Adolf Paul, my great grandfather, part 1

My great grandfather Adolf Paul was a writer who wrote novels and plays. He lived his adult life in Berlin, Germany where he was friends with Swedish writer August Strindberg, Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, Norwegian painter Edvard Munch and Finnish artist Axel Gallen-Kallela.

This is the first entry about Adolf Paul:

Ancestors and early years

Adolf Georg Paul was born on January 6, 1863 on Bromö, an island in lake Vänern in Sweden. At that time his last name was Wiedesheim-Paul. The family name came from a Preussian Major named Ludwig von Wiedesheim, born in Anhalt-Kothen, Germany. His grandson Elias was born out of wedlock to Albertina Julia von Wiedesheim and Fernando Pollini, an Italian earl, and given the surname Wiedesheim-Paul after both parents (Pollini became Paul). Being born out of wedlock, Elias had no right to the aristocratic “von”. Elias’s uncles, who were in the military, helped Albertina raising Elias. Following the career path of his uncles, Elias joined the Swedish army in Stralsund on the Baltic coast, which at that time belonged to Sweden. After serving the Swedish army in war and peace for 30 years, Elias followed King Charles XIV John when he retreated to Stockholm and ceded Stralsund to Germany. In Sweden, Elias was appointed to a position as Regiments Commissioner near Karlstad in western Sweden.

At the time Adolf was born, several Wiedersheim-Paul family members lived on Bromö, which is not far from Karlstad. According to an anecdote, extended family lived on Bromö and they were called “Pållarna på Bromö” (Paul is pronounces “pål” in Swedish and a “pålle” is also slang for a horse). Adolf’s mother’s maiden name was Hedvig (Hedda) Blix, and her family was in the glassworks business. On Bromö Adolf’s father Alfred  managed a glass manufacturing plant – perhaps he met his wife through his line of work. Adolf had an older sister Hedvig, a younger sister Anna and seven younger brothers; Alfred, Elis, Ernst, Knut, Oscar, Torsten and Leo.

In 1868 Alfred sold the glassworks and the family moved to Rosendala castle between lakes Vänern and Vättern near Karlsborg where Elis, Ernst and Knut were born. When Adolf was nine years old, in 1872, the family moved to Jokkis (Yokkis, Jokijoinen), a vast farm in the Swedish-Finnish part of Finland. It was at this time the family added an “r” to the spelling of Wiedersheim-Paul for some unknown reason. Including more than 30 smaller farms, three parish churches and the town of Forssa, Jokkis used to be one of the largest estates in Finland and is now owned by the Finnish government. Jokkis also contained ironworks, spinning mills, and glassworks. Alfred managed Jokkis with a partner and two financial supporters from Sweden.

A drawing of Alfred and Hedvig and their children by Adolf’ Paul’s daughter Tali Paul. Courtesy Leo Wiedersheim (my cousin twice removed) who has documented the Wiedersheim family ancestry.

In 1872, Finland was an autonomous Grand Duchy of Russia, which had conquered it in the 1808-1809 war with Sweden. Since the peace treaty of 1323, between Sweden and Novgorod, the western and southern parts of Finland had been tied to Sweden and the Western European cultural sphere, while eastern Finland, i.e. Karelia, had been a part of the Russo-Byzantine world. Not until 1917 did Finland become independent.  In 1872, the Finnish-Swedes were the ruling class living along the coast. Being Swedish, Alfred and his family did not have to change language. Initially, the Alfred prospered. He built a family residence in Tammela near Jokkis named Charlottenberg and acquired a farm on the island Runsala (Ruissalo) outside Åbo (Turku) and was a partner in several business ventures. Today Runsala is famous as the site of Ruisrock, an annual rock festival that began in 1970.

From farming to piano and play-writing

Adolf’s father wanted him to become a farmer and he first studied agriculture at Mustiala Agriculture Center in Tammela. After three years of studies, Adolf started to manage the Runsala farm. In addition to expanding the number of cows on the farm, Adolf had a piano shipped to his new home where he enjoyed playing music much more than he did farming. After a few years as a farmer Adolf decided to become an artist. In 1886 he began studying music in Helsinki. It was during this period he became a socialist and shed Wiedersheim from his surname. While studying the piano at the Music Academy in Helsinki, he became friends with Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Both studied with the famous Italian composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni who brought them to Berlin when he moved there from Helsinki in 1889.

