s interest to this day. I am excited to see what new things we will learn about him through the indexing of these partially unpublished works. How very fortunate that the Rilke collection and this incomparable literary estate can be preserved at the Literature Archive Marbach, the repository of Germany’s literary memory.«
Claudia Roth, State Minister for Culture and the Media
»Rainer Maria Rilke’s work is not only formative for literary modernism at the end of the nineteenth century. The facets of his work between linguistic scepticism and powerful eloquence form the artistic virtuoso kaleidoscope of a time that had come apart at the seams, a time of turmoil and fragmentation one could hardly hope to capture in literary terms. Precisely therein lies the inestimable value of the acquisition of Rilke’s literary estate by the German Literature Archive: We can see – and rediscover – this work that transcends itself as a mirror of our time, in a world once again permeated by historical caesurae, by deep uncertainty. The acquisition demonstrates the German Literature Archive’s outstanding position as a central research and documentation centre for German literature. I thank the Sieber-Rilke family for deciding to entrust their archive holdings to the German Literature Archive Marbach.«
Arne Braun, State Secretary of the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts
»Rainer Maria Rilke is indisputably one of the greatest poets of European modernism, crossing literary borders in the linguistic, spatial, and artistic sense. For us at the Baden-Württemberg Foundation, it is important that Rilke’s valuable literary estate, which has been held in Gernsbach for many decades, remains in Baden-Württemberg. We are therefore very pleased that the estate can now find a new home in Marbach, a place appropriate to the artistic and academic significance of Rilke’s work. From there, the Rilke Archive’s radiance will no doubt reach far beyond Baden-Württemberg’s borders.«
Christoph Dahl, Director of the Baden-Württemberg Stiftung
»The Rilke estate is a tremendous treasure for the public as well as scholarship! Many thanks to the German Literature Archive for its tenacious efforts and its success in bringing together the Rilke Archive with the existing Rilke collection in Marbach. It was a great pleasure for the Wüstenrot Stiftung to contribute to this acquisition.«
Joachim E. Schielke, Chairman of the Wüstenrot Stiftung
»The German Literature Archive Marbach is one of the most important literary institutions worldwide. The Berthold Leibinger Stiftung has already been able to support this institution in recent years with purchases of documents from the literary estates of Erich Kästner, Franz Kafka, and Siegfried Lenz. Securing Rainer Maria Rilke’s eminent estate for scholars and for the public was a matter very close to our hearts.«
Markus Wener, Director of the Berthold Leibinger Stiftung
»The opening of Rilke’s literary estate for research is an international event – not only for the philologies, but also for contemporary- and art history. The Carl Friedrich von Siemens Stiftung, which has supported the German Literature Archive Marbach for many years in acquiring invaluable research literature, congratulates the Archive on this remarkable success and is looking forward to the scholarly returns.«
Marcel Lepper, Director of the Carl Friedrich von Siemens Stiftung
»Since its foundation, the German Literature Archive has sought to acquire the Gernsbach Rilke Archive, while at the same time assembling the world’s largest Rilke collection. We have now succeeded in one of the most important acquisitions in the history of the German Schiller Society: the Gernsbach Rilke Archive is nothing less than the archive acquisition of the century. My immense thanks go to the circle of supporters who have made this epoch-defining acquisition possible in such wonderful cooperation.«
Sandra Richter, Director of the German Literature Archive Marbach