Bertha von Suttner

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Bertha von Suttner
Bertha von Suttner nobel.jpg
Bertha von Suttner c. 1906
Born (1843-06-09)9 June 1843
Prague, Bohemia,
Austrian Empire
Died 21 June 1914(1914-06-21) (aged 71)
Vienna, Austria-Hungary
Occupation Pacifist, novelist
Awards Nobel Peace Prize, 1905

Bertha Felicitas Sophie Freifrau von Suttner (Baroness Bertha von Suttner, née Countess Kinsky, Gräfin Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau; 9 June 1843 – 21 June 1914) was a Czech-Austrian pacifist and novelist. In 1905 she was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, thus being the second female Nobel laureate after Marie Curie's 1903 award,[1] and the first Austrian laureate.

Early life

Bertha von Suttner in 1873.

Suttner was born on 9 June 1843 at Palais Kinsky in the Obecní dvůr district of Prague.[2] Her parents were the Austrian Lieutenant general (Feldmarschall-Leutnant) Franz de Paula Josef Graf Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau, recently deceased at the age of 75, and his wife Sophie Wilhelmine von Körner, who was fifty years his junior.[3][4] Her father was a member of the House of Kinsky via descent from Vilém Kinský. Suttner's mother was of significantly lower status, being the daughter of Joseph von Körner, a cavalry officer, and a distant relative of the poet Theodor Körner.[5] For the rest of her life, Suttner faced exclusion from the Austrian high aristocracy due to her mixed descent; for instance only those with unblemished aristocratic pedigree back to their great-great-grandparents were eligible to be presented at court. She was additionally disadvantaged because her father, as a third son, had no great estates or other financial resources to be inherited. Suttner was baptised at the Church of Our Lady of the Snows, not a traditional choice for the aristocracy.[3]

Soon after her birth, Suttner's mother moved to live in Brno with her guardian Landgrave Friedrich zu Fürstenberg. Her older brother Arthur was sent to a military school, at the age of six, and subsequently had little contact with the family. In 1855 Suttner's aunt Loffe and cousin Elvira joined the household.[6] Elvira, whose father was a private tutor, was of a similar age to Suttner and intellectually precocious, introducing Suttner to the pleasures of literature and philosophy.[7] Beyond her reading, Suttner gained proficiency in French, Italian and English as an adolescent, under the supervision of a succession of private tutors; she also became an accomplished amateur pianist and singer.[8]

Suttner's mother and aunt suffered from delusions of clarivoyance and thus elected to gamble at Wiesbaden in the summer of 1856, hoping to return with a fortune. Their losses were so heavy that they were forced to move to Vienna. During this trip Suttner received a proprosal from Prince Philipp zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg which was declined due to her tender age.[9] The family returned to Wiesbaden in 1859; the second trip was similarly unfortunate, and they had to relocate to a small property in Klosterneuburg. Shortly after this turn of events, Suttner wrote her first published work, the novella Endertraüme im Monde, which appeared in Die Deutsche Frau. Continuing poor financial circumstance lead Suttner to a brief engagement to the wealthy Gustav Heine von Geldern, whom she grew to find unattractive and rejected; her memoirs record her disgusted response to the older man's attempt to kiss her.[8]

In 1864, the family summered at Bad Homburg which was also a fashionable gambling destination among the aristocracy of the era. Suttner befriended the Georgian aristocrat Ekaterine Dadiani, Princess of Mingrelia, and met Tsar Alexander II.[10] Seeking a career as an opera singer as an alternative to marrying money, Suttner undertook an intensive course of lessons, working on her voice for over four hours a day. Despite tuition from the eminent Gilbert Duprez in Paris in 1867, and from Pauline Viardot in Baden-Baden in 1868, she never secured a professional engagement. She suffered from stage fright and was unable to project well in performance.[11][12][13] In the summer of 1872 she was engaged to Prince Adolf zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Hohenstein who died at sea while travelling to America to escape his debts in October.[14]

Tutor in the Suttner household, life in Georgia

Schloss Harmannsdorf today.

Both Elvira and her guardian Friederich had died in 1866, and Suttner, now above typical marriageable age, felt increasingly constrained by her mother's eccentricity and the family's poor financial circumstances.[15] In 1873, she found employment as a tutor and companion to the four daughters of Karl von Suttner, aged between fifteen and twenty. The Suttner family lived in the Innere Stadt of Vienna three seasons of the year, and summered at Schloss Harmannsdorf in Lower Austria. Suttner had an affectionate relationship with her four young students, who nicknamed her "Boulotte" due to her corpulence, a name she would later adopt as a literary pseudonym in the form "B. Oulot".[16][17] She soon fell in love with her charge's elder brother, Arthur Gundaccar, who was seven years her junior. They were engaged but unable to marry due to the Suttners' disapproval. In 1876, with her employers' encouragement, Suttner answered a newspaper advertisement which led to her briefly becoming secretary and housekeeper to Alfred Nobel in Paris.[18] In the few weeks of her employment Suttner and Nobel developed a friendship, and Nobel may have made romantic overtures.[19] However, Suttner remained committed to Arthur and returned shortly to Vienna to marry him in secrecy, in the church of St. Aegyd in Gumpendorf.[20]

