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Ricarda Huch was a pioneering German intellectual. Trained as a historian, and the author of many works of European history, she also wrote novels, poems, and a play.
Huch was born in Braunschweig and died in Schönberg in the Taunus (today, part of Kronberg). She was the daughter of Richard Huch, a wholesale merchant, and his wife Emilie (née Haehn). She also used the pseudonym Richard Hugo and published her first poems under the alias R. Ith Carda. She prepared for university work privately and studied in Zürich, where she received her doctorate in 1891. Her brother, Rudolf, and her cousins, Friedrich and Felix, were also well-known writers.
Huch studied philosophy, history and philology at Zürich University, as women were not then eligible for degrees at German universities. In 1890, she was one of the first women to attain a doctorate from Zurich with a dissertation on "The neutrality of the Confederation during the Spanish War of Succession" (Die Neutralität der Eidgenossenschaft während des spanischen Erbfolgekrieges). Shortly after attaining her doctorate, she published poetry under the alias of Richard Hugo. After working as a librarian, Huch left for Bremen, where she taught German and history. She later moved to Vienna and in 1898, she married Ermanno Ceconi, an Italian dentist. She moved to his Italian homeland of Trieste for several years, where they had a daughter, but they divorced in 1906. She later married her brother-in-law and cousin, the writer Richard Huch.
Huch was a member of the "Preußische Akademie der Künste", but resigned in 1933 when the National Socialists seized power and began purging the Academy. Huch left after Alfred Döblin quit. Despite her critical attitude to the new régime, Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler sent her congratulatory telegrams on her 80th birthday. Huch dedicated much of her life to Italian, German and Russian history and historical novels that were psychological biographies. In 1947, she was an honorary president of the First German Writers Congress in Berlin.
Thomas Mann called her "The First Lady of Germany".
Ricarda Huch was not well known in the English-speaking world until the Australian critic and man of letters Clive James devoted pp. 328-33 of his 2007 Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts to her. He called her the First Lady of German humanism and as a bridging figure between Germaine de Stael and Germaine Greer. He reminds readers that she educated at the University of Zurich, from which she was one of the first women to graduate, because in her day, German universities did not allow women to be candidates for degrees. He describes her gift for talking about the powerless as if they had the importance of the powerful, as shown in her book about the Thirty Years' War. According to James, when the Nazis came to power in 1933, they sought to recruit her into the party or at least “co-opt her prestige” but she declined to cooperate. She resigned as the first woman ever elected to the Prussian Academy of Arts, and wrote to composer Max von Schillings, president of the Prussian Academy, asserting that the Nazi concept of Germanness was not her Germanness. She then retired to private life in Jena (she turned 69 in 1933), effectively going into internal exile.
After the war, Huch wrote as follows about the young men involved in the July 20 Plot against Hitler's life:
“To save Germany was not granted to them; only to die for it; luck was not with them, it was with Hitler. But they did not die in vain. Just as we need air if we are to breathe, and light if we are to see, so we need noble people if we are to live” (Ricarda Huch, "Für die Märtyrer der Freiheit," March/April 1946, cited in Briefe an die Freunde, p. 449, as quoted in James p. 329).
The Third Reich tacitly tolerated Huch's contempt for it, as long as she was not too vocal about her opinions. James contrasts this silence with Huch’s younger, rebel years, when she i