Wagner and Women

Cosima Wagner's diaries are an intimidating read. In their original form they comprised 21 notebooks - kept in a Munich bank vault for years then transported to Bayreuth under police escort on 12 March 1974. Over a million words record what her beloved Richard ate and drank, when and where he walked, when he worked, what he said, when he dreamed and what he thought. And this was a man who had an opinion, alas, on everything.

The diaries stop dead when he died of a heart attack in Venice on February 13th 1883. Cosima held the dead Wagner in her arms for 24 hours. Then she accompanied the body back to Bayreuth for burial. She would live on for another 44 years but she never wrote another word.

Unconditional love of another human being does not make for happiness. Cosima adores her man but oh my she suffers. She has serious problems with her sight - not easy for a dedicated writer, and she longs endlessly and often rather casually for death. She suffers but very ambiguously from her man's infidelities - cryptic mentions are made of her own unhappiness during his dalliance with novelist Judith Gautier. At the end she suspected a liaison with Parsifal flower girl, Carrie Pringle.

But there is a surprisingly cosy side to the Wagners' life. They dance around the Christmas tree, gossip over coffee at lunch. She is awoken one night by "Richard in a purple night shirt, wandering around looking for his cheque book." He brings in a hairdresser to dye her hair blonde. Cosima comments that she is happy to go grey but Richard likes her blonde.

Wagner often travels by train and, compulsive communicator that he was, sends telegrams from every railway station. So, in the 19th century, instant communication almost rivalled today's emails. Imagine if this man had been around today. We'd have all been trembling as we opened Outlook Express. "Oh blimey! More spam from Richard!"

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