Winnie and Wolf is the story of the remarkable relationship between Winifred Wagner and Adolf Hitler that took place during the years between the two world wars, as seen through the eyes of the secretary at the Wagner House in Bayreuth.
Winifred, an English girl, was brought up in an orphanage and married at the age of eighteen to the son of Germany's most controversial genius. She is a passionate Germanophile, a Wagnerian dreamer, and a Teutonic patriot. In the debacle of the post-Versailles world, the Wagner family hopes for the coming of a Parsifal, a mystic idealist and redeemer. In 1923, they meet their Parsifal-a wild-eyed Viennese opera fanatic named Adolf Hitler. He 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 truly believes in him. Both have known the humiliation of poverty and a deep anger at the society that excluded them. They find in each other an unusual kinship that begins with a passion for opera.
In A. N. Wilson's boldest and 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.
Veteran British biographer and novelist Wilson's plodding latest concerns the private life of Adolf Hitler (Wolf) and his friendship and affair with Winnie, the daughter-in-law of Richard Wagner. The novel opens in 1925 and is composed by an unnamed secretary to Winnie's husband. Though weighted down by detailed discussions of philosophy and the opera that so inspired Hitler, the narrative at times hums with life. Wilson offers a new way of viewing the charismatic (though sweating and flatulent) leader, who appears to the Wagner family as the savior who will raise up a starving and humiliated interwar Germany and who "made you feel that the struggle would not have been worth it unless it had gone too far." Unfortunately, Wilson seems so intent on demonstrating the breadth of his knowledge and research that narrative technique feels like an afterthought. This dense and dry tale is unlikely to appeal to readers who aren't already at least armchair scholars of the era.