The part of the letter that interested me most was Leonora's reaction to the poetry of Gottfried Benn. Benn was a nihilist/Nietzschean poet of the early twentieth century. He had a very interesting view of how the Enlightenment had brought on the nihilist epoch (which I'll quote in a future post): his nihilism was therefore not directed at the churches or at traditional culture but at the liberal Enlightenment. Even so, it was a nihilism which portrayed human life in the most desolate terms.
Leonora was forced to endure this desolate, nihilistic view of life in her literature class. It caused her a degree of distress, as she wishes to cultivate her more sensitive feminine qualities:
Sitting in that class yesterday was painful and felt like torture. I was fighting tears of anger and hurt feelings, just looked down and could not say a single word the whole entire time. I felt even worse when I realized how all the others were laughing and thought it was funny. I could not find a tiny bit of amusement in someone presenting human beings like that and talking about women in such a trashy way. I just wanted to get out of there – as far away as possible – as the again male professor kept repeating those lines over and over again, pronouncing them worse and more disgusting every time he recited them again.Leonora is trying to maintain her feminine integrity in a hostile environment. It's interesting to hear this from a woman, as I think men have a corresponding sense both of the value of the feminine qualities Leonora describes and also of their relative fragility.
My own strong emotions and reaction made me wonder if there is something wrong with me! Why did this make me so upset and angry while everyone else seemed to enjoy it? As I reflected on it later that night in bed, I realized how God has been tearing down many walls in and around my heart throughout the past six months. He has made me much more sensitive towards other people and also towards sin and things that are just wrong. He has revealed to me what it means to be a woman and how I as a woman should be caring, loving and nurturing. I am to have a soft and tender heart, feel with others and make this world a much more beautiful place. And that’s what I want with all my heart. I want to be captivating, beautiful, inviting and loving. But with a heart soft like that I can’t handle situations like the one in class yesterday.
I told a male class mate about my feelings after class and his response was, “Well, Benn wrote that to make people think and to cause exactly these controversial reactions. You shouldn’t take it personally, just think about the issues he is trying to raise.” I know I could easily try to let this not get to me, build up some walls around my heart again and not care and laugh like everyone else. But that would be at the risk of my heart, my soul, my purity, and in a way even my womanhood. Why do they expect me to do that? How can I even survive as a woman in such an environment that will constantly cause me pain without manning up?