Susanne Margarethe Brandt (Gretchen)

Johann W. Goethe used the tragic life of Susanne Margarethe Brandt (1746-1772) in his Faust for the creation of the character Gretchen.

The young maid from Frankfurt became pregnant at the age of 24. Fearing that she might lose her job—a common fate for pregnant women and those who gave birth in secret—she did not tell anyone of her misery. Shortly after giving birth, she killed her child. As punishment for this desperate act, Brandt was tried and executed a few months later.

Brandt’s case was not uncommon in the eighteenth century, and was, in fact, heavily debated. The desperate situation for young pregnant women, as well as the treatment of those who, with little other choice, killed their children, stood up for debate. In light of this, Goethe decided to incorporate Brandt in his drama and even keep her real name. (However, the character Gretchen, is about 10 years younger than her real-life example!)

This is a movie still from F. W. Murnaus FAUST (1926) and shows Gretchen played by Camilla Horn.

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