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Journal of Women's History 12.3 (2000) 23-28
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Female Friends in Nineteenth-Century Bohemia: Troubles with Affectionate Writing and "Patriotic Relationships"
When I first read Carroll Smith-Rosenberg's "Female World of Love and Ritual," I was fascinated by the uniqueness of the special friendships that allowed women to express affection toward each other in the allegedly sexually repressive nineteenth century. 1 Female relationships have been generally ignored or dismissed by Czech historiography, and I had no idea that such relationships could be a "serious" historical topic. Smith-Rosenberg's article suggested that women's relationships in the past provide us with important and challenging ideas about female relationships and sexuality--ideas I have used in my own work on romantic friendships in nineteenth-century Bohemia. In order to explore the possibilities and limits of comparative history, I set Smith-Rosenberg's findings and analyses in the context of nineteenth-century Bohemia. I also connect Smith-Rosenberg's article with research on romantic friendships and gender history, as well as raise different questions and address issues that have emerged since 1975 with developments in and approaches to women's history and the history of sexuality.
I began my investigation into romantic friendships in nineteenth- century Bohemia by looking at the life and work of a prominent female Czech writer, Bozena Nemcová. I found different types of female relationships in Nemcová's correspondence as well as examples of intimate female friendships in her literary work. Unlike her biographers and historians, I argued that relationships with women played an important and irreplaceable role in Nemcová's life. 2 Subsequently, I have concentrated on the 1840s and 1850s, when an increasing number of women started to participate in the Czech patriotic movement. I presumed that more records women left and personal correspondence between women would be accessible for further study on relationships among women in nineteenth-century Bohemia. My research, therefore, represents a sample of prominent women who were a part of the Czech patriotic community and who left records in the archives. Most of these women were middle-class, married, and responsible for taking care of a family. Although some were active in the literary field, all had to live up to strict ideals contemporary society imposed: "faithful wife, greatest mother, educated tutor, [and] good housekeeper." 3
Honorata z Wisniowskych Zapová, a Polish-born female patriot living in Bohemia, wrote an advice book for girls and young women that [End Page 23] encouraged women to form devoted, supportive, and honest "one on one" friendships "unless [your] parents, husband or [your] own wisdom prevent [you] from that." 4 Personal correspondence between women indicates that close female relationships did exist in nineteenth-century Bohemia and were, in some ways, similar to the female world that Smith-Rosenberg described. For example, Nemcová and Sofie Rottová, another nineteenth-century Czech writer exchanged affectionate letters. Although their intense friendship lasted only three years, numerous letters expressed sensual and physical needs. "Believe me," Nemcová wrote to Rottová, "sometimes I dream that your eyes are here right in front of me, I am drowning in them, and they have the same sweet expression as they did when they used to ask: 'Bozena, what's wrong? Bozena, I love you.'" 5 In another letter, Nemcová wished that they could be "all alone someplace far, far away where we would not be bothered by everyday duties and where we would not be troubled by our desires, where we would be all alone with our love in the great universe." 6
Similarly, in letters to her friend in Prague, Antonie Bohuslava Rajská, Slovak patriot Johanna Lehocká employed affectionate writing and admiring words. 7 Lehocká even imagined "traces of [Rajskás] kisses upon [her] face," although the two women had never met in person. 8 Correspondence further indicates that women in Bohemia, as well as in America, exchanged information and news about families and friends, visited each other, offered and requested advice, helped each other in households, and maintained relationships despite...