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MATTHAEI, CLARA

MATTHAEI, CLARA (1884–1934). Clara Matthaei, a novelist who wrote under the pseudonyms Walther Gray and Gertrud Hoff, was born near Bellville, Austin County, Texas, on June 26, 1884, the daughter of Arnold and Clara (Schlecht) Matthaei. Because her father died when she was still young and her mother remarried, her upbringing was entrusted to her aunt, Anna Schlecht. Although Clara never attended any formal school, she obtained an excellent education under the guidance of her aunt and for a short time from a private tutor. In addition she also pursued her own studies. She was introduced to German literature at an early age and mastered the German classics. Clara's maternal grandfather, Friedrich Schlecht, an early German settler in Austin County, also possessed literary talents. His book, Mein Ausflug nach Texas ("On To Texas!"), 1851, is one of the most interesting travel accounts ever written about Texas. It was apparently from Schlecht that Clara derived her inspiration for writing. Finding it difficult to assimilate to the small-town, conventional life that surrounded her, she turned to writing at an early age. At eighteen she sent the editor of a German-language newspaper in Austin County a poem using the pen name Gertrud Hoff. Contrary to its usual policy, the paper published the poem. Many other expressive and well-crafted poems followed this first one. Almost all of Clara's poems, including her first published anthology, Vineta Lieder ("Songs of Vineta"), 1911, as well as her first novel, Wer bin ich? ("Who Am I?"), 1913, were written under the name Gertrud Hoff.

A number of the early poems by Clara Matthaei bear witness to the seriousness with which she attempted to conform to the wishes of her family and close friends, even in the realm of her romantic life. Nevertheless, in 1913, to the dismay of her friends and family, she married a Mexican refugee from the Madero revolution, Ascención Palacios, with whom she eventually had three children. The newlyweds lived on the old Schlecht farm outside of Bellville and occupied themselves with renovation and improvement of the house. Clara's husband learned German, and together in their leisure hours they read the German literary classics and sang the songs of three countries. Music was one of Clara Matthaei's fondest pastimes. Gradually after the end of World War I, the marriage went sour, and she eventually divorced her husband. In her distress, she again found refuge in her writing, now using the pen name Walther Gray. Her stories, had they been written in English, would be classified as short stories. In them she vividly depicts the virtues, weaknesses, and foibles of her characters. During her lifetime her critics considered her two autobiographical novels, Buecher mit sieben Siegeln (English title A Man So Quiet), 1922–23, and its sequel, Der Compadre, 1924, to be the best examples of her prose writing. By means of her sympathetic understanding and close connections with Mexican Americans living in Texas, Clara Matthaei learned not only the language but the character of these people as well. Her stories realistically present Texans of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds, particularly German and Hispanic.

In 1929 she married Francisco Reyes, a long-time family friend who was also an immigrant from Mexico. As a result of her two marriages to Mexicans, she experienced racial prejudice first-hand. In 1930 she moved with her family to the interior of Mexico. She continued to write for the German-language press in Texas until, shortly before her death, she was forced to sell her beloved typewriter in order to buy necessities for her family. On November 1, 1934, she died in Aguas Calientes, Mexico.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Selma Metzenthin-Raunick, Deutsche Schriften in Texas (San Antonio: Freie Presse fuer Texas, 1934). Selma Metzenthin-Raunick, Texanische Schriftsteller (Stuttgart: Die Literatur, Oct. 1926-Oct. 1927 [Aug. 1927]). Selma Metzenthin-Raunick and Nolan Schulze, "The Tragedy of Clara Matthaei," Southwest Review, October 1935. William Trenckmann, "Frau Clara Reyes" (Austin: Das Wochenblatt, November 16, 1934).

Charles E. Patrick

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Charles E. Patrick, "MATTHAEI, CLARA," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fmabp), accessed August 23, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.