Rupert Christiansen

Rhine Maiden

Cosima Wagner: The First Lady of Bayreuth

By

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When George Eliot and G H Lewes met Richard Wagner’s wife Cosima, they were instantly enchanted. Throughout the Wagners’ five-week sojourn in London in 1877, the pair enthusiastically escorted her around town: ‘We are both in love with Madame Wagner,’ wrote Lewes; ‘a rare person, worthy to see the best things,’ echoed George Eliot. This is bizarre, on various counts. Did Cosima, for instance, not know of George Eliot’s essay expressing distinctly tepid enthusiasm for Wagner’s operas? And how on earth could George Eliot not be repelled by the Wagners’ notoriously violent anti-Semitism, when she herself had just published a novel so sympathetic to the Jews and a Jewish homeland as Daniel Deronda?

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