For both Feral House and our sister company, Process Media …
Coming in the door today from the printer are copies of Priestess of Morphine: The Lost Writings of Marie-Madeleine in the Time of Nazis, edited with an Introduction and Notes by Ronald K. Siegel, translations by Eric A. Bye, foreword by Stephen J. Gertz, afterword by Amy Shapiro.
So, you might ask, who might this Marie-Madeleine be? Like Dr. Siegel’s other Process Media publication, Hashish, the Lost Legend, Priestess of Morphine revives forgotten, lost, decadent and disparaged literature in a beautiful, well-printed edition complete with many color images, in Priestess of Morphine, the remarkable work of a lesbian drug addict in Third Reich days.
At this time, Priestess of Morphine is solely available online through Process Media, as it will take several more weeks or months to access it through bookstores or online sellers. Its first printing was limited to less than one thousand copies.
To see a video trailer, and ways to order Priestess of Morphine, go here: http://processmediainc.
Marie Madeleine Gunther was born on April 4, 1881 in Eydtkuhnen (then East Prussia, today Russian) to Karl Gunther, a merchant, and Emmy Siemssen. On August 2, 1900, at age nineteen, Marie Madeleine married General Heinrich Georg Ludwig Freiherr (Baron) von Puttkamer. He was 35 years her senior. Three years later she gave birth to her only child, Jesco Gunther Heinrich. They lived in Grunewald, a top-grade suburb of Berlin. In her time, under the name of Marie Madeleine, she established a name for herself as a writer of unusually lyrical, stunningly sensual, shockingly erotic and hotly passionate poetry and prose (she wrote short stories and novellas). She published individual poems in journals (such as “Champagne frappe” in Das Narrenschiff [Ship of Fools]). In 1900, she published her first collection, Auf Kypros [“On Cyprus]. Most of her early material stemmed from the pen of a young girl of 15-16 years.
Her primary works that followed included In Seligkeit und Sunden [In Bliss and Sin, 1905], Katzen [Cats, 1910], Krabben [Crabs, 1910], Die rote Rose Leidenschaft [The Red Rose called Passion, 1912], Die drei Nachte [The Three Nights], Pantherkatzchen [
The von Puttkamer family is an old Baltic aristocratic family documented back to the 12th century. They have been landowners for hundreds of years in a sandy (not very fertile) area at the coast of the Baltic Sea, later known as Pommerania. Today the land is under Polish rule. As a family, they held highly protected and treasured conservative traditions-a God-fearing Protestant work ethic valuing hard work, pride in diligence, frugality and loyal service to country and sovereign.
To the family, the publications of Marie Madeleine, both by virtue of content and having been published by a woman, was considered shocking and embarrassing. Critics at the time-while admiring her talent, rhyming skill, and brightly colorful imagery-described her work with adjectives like “shameless”, “lewd”, “lascivious,” and “lecherous.” Some saw that her writing came from the mind of a young, well-read, impressionable, and highly imaginative girl who probably wanted to rebel against the oppressive “Spiessburgertum” of her time and place-the narrow-minded bourgeoisie of the outgoing Victorian era. As a free-thinker, she was ahead of her time, as an individual and more so as a woman.
General Major Heinrich was born in 1846. He fought in the Prussian infantry in the wars of 1864 (against Denmark) and 1866 (against Austria) and was highly decorated. In the 1890’s, shortly before marrying Marie Madeleine Gunther, he commanded Infantry Regiment #118 in Mainz. Later he served in the Order of the Knights of St. John (Johanniter-Orden) and in 1914 acted on behalf of the Red Cross for the military at the start of WW I. In the years after his retirement, General Heinrich happily made some enemies himself by publishing incisive political-military satires and critical analyses of the Prussian military system. In protest to the Puttkamer Family’s reactions to his writings and particularly his wife’s “obscene” poetry, he rescinded his membership in the tradition-bound Puttkamer Family Association. On August 25, 1918, he died of pneumonia.
The reaction to Marie Madelein’s first book was incredible. People were floored. The initial shock and notoriety of the 19-year old’s Auf Kypros of course meant instant fame for the young lady. In later years, that recognition spread in high society as she turned what had started as the steamy imaginations of a young girl into a highly successful career, buoyed (and driven) by a heavy and eventually lifelong morphine habit. Apparently having neither the desire to be nor the makings for a mother, Marie Madeleine gave her young son over to the same traditional military Cadet’s Academy (Kadettenschule) in Berlin that his father had attended, and later was rarely available for him.
She was a very beautiful woman, dark-haired and dark-eyed. She was also exceedingly wealthy. Residing in her stately villa with an apparently non-descript aristocratic life-companion by the name of Herr von Cramster she liked to travel in great style and to dress in the latest grand fashions from Paris, with a particular penchant for extravagantly elaborate and expensive hats. Her writings were quite popular among the sophisticated Berlin in-crowd, particularly the somewhat blase “Offizierskorps” (body of military officers) — but her writings were considered too bawdy for women. She was probably quite typical for those Roaring Twenties in Berlin which the Nazis later called a “decadent” age,- perhaps a little a la “Cabaret”, the musical.
In 1902 (in An der Liebe Narrenseil, On Love’s Fool’s Leash) she wrote about her great frustration about how the poetic experiments of her youth, written as “dream songs” for her own amusement, had been misunderstood as confessions of a “much-experienced” person. A verse of hers went like this (roughly translated from German):
I cannot understand at all
why all your heads are twisted
by what I modestly call
the lyrics of puberty.
Much of Marie Madeleine’s considerable wealth disappeared in the economic crash and inflation in Germany. Some of her wealth probably also went toward feeding her morphine habit, for which, as a hard addict, she had a permit. If her later poems reflect actual experience, she also must have experimented with cocaine. The lifelong heavy addiction to morphine (close to 30 years) was quite destructive to her health. She attempted to quit several times to no avail.
Around 1942 or 1943 she bought herself into a sanitarium in the city of Katzenelnbogen. A relatively short time later, on Sept. 27, 1944, she died there under obscure circumstances. When her son returned from WW II captivity around 1951, there wasn’t much left information about her death. He believed that Nazi doctors in the sanitarium had used her addiction to obtain what was left of her wealth and then “helped her pass on”. The sanitarium, a private institution, still exists, but the records of that time are long gone, but not, with the release of Dr. Siegel’s Priestess of Morphine, are the writings of Marie-Madeleine!