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Walter K Stewart

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Nietzsche - My Sister and I: A Critical Study
by Walter K Stewart   

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Books by Walter K Stewart
· Friedrich Nietzsche-My Sister and I: Investigation Analysis Interpretation
· German in Action
· Zarathustra
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Publisher:  Xlibris ISBN-10:  9781425760977 Type: 


Copyright:  June 2007

Barnes &

Fifty-one years after the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche died, My Sister and I appeared on the American market as a book that was reputedly written by him when he was an inmate in the Jena insane asylum. Since the day it appeared, the book’s authenticity has been generally dismissed as a fraud.

Walter Stewart takes a fresh look at this book in what is the first detailed account of the myth, legend, and scholarly criticism that has shrouded this work in mystery for over half a century and for the first time unveils the real truth about My Sister and I.

In 1951, a book appeared on the American market that instantly garnered both
praise and damnation from the critical world. The book was My Sister and I—ostensibly
an autobiography written by Friedrich Nietzsche after he had fallen ill in Turin,
Italy and while he was kept in the asylum for the mentally ill in Jena, Germany. The
publisher, one Samuel Roth, was regarded as shady primarily owing to the way he had
gone about publishing an American serialization of James Joyce’s controversial novel,
Ulysses, as well as other works that at that time were viewed as beyond the outer the
edge of public acceptance. He had served time in jail largely on pornography charges
and was considered by many as little more than a smut peddler. As a consequence of
Roth’s personal failings as well as the often-racy character of My Sister and I and the
acknowledged lack of an original manuscript, the book had a diffi cult time from the
My Sister and I easily achieved the harshest criticism from the academic establishment
that expressed its outrage at salacious assertions made in the book as to incest
between Nietzsche and his sister in addition to the vivid descriptions of how Nietzsche
purportedly had sexual relations with a number of women and the manner in which he
contracted syphilis. Then, too, there were problems with the provenance of the work
that were not easily explained. Indeed, the history of the work is convoluted.
There are actually two parts to this story. The fi rst concerns the explanation by the
putative translator, the eminent Oscar Levy, whose connection with the work is still hotly
disputed. Nevertheless, it is in the Introduction of the book that Levy maintains (on
hearsay alone, from the person that brought My Sister and I to his attention—presumably
Samuel Roth), that the work was written in secret in the Jena asylum by Nietzsche and
secreted out of the institution with the help of a fellow inmate, a merchant who was
to be discharged early. The narrative goes on to claim that it was this man’s son who
brought Nietzsche paper, pen, and ink to create the manuscript, for Levy asserts here
that he understood that it was Nietzsche’s wish to write a book to supplement his Ecce
homo since publication of that book had been suppressed by his own family. He assertedly
hoped that this work would “compel his relatives to restore the older book into the light
of publication.”1 Nietzsche supposedly entrusted the new book to the merchant on the
very day of the man’s discharge with instructions to take it to a publisher who would
compensate him for his trouble. But the merchant, who was largely uneducated and
unaware of whom Nietzsche might be in the history of ideas, set the manuscript aside
and forgot about it. Years later the son emigrated to Canada and took the manuscript
with him. He ultimately sold it to his employer, an ex-clergyman with a business in
rubber, who saw the fi nd for what is might possibly be. After some years and while on a
shipboard trip from England, the ex-clergyman met an American journalist (apparently
Samuel Roth) and prevailed upon him to help him with a diffi culty involving his
wife. In return for assistance in the matter, the clergyman offered the journalist the
manuscript. Once in his possession, the journalist then contacted Levy in spring 1921
to have the manuscript translated. Levy says he accepted the task since by this time
in his life his work of editing and revising seemed pretty much ended, and short of
throwing some leftover Nietzschean epigrams together that would end up classifi ed as
miscellany, there was nothing new to expect from Nietzsche’s writings. The journalist
sent the manuscript to him some two years later.
Roth provides the second part of the story. Shortly after he received the translation
back from Levy, he says, agents of the New York Society for Suppression of Vice raided
his offi ces. While ostensibly looking for his latest version of James Joyce’s Ulysses, they
also took “tons of other books, manuscripts and records,” and the manuscript of My Sister
and I apparently was taken at that time.2 Roth explains that he had planned to publish
My Sister and I as a digest in the Two World’s Quarterly and announced its publication
in Beau, Two World’s Monthly and in the Quarterly itself” as far back as 1926.3 It was
when he fi nally reorganized his materials and proceeded to publish the piece that he
found that the manuscript was missing. When he later read that the Vice Society had
burned what they had seized, he assumed the loss was irrevocable.

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