The newly-weds eloped to Mingrelia, where Suttner hoped to make use of her connection to the ruling House of Dadiani. On their arrival in the country they were entertained by Prince Niko. The couple settled in Kutaisi, where they were able to find work teaching languages and music to the children of the local aristocracy. However they experienced considerable hardship despite their social connections, living in a simple three-roomed wooden house.[17][21] Their situation worsened in 1877 on the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War, although Arthur had some success in reporting on the hostilities for the Neue Freie Presse.[22] Suttner also wrote frequently for the Austrian press in this period, and worked on her early novels, including in Es Löwos a romanticized account of her life with Arthur. In the aftermath of the war, Arthur attempted to set up a timber business, but it was unsuccessful.[23]

Arthur and Suttner were largely socially isolated in Georgia; their poverty rather than their social status restricted their engagement with high society, and neither ever became fluent speakers of Mingrelian or Georgian. While Arthur's writing during this period is dominated by local themes, Suttner's was not similarly influenced by Georgian culture.[24] Suttner's rejection of the exclusive truth of Roman Catholicism in favour of a more liberal perspective on Christianity is thought to have stemmed from the religious pluralism she experienced in Georgia.[25]

In August 1882 Ekaterine Dadiani died. Soon afterwards, the couple decided to relocate to Tblisi. Here Arthur gained whatever work he could, in accounting, construction and wallpaper design, while Suttner largely concentrated on her writing. She became a correspondent of Michael Georg Conrad, eventually contributing an article to the 1885 edition of his publication Die Gesselschaft. The piece, entitled "Truth and Lies", is a polemic in favour of the naturalism of Émile Zola.[26][27] Her first significant political work, Inventarium einere Seele ("Inventory of the Soul") was published in Leipzig in 1883. In it Suttner takes a pro-disarmament, progressive stance, arguing for the inevitability of world peace due to technological advancement; a possibility also considered by her friend Nobel due to the increasingly deterrent effect of more powerful weapons.

In 1884 Suttner's mother died, saddling the couple with further debts.[28] Arthur had befriended a Georgian journalist in Tblisi, M,[29] and the couple agreed to collaborate with him on a translation of the Georgian epic The Knight in the Panther Skin. Suttner was to improve M.'s literal translation of the Georgian to French, and Arthur to translate the French to German.[28] This method proved arduous, and they worked for few hours each day due to the distraction of the Mingrelian countryside around M.'s home. Arthur did publish several important articles on the work in the Georgian press, and illustrations were prepared for the putative edition by Mihály Zichy.[28] However, M. failed to produce expected payments, and with the eruption of the Bulgarian Crisis in 1885 the couple felt increasingly unsafe in Georgian society, which due to the nation's political domination by Russia was increasingly hostile to Austrians. Arthur's parents now accepted his marriage, and the couple were welcome in Austria; the couple returned in May, to live in the country house at Harmannsdorf.[30]

Suttner's living house in Tbilisi


Suttner and her husband finally reconciled with his family and in 1885 could return to Austria, where the couple lived at Harmannsdorf Castle in Lower Austria. She continued her journalistic activity and concentrated on peace and conflict studies corresponding with the French philosopher Ernest Renan and influenced by the International Arbitration and Peace Association founded by Hodgson Pratt in 1880.

Suttner in 1896

In 1889 Suttner became a leading figure in the peace movement with the publication of her pacifist novel, Die Waffen nieder! ("Lay Down Your Arms!"), which made her one of the leading figures of the Austrian peace movement. The book was published in 37 editions and translated into 12 languages. She witnessed the foundation of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and called for the establishment of the Austrian Gesellschaft der Friedensfreunde pacifist organization in a 1891 Neue Freie Presse editorial. Suttner became chairwoman and also founded the German Peace Society the next year. She gained international repute as editor of the international pacifist journal Die Waffen nieder!, named after her book, from 1892 to 1899. In 1897 she presented Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria with a list of signatures urging the establishment of an International Court of Justice and took part in the organisation of the First Hague Conventions in 1899, however, she had to realize that her ambitious expectations were belied.

Upon her husband's death in 1902, Suttner had to sell Harmannsdorf Castle and moved back to Vienna. In 1904 she addressed the International Congress of Women in Berlin and for seven months travelled around the United States attending a universal peace congress in Boston and meeting President Theodore Roosevelt.

Nobel Peace Prize

Though her personal contact with Alfred Nobel had been brief, she corresponded with him until his death in 1896, and it is believed that she was a major influence in his decision to include a peace prize among those prizes provided in his will, which she received in the fifth term on 10 December 1905. The bestowal took place on 18 April 1906 in Kristiania.

