City Readers Digital Historic Collections at the New York Society Library
Benedikte Naubert (1756-1819)
Benedikte Naubert, born Christiana Benedicta Hebenstreit (13 September 1752 – 12 January 1819) was a German writer who published anonymously more than 50 historical novels, and is considered a pioneer of the genre in the 1780s. Today she is largely unknown, even in Germany.
She was born in Leipzig. The daughter of a professor of medicine who died in December 1757, she received from her mother and half-brother, a professor of theology, a thorough education in philosophy, history, Latin, and Greek, and learned to play the piano and harp. She began writing early, but her work did not appear until 1785, with The Story of Emma, Daughter of Charlemagne, which concerns the legend of Einhard's elopement with the fictional Emma. It was widely imitated.
Nearly all her books were published anonymously, through the agency of her half-brother, and the scholarship they displayed prompted speculation as to their author. Several men were suspected, among them Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Müller. Against her will, in 1817 her identity was revealed in an article in the Zeitung für die elegante Welt. Her next book, Rosalba (1817) bore her true name for the first time. She died in 1819 in Leipzig, where she had travelled for an eye operation.
She was married twice, first in 1797 to the Naumberg merchant Lorenz Wilhelm Holderrieder, and after his death in 1800 to Johann Georg Naubert, also a merchant.
Her historical novels were occasionally translated into French and English, and she herself also translated books from those languages. In Ulrich Holzer or Walter von Montbarry she employs the technique of focusing attention on a fictional character, or a person of minor historical significance, and witnessing events through his eyes – a technique borrowed by Scott, who had read her work in translation.
Her collection of folk-tales, Neuen Volksmärchen der Deutschen (1789–1793; last ed. 2001) predates that of the Brothers Grimm (1806), but it consists of Kunstmärchen, free adaptations of old stories, rather than faithful transcriptions. They are comparable to those of Johann Karl August Musäus.
A monograph by Hilary Brown on Naubert's study of and influence on English literature was published in 2005.