© Collection CNL, AN-0034
She left school in protest over a book ban, resisted the Nazis, and fought for women's rights: Marie-Louise Tidick-Ulveling is undoubtedly one of Luxembourg's most fascinating authors of the 20th century. Sadly, she remains relatively unknown to this day.
Luxembourgers are often accused of not knowing enough about their own culture and the artists that lived and worked in the Grand Duchy. And when it comes to writers, it is true that many struggle to name anyone besides the obvious Michel Lentz, Michel Rodange, or Edmond de la Fontaine. For female writers, the situation is, naturally, even bleaker. If pushed, some may be able to name someone like Anise Koltz, arguably one of Luxembourg's most brilliant poets.
But often, the people who are overlooked are the ones with the most fascinating stories to tell. And one of them is Marie-Louise Tidick-Ulveling.
Marie-Louise Tidick-Ulveling was born on 14 February 1892 in Diekirch. From a very early age, she proved to be a fighter, not afraid to oppose any and all sorts of injustice. When she started her secondary education at Sainte-Sophie, she left the school after only a few months in protest over a reading ban on the play 'Don Carlos' by German author Friedrich Schiller.
After leaving Sainte-Sophie, Tidick-Ulveling was homeschooled. Later, she went on to study German literature and linguistics as well as history at the university in Bonn.
She was married for only two years when her husband Charles Tidick died in 1922. Now a widow, Tidick-Ulveling decided to find a job in order to provide for herself and her daughter, which at the time was still seen as an unusual thing to do for a woman.
Tidick-Ulveling worked at a bank until the start of World War II. She resigned from this job and became a civil servant at the National Employment Agency.
However, demonstrating once again that she was not afraid to speak out against injustice, she was quickly fired because she actively opposed any form of Germanisation by the Nazi occupants. In fact, during the occupation of Luxembourg by the Nazis, it became clear that she had passed on her rebellious nature to her daughter.
Both Marie-Louise and Adeline Tidick-Ulveling actively resisted the German occupation, for instance by distributing pills meant to cause symptoms of jaundice to forcibly recruited Luxembourgers. But when Adeline refused to join the League of German Girls, the girls' wing of the Nazi Party youth movement, as a secondary school student, she was arrested and later sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Having her daughter taken away from her and knowing that she was constantly at risk of being executed would leave a lasting impression on Tidick-Ulveling.
Until the end of the war and until her daughter was freed, she continued to be an active member of the resistance in Luxembourg.
After the war, Tidick-Ulveling soon retired and dedicated most her time to writing and campaigning for social change.
She received the Adelaide Ristori Award in 1983. The Prize is awarded by the Centro Culturale Italiano in Rome to women for cultural and artistic merits. It is named after the actress Adelaide Ristori (1822-1906).
Marie-Louise Tidick-Ulveling started writing while she was still in school, with her novella 'Der Hirtenknabe' being published in the newspaper 'Der Westpfälzer' in 1911.
During the Interwar period, she published short stories in the socialist newspaper 'Soziale Republik' as well as in 'Die Luxemburgerin'. She was also a regular contributor to numerous other publications, including other newspapers such as 'Tageblatt' but also literary magazines such as 'Les Cahiers luxembourgeois'.
Following her retirement, she started writing and publishing novels. Her first novel, and one of her most intriguing works overall, is called 'Im Zeichen der Flamme' ("In the Sign of the Flame") and was first published in 1961.
'Im Zeichen der Flamme'
The story told in 'Im Zeichen der Flamme' is set in the early 17th century, i.e. at the height of the witch burnings in Luxembourg City.
The novel features two main storylines. The first deals with the relationship between Elisabeth, who is part of the upper-middle-class and the daughter of a member of the provincial council, and medical student Johannes. The latter studied in Cologne and has made it his goal to promote the ideals of humanism in his hometown of Luxembourg City. But when he dares to declare that the so-called 'witches' are in fact innocent and upstanding women, the townsfolk quickly turn on him, calling him a godless blasphemer.
The second storyline revolves around healer Beate and her daughter Gritli. Beate is a courageous woman who has raised her daughter well despite seeing her parents, brother, and husband die. But when Gritli has the misfortune of walking across an orchard which is later destroyed by a storm, she finds herself at the centre of a witch trial. Beate appeals to a certain van Roetern, a member of the provincial council, to stop the madness. But van Roetern refuses, urging Beate to understand that he is "bound by duty". And as for the – at the very least questionable – legal system, van Roetern merely states that "we first have to draft and introduce a better one".
After losing her daughter to the witch obsession and recognising the injustice and structure of the trials, Beate, by now arrested as a "witch" herself, yearns to get revenge on van Roetern. While the provincial council member is practically untouchable himself, Beate realises that she can get to him in a different way. Van Roetern, in fact, is not just any member of the provincial council, but also the father of Elisabeth, whose fiancé Johannes has already aroused the suspicion of the community by voicing his criticism of the witch trials. Beate seizes the opportunity and denounces Johannes.
Tidick-Ulveling's novel echoes the viciousness of the witch trials all while retaining a striking moral ambiguity. By refusing to reduce her characters to mere tropes and keeping them fundamentally human, Tidick-Ulveling managed to create an uncomfortable, shocking tale. And while the story is fictional, the author's substantial amount of research into the historical facts is well documented.
Previous comments on the novel have pointed out that Tidick-Ulveling has put a lot of herself into the story, the most obvious reference being Beate: A mother who has her child ripped from her and has to witness her being tortured and killed. But it seems only reasonable to suggest that Johannes, with his unrelenting humanism and this inner urge to speak out against the injustices of his time, also carries within him the spiritual torch of the author that created him.
Tidick-Ulveling does not embellish anything, her characters are not larger-than-life heroes who defy the odds and topple the system. But, importantly, they are not completely powerless either. While Beate cannot dismantle the system that murdered her daughter, she realises that she can use it against those who wronged her. Excluding the obvious moral issue, what is out of the question is that Beate is a marvellous example of a female character taking agency instead of merely being at the mercy of outside events and actions.
But 'Im Zeichen der Flamme' also raises several more general questions that have remained frighteningly relevant to this day. In fact, an article discussing the book, published in the newspaper 'Luxemburger Wort' on 8 November 1961, just a few weeks after the novel's release, already pointed this out, urging "everyone" to ask themselves: "Would I have the courage to defend an innocent woman, or would I idly stand by while she is tortured and killed? Have I overcome the primitive state of a human who needs a scapegoat for every misfortune? Do I not revel in the misery of others because I forget my own while doing so?".
Marie-Louise Tidick-Ulveling died on 17 September 1989. Her whole life and all of her literary works are an expression of her fight against any type of injustice, fanaticism, and intolerance.