Who was Bertha von Suttner? Austrian writer, radical peace pacifist, and the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Bertha von Suttner’s life, works and thoughts
Bertha von Suttner (9 June 1843 Prague – 21 June 1914 Vienna) was an Austrian-Bohemian journalist, novelist and peace activist. She became the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905, and the second woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in 1903, after Marie Curie. His novel Die Waffennieder! Published in many languages (Down with guns!) in 1889, it marked the beginning of his international recognition as a peace activist. The work is also associated with pacifist feminism.
Von Suttner was the daughter of Count Franz Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau and Sophie von Körner, who died before he was born. Bertha grew up in an aristocratic environment amid the militarism of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with her mother, Sophie Guillermina, who was a distant relative of the poet Theodor Körner. The military tradition of the Baroness’ family may have been one of the reasons for her strong pacifist devotion.
As a child he was brought up and educated by a teacher who was a member of the Austrian court and combined travel with language learning – he studied German, French, Italian and English – and learned to play the piano. After the difficulties of maintaining her mother’s standard of living, Bertha began working as a governess in the house of Baron Karl von Suttner, a Viennese businessman from 1873, and was responsible for the language and musical education of all four of her daughters. His mother wanted him to have a financially advantageous marriage. However, Bertha refused and rescinded her engagement to Baron Gustav von Heine-Geldern. Bertha fell in love with Arthur Gundaccar von Suttner, the eldest son of the von Suttner family, who was seven years younger than her. But the family is not just because of the age difference,
He was expelled in 1876. Bertha found an advertisement in the newspaper where a wealthy gentleman in Paris was looking for a secretary. His work as Alfred Nobel’s private secretary was reduced to a few days, but he developed an intense friendship that lasted until his death in 1896. They last met after a lecture he gave in Zurich in 1892. However, they exchanged letters.
Bertha returned to Vienna, where she secretly married Arthur Gundaccar von Suttner on June 12, 1876, in Gumpendorf, against the will of her family. As a result, Arthur was disinherited, and the couple moved to the Caucasus for nine years. There, in Georgia, they barely made ends meet with Princess Ekaterina Dadiani von Mingrelien from small jobs such as writing entertainment novels or translating. During this time, Bertha wrote Es Löwos, a poetic description of living together, and four novels. His first novel was Inventario del alma. Her thoughts and ideas matured, including what she and her husband had read, particularly from evolutionist writers such as Darwin and Spencer, including the idea of a society that would progress through peace.
With the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, Arthur began publishing successful novels about the war, the country, and its people in German weekly newspapers. That same year, in 1877, Bertha von Suttner began her career as a journalist and enjoyed a similar success to her husband’s under the pseudonym B. Oulet. In 1885 they definitively returned to Austria. They reconciled with their families and settled in the family residence in Harmannsdorf in Lower Austria.
In Austria, Bertha von Suttner continued her journalistic work focusing on themes of peace and war. In 1886 she wrote the book High Life, in which she discussed respect for human beings and free will. He soon became aware of the existence of the International Arbitration and Peace Association, founded by the British Hodgson Pratt in 1880, through the French philosopher Ernest Renan, which advocated dialogue and mediation against the use of weapons.
He was influenced by naturalists such as Bertha von Suttner, Henry Thomas Buckle, Herbert Spencer or Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. Suttner’s pacifism is an ethical pacifism founded on man’s moral capacity to understand that war should no longer be used. Expressing a deep humanism, it was integrated into the liberal ideas of his time and his belief in human progress. His second novel on the subject is Das Maschinenzeitalter (Age of the Machines), published in early 1889, one of the first works to predict the consequences of exaggerated nationalism and armament.
In 1889, at the age of 46, Die Waffen nieder! His book (Down with Arms!) has been published. It quickly became a classic of the international peace movement and has been translated into many languages. In her work describing the war through the eyes of a woman, she wrote a section on militarism and war that would cause countless debates. It was adapted into a film in 1914 by Holger-Madsen and Carl Theodor Dreyer under the title Ned Med Vaabnene. In 1892, he promised Alfred Nobel that he would inform him of the progress of the peace movement and tried to persuade him of its importance and effectiveness. His letter is considered the birth of the Nobel Peace Prize. In January 1893 she received a letter describing the idea of a peace prize. Nobel, who died in 1896, devoted a significant part of his wealth to peace.
Bertha and her husband, Czar II. They continued to work in support of the Hague Peace Conference of 1899, which was brought together on Nicholas’ initiative. Despite Arthur’s death in 1902, he decided to continue the work with the aim of demonstrating to the heads of state of different European countries the need to resolve political problems through further action beyond war.
It has been a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize since it was first awarded in 1901. Finally, in recognition of his work, he received an award in 1905 for his great contribution to the defense of peace and the European Union. In the following years, he played an important role in the Anglo-German Friendship Committee established at the Peace Congress for Anglo-German reconciliation in 1905, warning of the dangers of militarizing China and using aviation as a military tool for rapid development. Established at the 1907 Hague Peace Conference, he gave international lectures, articles, and interviews to promote the movement’s aims among Conference delegates and the general public.
He published Memoirs in 1910 and made a second lecture tour of the United States in 1912, at the age of almost 70. In 1913, already afflicted by stomach cancer, he attended the International Peace Congress in The Hague, where he was recognized for his work. He died on June 21, 1914, shortly before the start of the First World War, at the age of 71.
War through the eyes of women
Bertha von Suttner’s most relevant work is Die Waffen nieder, (1889) Down with Guns! associated with the women’s rights movement. The protagonist Martha experiences all the horrors of war and often confronts her father about it. It is a naturalistic account of the war campaigns of 1859, 1864, 1866 and 1870/187. Martha doesn’t want her son playing with soldiers and being brainwashed with masculine war ideas. Martha’s father tries to put his daughter where she thinks a woman belongs by telling her grandson that she doesn’t need a woman’s approval. Bertha von Suttner highlights the anguish of women whose spouses and children were killed or maimed on the battlefield, questioning a society that sees warrior courage and the pride of being a soldier as positive virtues.
Written with a real and implicit accusation of militarism in order to spread the author’s pacifist ideas, the novel manages to empathize with the public.
In a speech at the International Council of Women, Bertha said that women should not get involved in politics, that she had heard many times that the issues of war and peace were beyond her understanding, and that she urged all women to participate fully in this cause.