Eveline HaslerFlying with Wings of Wax

2.33 Eveline Hasler, excerpts, in Flying with WIngs of Wax – A biographical novel, The Story of Emily Kempin-Spyri, translated and published 1993, New York, originally published in German, Die Wachsflügelfrau, Zürich, 1991

a) Background

As in the case of Johann August Sutter (see texts 2.8,2.9,210) Emilie Kempin Spyri had fallen into oblivion after her death in a psychiatric clinic in Basle at the age of 46. In the life of both law and the legal culture of the United States played an important and special role in the story of Emilie Kempin-Spyri. Both have first been brought to the attention of a national and international public by literary works. Emilie Kempin Spyri’s life was brought to life by the novel of Evelyn Hasler Flying with the Wings of Wax – the Story of Emilie Kempin-Spyri. It was published in 1991 in German under the title Die Wachsflügelfrau in Zürich.and thereafter translated into English and published in New York in 1993.

Emilie Kempin Spyri is a pioneering woman (see texts 2.32) in law in Switzerland, in the United States and on the European continent as well. Only after the publication of this literary work, Emilie Kempin Spyri was finally rediscovered, recognized, honoured and given her due place in the history of Swiss academic and professional education in law. Since this Anthology uses a broader concept of law and legal culture we include works of literature on persons and the lifes of lawyers contributing to the process of Americanization of Swiss law and legal culture. This is another case (see text 2.10 and 2.11), where concepts and perspectives of the American subdiscipline of “law and literature”, which is hardly known in Switzerland, bring an interesting addition to the concept of legal culture. Emilie Kempin-Spyri must have a place in this part of the Anthology on the Americanization of Swiss law and legal culture. Beyond being the first lawyer on the continent of Europe, she early has taught at the University of Zurich on subjects of Anglo-American law and she has published various texts on English and on American law before the end of the 19th century. She above all has emigrated to New York and pioneered the education of women in a private school, which she founded and which later was formally integrated in the program of an existing law school.

We shall not further dwell on the question, why law, lawyers and legal institutions seem to be adequate topics of, attractive and at times preferential treatment by literary writers and directors of films. We note here, that law, lawyers and legal institutions are often creatively and visible dealt by other academic disciplines beyond the discipline of law. The writer Evelyin Hasler did the work for the lawyers by writing the novel Flying with the Wings of Wax – the Story of Emilie Kempin-Spyri.

She has studied psychology and history at the University of Fribourg and in Paris. She was working as a teacher at her domicile at St. Gallen. In the 60s and the 70s she has written books for children and young adults.Her novels usually deal with topics of Swiss history. Her novels are fact based and are the products of extensive research. They are widely read. The work of Evelyn Hasler has been awarded several prizes. Her works were translated in 12 languages. In 1990-1991 she was a Guest Lecturer in the German department of the City University of New York City, which plays a key role in the novel at hand.

b) Summary

Traditional biographies leave out essential aspects of a life from many perspectives. This is particularly the case regards to Emilie Kempin-Spyri and this is particularly important for the understanding of the novel of Evelyn Hasler. Emilie Kempin-Spyri was a member of a known family in the city of Zurich. She first had three children and looked after her family and her husband. Only when she was 30, she with the help of her husband, took private lessons and made up and passed the Matura exams, a prerequisite to enter university. Emilie Kempin-Spyri all along was a mother taking care of her children and the husband. When she realized, that her husband did not acclimatize in New York and later had difficulties in finding jobs to earn a living, the perspective of her legal studies as a means to financially look after a family became very important. Emilie Kempin-Spyri was interned in a psychiatric clinic in Berlin, from there she was transferred to a clinic in Basel. It was refused to her to be further transferred to her preferred clinic in Zurich, her place of origin. She died at the age of 46 in misery and in anonymity. The internment nowadays is contested.

The texts at hand are a series of excerpts from a novel on the life of Emilie Kempin-Spyri. From a postscript of Eveline Hasler it is evident, that the facts of the novel are thoroughly researched in university and public libraries on both sides of the atlantic. The writing of the book was assisted by specialists within Universities and as well as members of the family. Mentioned is as well Marianne Delfosse, the author of the only legal text on Emilie Kempin-Spyri, published in 1994. The novel uses a narrative technique which does not follow a chronological order, it adds and mixes sequences of Emilie Kempin’s life in Zurich, in New York, as well in the psychiatric clinics and moves back and forward on the time axis. The descriptions of the various scenes on Emilie Kempin-Spyri’s life are usually short, they use elements of dialogue and personal introspection as narrative techniques..

The excerpts of the novel of Evelyn Hasler, Flying with the Wings of Wax – The Story of Emilie Kempin-Spyri are a selection, largely focusing on Emilie Kempin-Spyri’s stays in New York; we are aware of the fact, that the selection does not adequately reflect the episodic nature of the drama of the life described.

We include the following excerpts:
- Pages 1 and 2, Conversation in the psychiatric clinic Basle in Summer 1899
- Pages 7-9, Arrival in New York City in Fall 1900
- Page 15, Virtual dialogue with the father after the death
- Page 41 and 42, Description of professional contacts in New York City
- Page 80 to 84, Description of the beginning of law studies in the Summer semester of 1884 as first woman to do so in Zurich
- Page 105 – 107, “The first law school for women. A bold experiment, époque – making”
- Page 118 – 119, Diappointments in New York and …
- Page 125 – 126, Reminiscing in New York City about the children and the husband in Zurich
- Page 132 – 133, Help of New York women and difficulties at the institutions
- Page 155 – 156, Positive reports on Emilie Kempin’s lectures at the law school

The editor commends the reader and the user to read the full text of the short novel on Evelyn Hasler and to also grasp the episodes of disappointments in Zurich and in Germany and the misery of being interned in a psychiatric clinic.

c) Text

You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here:
A_2.33_HASLER_Wings of Wax_part2
A_2.33_HASLER_Wings of Wax_part3
A_2.33_HASLER_Wings of Wax_part4


© Prof. Jens Drolshammer, office@drolshammer.com,  www.drolshammer.net

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