In 1907 Suttner attended the Second Hague Peace Conference, which however mainly negotiated on aspects of law of war. On the eve of World War I, she continued to advise against international armament. In 1911 she became a member of the advisory council of the Carnegie Peace Foundation.[31] On 21 June 1914, a few weeks before war broke out, she succumbed to cancer. She had planned to attend the next Universal Peace Congress, which was scheduled to take place in Vienna in the autumn.

In the comprehensive socio-cultural debate of her day, Suttner's pacifism was influenced by the writings of Immanuel Kant, Henry Thomas Buckle, Herbert Spencer, Charles Darwin and Leo Tolstoy (Tolstoy praised Die Waffen nieder!) [32] conceiving peace as an original state impaired by the human aberrances of war and militarism. Thus, she felt a right to peace could be demanded under international law and was necessary in the sense of an evolutionary (Darwinist) conception of history. Suttner was also an accomplished journalist, with one historian stating that her work revealed her as "a most perceptive and adept political commentator".[32]

Commemoration on coins and stamps

  • Bertha von Suttner was selected as a main motif for a high value collectors' coin: the 2008 Europe Taler. The reverse shows important people in the history of Europe, including Bertha von Suttner. Also depicted in the coin are Martin Luther (symbolising the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern period); Antonio Vivaldi (exemplifying the importance of European cultural life); and James Watt (representing the industrialization of Europe, inventor of the first steam engine in the 18th century).
  • She is depicted on the Austrian 2 euro coin, and was pictured on the old Austrian 1000 schilling bank note.
  • She was commemorated on a 1965 Austrian postage stamp and a 2005 German postage stamp.

On film

  • Die Waffen nieder, by Holger Madsen and Carl Theodor Dreyer. Released by Nordisk Films Kompagni in 1914.[33][34]
  • No Greater Love (German: Herz der Welt), a 1952 film[35] has Bertha as the main character.


  • Eine Liebe für den Frieden – Bertha von Suttner und Alfred Nobel (A Love for Peace – Bertha von Suttner and Alfred Nobel), TV biopic, ORF/Degeto/BR 2014, after the play Mr. & Mrs. Nobel by Esther Vilar

Works in English translation

  • Memoirs of Bertha von Suttner; The Records of an Eventful Life, Pub. for the International School of Peace, Ginn and company, 1910.
  • When Thoughts Will Soar; A Romance of the Immediate Future, by Baroness Bertha von Suttner ... tr. by Nathan Haskell Dole. Boston, New York, Houghton Mifflin company, 1914.
  • Lay Down Your Arms; The Autobiography of Martha von Tilling, by Bertha von Suttner. Authorised translation by T. Holmes, rev. by the author. 2d ed. New York, Longmans, Green and Co., 1906.

See also

Notes and references



  1. List of female recipients of the Nobel Prize
  2. Hamann, p. 1
  3. 3.0 3.1 Hamann, p. 2
  4. Smith, Digby; Kudrna, Leopold (2008). "Biographical Dictionary of All Austrian Generals During the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1792-1815: Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau, Franz de Paula Joseph Graf".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Kempf, pp. 7-8
  6. Playne, p. 16
  7. Hamann p. 5
  8. 8.0 8.1 Hamann pp. 9-10
  9. Hamann pp. 5-6
  10. Hamann p. 11
  11. Playne, p. 29
  12. Kemf, p. 9
  13. Hamann p. 13
  14. Hamann p. 15
  15. Playne, p. 28
  16. Hamann pp. 18-19
  17. 17.0 17.1 Playne, p. 45
  18. Hamann, p. 24
  19. Hamann, p. 26
  20. Hamann, p. 27
  21. Hamann pp. 30-31
  22. Hamann, pp. 32-33
  23. Hamann, pp. 34-37
  24. Hamann, p. 37
  25. Hamann, p. 38
  26. Kempf, pp. 15-16
  27. Hamann, pp. 40-41
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 Hamann, pp. 42-43
  29. Suttner could not recall the journalist's full name on writing her memoirs, and his identity is enigmatic.
  30. Hamann, p. 45
  31. Public Domain One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Suttner, Bertha". Encyclopædia Britannica. 32 (12th ed.). London & New York. p. 628.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. 32.0 32.1 Bertha von Suttner by Irwin Adams. The World Encyclopedia of Peace. Edited by Ervin László, Linus Pauling and Jong Youl Yoo. Oxford : Pergamon, 1986. ISBN 0-08-032685-4, (vol. 3, pp. 201–4).
  33. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  34. Ned Med Vaabnene (1914) – IMDb
  35. Herz der Welt (1952) – IMDb


  • Hamann, Brigitte (1996). Bertha von Suttner - a life for peace. Syracuse University Press. ISBN 0815603762.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Kemf, Beatrix (1972). Suffragette for Peace: Life of Bertha Von Suttner. Oswald Wolff. ISBN 0854962557.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Playne, Caroline Elizabeth (1936). Bertha von Suttner and the World War. George Allen Unwin.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  •  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Suttner, Bertha, Baroness von". Encyclopædia Britannica. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links