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Rethinking Tableaux Vivants and Triviality in the Writings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johanna Schopenhauer, and Fanny Lewald

From: Monatshefte
Volume 99, Number 2, Sumer 2007
pp. 152-176 | 10.1353/mon.2007.0038

Abstract

This article rethinks the trivial status of tableaux vivants to generate insights into notions of femininity, aesthetics, identity, and high and low culture between 1780 and 1850. Arguing that a gendered, high/low cultural divide has obscured the complexity originally attributed to tableaux, the essay excavates the Goethezeit thinking that accompanied tableaux. In spite of not conforming to classical aesthetic categories, tableaux were deemed capable of rendering feminine desire visible and symbolically containable in the speechless female body. With this understanding, the essay illuminates both how tableaux construct Ottilie as a figure of renunciation in Goethe's Die Wahlverwandtschaften (1809) and how Johanna Schopenhauer's Gabriele (1819) and Fanny Lewald's Jenny (1843) interrogate feminine renunciation by varying Goethe's device. Read in this manner, Gabriele reveals contradictions in Goethe's notions of femininity, while Jenny's performance as Ivanhoe's Rebecca (1819) articulates an alternative femininity to Goethean renunciation at the same time as it mobilizes Ivanhoe's critique of Jewish conversion and national identity for Lewald's German cultural context. (PMM)



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