First published: Summer 2015
The extraordinary letters that Emma Hauck (1878–1920) wrote to her husband from the University Psychiatric Clinic in Heidelberg just over a century ago have lost none of their despair over the years. She was suffering from a severe mental disturbance and, at the time of her incarceration in 1909, believed that she had been contaminated and poisoned by her husband’s kiss.
Untitled (Letter to Husband), 1909, pencil on paper, 6.4 x 4.2 ins., 16.3 x 10.6 cm, Inv. 3621, courtesy of the Prinzhorn Collection Centre of the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Heidelberg
Originally from a modest family in Ellwangen, Hauck had apparently been a boisterous child who grew up to enjoy theatre and dancing. There is nothing in the case history to indicate that she would deteriorate so quickly and dramatically. Having had no vocational training, she became an assistant in her mother’s dress shop and had apparently been a diligent worker. However, throughout the course of her four-year marriage she became increasingly unstable and suffered from feelings of emptiness, stubbornly withdrawing from society and neglecting her personal hygiene. She began to fear that the food she ate was poisoned and that her children were infecting her. On one occasion she thought that something was stuck in her throat and blamed her husband. Eventually, after becoming increasingly distressed, she was detained at the clinic in Heidelberg for a few weeks. At first she appeared to recover and was allowed to stay in her mother’s house. However, a month later she was returned to the clinic, diagnosed with incurable dementia praecox and sent to the asylum in Wiesloch where she died eleven years later at the age of 42.