In 1776 Fanny von Arnstein, the daughter of the Jewish master of the royal mint in Berlin, came to Vienna as an 18-year-old bride, bringing with her the intellectual sharpness and vitality of her birthplace. In her youth, she was influenced by the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, a family friend who spearheaded the emancipation of German Jewry. She married a financier to the Austro-Hungarian imperial court, and in 1798 her husband became the first unconverted Jew in Austria to be granted the title of baron. Soon Fanny hosted an ever more splendid salon which attracted the leading figures of her day, including Madame de Staël, the Duke of Wellington, Lord Nelson, his lover Lady Hamilton and the young Arthur Schopenauer.
Spiel’s elegantly written and carefully researched biography provides not only a vivid portrait of a brave and passionate woman who advocated for the rights and acceptance of Jews but illuminates a central era in European cultural and social history.