Kurz’s parents raised her with an open mind. Her father, the poet and translator Hermann Kurz, believed that his daughter deserved an education equal to that of her brothers. Because girls were not yet allowed access to public education, Kurz was educated at home by her mother. It was Kurz’s mother, a free-spirited revolutionary, who instilled in the young girl a belief in herself, and in her personal power, regardless of her sex. She also passed on her concern for all oppressed people. It is these childhood-instilled ideals that became lifelong themes in much of Kurz’s writing.
After her father’s death, Kurz relocated to Munich. There, she followed in her father’s footsteps, finding work as a translator. However, the political climate in Germany was becoming more and more oppressive, and in 1877, Kurz fled the country, joining her mother and brothers in Florence, Italy. She found Florence to be a creatively stimulating place. Soon Kurz shared her mother’s passion for Italian art and literature.
Additionally, she cultivated friendships with other German artists who had also fled their homeland in search of artistic and personal freedom. During this time, Kurz realized the creative freedom Italy afforded women, and while she continued working as a translator, she also began writing on her own. Kurz first published a volume of poetry in 1889 entitled Gedichte. Her first original piece of prose, a series of novellas entitled Florentiner Novellen, was published a year later.
In 1913, Kurz returned to Germany. She continued writing, producing most notably during this time period a series of essays entitled Land of Dreams in 1919. Kurz’s the tragic, semi-autobiographical novel Vanadis: A Woman's Path of Destiny, was published in 1931. She spent her remaining years in seclusion, passing away in April of 1944.
Kurz stopped writing during the 1930s, turning her sights to her homeland and its political turmoil. Initially, she thought Hitler and the Nazi Party could help restore nationalistic pride to Germany, but by the time World War II began, she realized how wrong she was.
An ardent feminist before the word existed, Kurz defied societal conventions by refusing to marry, and demanding independence for all women.
Kurz grew up painfully aware of the society-imposed restrictions placed upon her gender. This self-awareness, coupled with a concern for all oppressed people, greatly influenced her writing. While she utilized stylistic approaches common of her era, she did so in an effort to question and criticize these conventions, and the values represented by them. She regarded her life, as well as her fiction, as an opus requiring interpretation, as the story of an individual’s fate in which universal principles of cultural and personal psychology could be discerned. To her, events were important only insofar as they suggested eternal themes. The cultural themes and forces that shaped her life appear in poetic form in her literary work.
In Kurz’s mind, women were pigeonholed in society due in large part to patriarchal ideas about female beauty and psychology. These feminist attitudes, while commonplace by today’s standards, were revolutionary for their time. Kurz refused to embrace any of the social conventions expected of women in the nineteenth century. She spent much of her adult years living with her mother in Florence and would not marry. Kurz dedicated her life and her work to furthering the cause of women.
Clearly influenced by her mother’s love of Italian art and literature, as well as in reaction to the rigidity of her German heritage, Kurz utilized a romanticized writing style for much of her work, favoring sensuality over intellectualism. Never one to shy away from confrontation, Kurz relied on her writing to voice her ongoing frustrations with other writers’ sexist beliefs. She was especially critical of Nietzsche’s work, and even wrote a book, Under the Sign of Capricorn, in 1905 as a reaction to his ideals. In this book, Kurz addresses the problems of culture, art, and the relationship between the sexes, utilizing her knowledge of psychology to ascertain valuable insights. While the two may not have agreed on much, they are both credited with influencing European culture.
Even at the age of seventy-seven, Kurz was not finished fighting for women’s rights. Her struggle for self-acceptance represented a lifelong battle that Kurz had waged with herself. It is most clearly illustrated through autobiographical essays she published in the early 1900s.
Growing up, Kurz was chronically aware that she was different from her peers. And while she was often frustrated by the limited options presented to her as a woman, she nonetheless refused to feel downtrodden. Instead, she allowed her frustration to fuel her creativity, and looked, upon her differences as that which made her unique rather than burdensome. She took pride in her accomplishments and believed that, precisely because she had not been exposed to conventional opinions, she was able to bring fresh insights to her cultural and artistic studies.
Kurz was not only an important figure in literary history, but she was also a unique woman. Born into the strict conventions of a homeland in crisis, Kurz took what she believed were the strengths of German literature, mixed them with the romanticism of Italian art, and spliced in her own compassion for the oppressed. In the mixture evolved a smart, savvy writer who strove to improve the lives of women everywhere.
In later years, her literary reputation faded, but this fate is undeserved. Kurz was a gifted storyteller whose psychological insights were way ahead of their time. She was the ultimate literary heroine in that she was full of fire. Yet this heroine was once flesh and bone. For this, her work and her life deserve lasting recognition.
Quotes from others about the person
“Kurz’s works, like Nietzsche’s, should be seen as an attempt to revitalize European culture. Many of her characters possess a gift for sensing the influence of a distant, more vital past in the present. Kurz’s interest in mysticism, the influence of Hindu religion and her subsequent fascination with the concept of reincarnation led her to view the past as the key to and promise of the future. Since culture seemed to have strayed from the proper path of its evolution, she felt it necessary to recall the sacred mysteries of civilization’s origins and to renew a mystical sense of destiny.” - Bennett