Cosima was Wagner’s wife, the one word Jessa Crispin hadn’t searched for…


Cosima Wagner

From The Smart Set:

“Find Madame Wagner, and you will find yourself,” the man told me. It wasn’t quite the spiritual quest I had been expecting as I sat waiting for the U-Bahn to arrive. One second I was enjoying my book; the next, a man was jabbering excitedly to me in very quick German. I interrupted to ask him to slow down or switch to English, although really, I wasn’t listening so much as looking to see if I could get to the exit fast enough in case he pulled a knife. The man looked perfectly normal, able to dress himself and carrying a bag full of groceries and not, say, a bag full of moldy stuffed animals. But still, the situation was alarming. He picked up in English where he left off in German, repeating “You are she, you are she…unheimlich, you could be twins,” and something about Wagner. Then the train arrived and he jumped on with that final salvo, half message from God and half opening line to an awkwardly plotted fantasy quest, with a commoner unexpectedly finding herself heir to a throne.

“Find Madame Wagner, and you will find yourself.”

After many Google image searches for “Wagner mistress,” “Wagner muse,” and “Wagner daughter,” I finally came across a picture of Cosima. In an instant, I knew this was the face the strange man saw in me. She had a haunting familiarity when she faced the camera, as if she had was a long-lost great grandmother. In profile, she became a past life version of myself.

Cosima was Wagner’s wife, the one word I hadn’t tried in the search query. I did not think of myself as someone’s wife — it did not occur to me to consider my double filling that role. I felt an eerie enough draw to her photo, a draw at least as strong as a repulsion I also instantly felt, to look to see if she had a biography. She did. It just happened to be coming out in a few months, and the publisher had galleys available. Did I want one?

“Don’t Hate the Player”, Jessa Crispin, The Smart Set