The Diary of a Lost Girl was first published in Germany in 1905. A controversial bestseller, the book was translated into 14 languages and issued around the world. By the end of the Twenties, it had sold more than 1.2 million copies, and is counted among the best-selling titles of its time.
Today, however, it is little known.
Was it, as was claimed, the real-life diary of a young woman forced by circumstance into a life of prostitution? A veiled feminist critique of the treatment of women? Or a sensational and clever literary fake, one of the first novels of its kind? Debate swirled around its authorship for years.
Described by a contemporary scholar as “Perhaps the most notorious and certainly the commercially most successful autobiographical narrative of the early twentieth century,” the book was nothing less than a literary phenomenon. When first published in English translation, the New York Times called it “shocking.” A newspaper in New Zealand described it as “The saddest of modern books.”
Though considered a potboiler or tearjerker in some quarters, Böhme’s book had admirers among the European intellectuals of the time. Well known authors of the day like the British novelist Hall Caine and American critic Percival Pollard praised it, as did the eminent Russian Marxist Peter Berngardovich Struve. It was also read and written about by followers of Freud, while the German Jewish philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin commented on it in his journals. Even future Nazi Heinrich Himmler read the book. In 1920, he noted that Böhme’s story “offers insight into dreadful human tragedies and makes one look at many a whore with different eyes.” The English novelist Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, stated the book should be banned. And indeed, the book was barred entry into some countries, including Canada. Eventually, after more than 25 years of acclaim and criticism and continuing sales, the book was driven out of print in Germany by right wing groups allied with the Nazi party.
This contested book – a work of unusual historical significance and literary sophistication – inspired not only a cult following but also a popular sequel, a controversial play, a parody, a lawsuit, a genre’s worth of imitators, and three silent movies. The best remembered of these is Diary of a Lost Girl (1929), the G.W. Pabst directed film starring screen legend Louise Brooks.
This new edition, edited by Thomas Gladysz, an independent scholar and the Director of the Louise Brooks Society, brings a notable work back into print after more than a century. The “Louise Brooks Edition” features the original English language translation by the noted Anglo-Irish writer Ethel Colburn Mayne, as well as some three dozen illustrations, numerous annotations, and an introductory essay by Gladysz detailing the book’s remarkable history and relationship to the acclaimed 1929 silent film.
The bestselling book
that shocked a nation —
a feminist classic, and
a literary mystery.
Softcover copies of The Diary of a Lost Girl are available through select bookshops and museums (like the Neue Galerie in NYC or Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont, CA), as well as online at Lulu.com and Amazon.com.
Autographed copies signed by editor Thomas Gladysz are available in the United States at no extra charge. Please contact the LBS to place an order.
Read the book — now see the movie! Kino Lorber has released a new version of G.W. Pabst’s sensational 1929 film The Diary of a Lost Girl (mastered in HD from archival 35mm elements and digitally restored) featuring an audio commentary by LBS director Thomas Gladysz. This is the best and most complete version of the film we are likely to see. Order your copy HERE.
- Margarete Böhme (1867-1939) was, arguably, one of the most widely read German writers of the early 20th century. She authored 40 novels – as well as short stories, autobiographical sketches, and articles. At the height of her fame, her work was compared to that of the French writer Émile Zola. The Diary of a Lost Girl, first published in German as Tagebuch einer Verlorenen, Von einer Toten (The Diary of a Lost Girl, by One Who is Dead), is her best known work. The book was translated into 14 languages, and distributed to even more countries. Böhme’s book was so popular there were even pirated versions in Poland and The Netherlands.
- Today, The Diary of a Lost Girl is accepted as a work of fiction. But when first published, it was claimed to be the genuine diary of a young woman named Thymian. Böhme was credited as the book’s editor, and some early editions maintained the pretense and depicted manuscript pages said to be in Thymian’s hand. (The manuscript pages are depicted in this new edition.)
- At the time, people from all walks of life wrote to Böhme asking after the fate of the Thymain. Some wrote to say they had cried over the book. Others, believing her to be real and wanting to pay their respects, inquired as to where the “lost girl” was buried.
- Böhme’s book had admirers among the literati. Years later, the controversial American novelist Henry Miller included it on his list of books which influenced him the most.
- A stage play based on the book was banned in some German cities, as were two of the silent films based on the book. Eventually, each of the films were re-released in censored form.
- Louise Brooks (1906-1985), who played Thymian in the second film adaption of the book, was herself a victim of sexual abuse. Only months before appearing in Diary of a Lost Girl, the American-born actress achieved film immortality in the role of Lulu in the 1929 German film, Pandora’s Box, her first collaboration with director G.W. Pabst.
- The Diary of a Lost Girl is being discovered by a new generation of readers and writers, including the popular novelist Jodi Picoult, who gave the original book a shout out in her 2013 novel, The Storyteller, a #1 New York Times bestseller. Böhme’s book was also the subject of a popular exhibit and event at the San Francisco Public Library in 2010.
Praise for author MARGARETE BÖHME:
“One of Germany’s most popular novelists… a masterful intellect.” – Rebecca West, The Freewoman
“One of the leading novelists of the younger realistic school in Germany.” – The Bookman
“…out of the ordinary, in both matter and manner.” – New York Evening Post
Praise for the original edition of THE DIARY OF A LOST GIRL:
The “poignant story of a great-hearted girl who kept her soul alive amidst all the mire that surrounded her poor body.” – Hall Caine
“The fact that one German critic asserted the impossibility of a woman herself immune from vice having written such a book, is proof that besides truth of matter there was compelling art in Margarete Böhme’s book.” – Percival Pollard
“The moral justification of such a publication is to be found in the fact that it shrivels up sentimentality; the weak thing cannot stand and look at such stark degradation.” – Manchester Guardian