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Winnie and Wolf by A. N. Wilson is out in paperback at 12.60 euros.
WINNIE AND Wolf is the story of the extraordinary relationship between Winifred Wagner and Adolf Hitler, as seen through the eyes of the secretary at the Wagner house in Bayreuth. Winifred, an English girl who married the son of Germany’s most controversial genius at the age of just eighteen, is a passionate Germanophile, a Wagnerian dreamer, a Teutonic patriot.
She and the Wagner family hope, in the debacle of the post-Versailles world, for the coming, not of a warrior, a fearless Siegfried, but of a Parsifal, a mystic idealist, a redeemer-figure.
In 1923, they think they have found him: a wild-eyed Viennese opera-fanatic in a trilby hat, a mac and a badly fitting suit.
Hitler has already made a name for himself in some sections of German society through rabble-rousing and street corner speeches. It is Winifred, though, who believes she can really see his poetry. Almost at once they drop formalities and call one another ‘Du’ rather than ‘Sie’. She is Winnie and he is Wolf.
Like Winnie, Hitler is an outsider. Like her, he is haunted by the impossibility of reconciling the pursuit of love and the pursuit of power, and the inevitability, if you seek power, of destruction. Both have known the humiliations of poverty. Both have felt angry and excluded by society. In each other, they find an unusual kinship that expresses itself through a love of opera.
In A. N. Wilson’s most ambitious novel yet, the world of the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany is brilliantly recreated, and forms the backdrop to this incredible bond, which ultimately reveals the remarkable capacity of human beings to deceive themselves.