When Adolf first arrived to Berlin the city was a cultural center that drew artists, painters and writers from all over Europe. Located further north than Paris, the other artist Mecca at this time, many Scandinavians made Berlin their home for shorter or longer time periods. Adolf joined the Scandinavian artist community where he in addition to Jean Sibelius counted Norwegian painter Edvard Munch and Swedish writer August Strindberg among his friends.

Adolf Paul is depicted in one of Edvard Munch’s paintings, The Vampire. The painting shows a red haired woman bending her head over the neck of a man hiding his face in her lap. (Source: Edvard Munch mennesket og kunstneren by Ragna Stang). He is also portrayed in Finnish artist Axel Gallen-Kallela’s The Symposium, which is at the National Gallery in Helsinki, Finland, as the man who has fallen asleep on the table after a night of drinking. On the sketches preceding the final version, Adolf is still awake, sitting at the table focusing his stare to the left of the viewer.

Collaborating with Sibelius, Adolf discovered he was better at composing plays than music and after a concert in Helsinki in 1891 focused on his writing. That year he published his first novel En bok om en menniska (A book about a man), which was published by Bonniers in Stockholm. In 1892 he published The Ripper, inspired by London serial killer Jack the Ripper. Albert Bonnier considered The Ripper too indecent and refused to publish this book and other books Adolf later wrote about violence and sexuality. Instead, The Ripper was published by Grönlund in Åbo, Finland, but the book was controversial and critics considered some of the content of The Ripper a description of “sickly erotic” . In 1893, Adolf published a book named Herr Ludvig, which is believed to be based on his father’s misfortunes. Alfred had passed away in 1892 after losing most of his assets.

Adolf’s artist friend Axel Gallén-Kallela created the cover for one of his books, Ein gefallener profet (A fallen prophet) in 1895. The book was well received and so were his early theater plays. At the Helsinki opening of the play Kung Kristian II, Adolf received standing ovations and was crowned with a laurel wreath that he kept for the rest of his life. The royalties for his books and plays made sure the family had some steady income during the 25 years these lasted.

A Strindberg letter

In Sweden, he was overshadowed by August Strindberg, his friend whom he greatly admired. In a newspaper article in Svenska Dagbladet in the late 1990’s the writer called Adolf “Strindbergs Salieri” and described how he was the one who introduced Strindberg to everyone worth knowing in Berlin and to the hangout Zum schwartzen Ferkel where the artist community gathered. In 1893 Strindberg had married Frida Uhl and traveled with her on a honeymoon to England where the heat made him unhappy. They left England for Germany where he wanted to visit Adolf. Penniless he wrote a letter to Adolf on June 20:

Höfers Hotel, Hamburg

20 Juni 93.

Adolf Paul, Br.

Sedan i går morgse sitter jag fången i Höfers Hotel, Hamburg. Orsaken: Skinnerier på vägen, så att det fattades 2 mark att komma till Rügen. Nu växer hotellräkningen, och koleran står och väntar; så här blir nog ingen Weimarresa av. Jag har ställt pengar på Rügen, men om det kommer några vet fan! Har Ni några, så telegrafera över dem att jag får rymma åtminstone. 20 Mark går det med. Jag hade en 7-helvetes otur. Ty Pontoppidan var bortrest; och Drachman som jag sökte, var också rest. (Min resa dit tog de sista 7 marken!) Nu har jag inga telegrafpengar, ingenting, och nerverna, som jag ser på min skrivstil, äro åtgångna. Jag borde egentligen skjuta mig, men det skulle ha varit gjort för länge sedan.

August Strindberg.

The letter complains about money, cholera and bad nerves. The last sentence reads: “I should shoot myself, but that should have been done a long time ago.”

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3 Responses to Adolf Paul, my great grandfather, part 1

  1. Are you still updating your blog? Interesting to read about Adolf Paul! I work at the Sibelius Museum in Turku and would like to email you concerning an exhibition we are working on for 2015.

    • My apologies for responding so late – I am updating the blog and will check whether I have any more information about my great grandfather Adolf Paul. There are a few pictures, if that is of any interest.

  2. Richard Paul says:

    My grandfather was Knut Paul… Adolf’s brother. Interesting to read your blog about Adolf who I find to be quite fascinating. Thank you.

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