In this, the first major biography of Wagner's daughter-in-law, Brigitte Hamann tries very hard to be fair to a subject who, one might think, scarcely deserves it. It would be hard to find a better example than the Wagner dynasty of the continuity between the myth of a glorious Germany and its terrible enactment. Hamann introduces her book as follows:
In 1923 the 34-year-old politician Adolf Hitler, heralded as the future 'saviour of Germany', paid his first visit to Bayreuth. He revealed himself to be a knowledgable Wagnerian, whose political principles accorded with the ideology of Wagner: extreme German nationalism, anti-semitism, anti-liberalism and racism . . . At the time of this visit, Winifred, at 26, was a frustrated wife - and she fell in love with Hitler. But he did not need a wife; he needed political support from the Wagner family, and from the Wagner Societies, an effective network. Shortly afterwards, Siegfried and Winifred Wagner travelled to Munich to witness the putsch that was supposed to bring Hitler to power, only to see it fail. Winifred in particular now worked harder than ever on behalf of the allegedly victimised and wrongly imprisoned Hitler. Her relationship with him in the 'years of struggle' before 1933 became easy and familiar, a rarity with Hitler. Röhm, Hess, Goebbels, Hans Frank and many other friends of Hitler came and went . . . He enjoyed the family and artistic atmosphere at home with the Wagners, playing the kind uncle to the Wagner children, and fancied himself a friend of the arts.
LRB 6 July 2006 | PDF Download