Elisabeth Plessen

Portrait Elisabeth Plessen
© Hartwig Klappert

Elisabeth Plessen was born in 1944 as Elisabeth Charlotte Marguerite Augusta Gräfin von Plessen in Eastern Holstein’s Neustadt. At first she grew up at her parent’s estate, Sierhagen, and later she attended a girl’s boarding school in Wieblingen near Heidelberg. After high school she studied German Language and Literature, Philosophy and History in Paris and Berlin. She completed her studies with a dissertation on contemporary narrative. Plessen took long trips to the Caribbean, Latin America and the Soviet Union. As early as the 1960s she began translating the works of Hemingway, among others, and alongside published individual stories and poems. Plessen became known to a wider circle of readers with the publication of the volume »Meine ungeschriebenen Memoiren« (1974; Engl: Unwritten Memories, 1976) by Katia Mann. She managed her breakthrough as a writer with her debut novel »Mitteilung an den Adel« (1976; tr: Note to the Gentry).

Already in this volume, as in almost all of her literary works, the author skillfully combines her own biography with elements of contemporary history. In the novel she addresses the relationship to her father and her noble ancestry. The work was praised by critics and is among the most well-known texts about the conflict of 1968 generation with the generation of their fathers. In her second novel »Kohlhaas« (1979) she turned away from the personal world. Instead the book is based on Heinrich von Kleist’s novella about the turmoil of the peasant wars of the 16th century. However, she dealt less with the legal interpretations which are in the foreground for Kleist and more with the freedom to determine one’s destiny. From 1980 on Plessen worked again as a translator. Influenced by her relationship with the theater director Peter Zadek, she more frequently focused on dramatic works such as those by Shakespeare, Chekhov and Marguerite Duras. Simultaneously she wrote her own novels, short stories and poems. The author processed her intimate knowledge of theater and the media world in the novel »Der Knick« (1997; tr: The Bend) about a drug-addicted actress. In »Das Kavalierhaus« (2004: tr: The Cavalier House) she relives her youth in boarding school in the Adenauer era in literary form. In her latest novel »Ida« (2010), the writer goes back to the 1970s to tell about an architect’s relationship with a student who is over thirty years younger. In 2010 she also edited the last volume of Peter Zadek’s autobiography »Die Wanderjahre« (tr: The Years of Travel).

Elisabeth Plessen has won various literary awards such as the German Critics Prize and the Meersburger Droste Prize. The author lives in Berlin and Tuscany.