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Reviewed by:
  • Jewish Women in Fin de Siècle Vienna
  • James C. Albisetti
Jewish Women in Fin de Siècle Vienna, by Alison Rose. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008. 314 pp. $60.00.

This wide-ranging work began as a dissertation entitled "The Jewish Woman as 'Other': The Development of Sexual Stereotypes in Vienna, 1890–1914," which was completed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1997. For the book Rose, now teaching at the University of Rhode Island, has changed the title more than her emphasis: she devotes much more space to representations of Jewish women in a variety of literatures than to the social history that the title suggests.

Rose begins with two key assertions: "Jewish women are virtually absent from most works on fin de siècle Vienna and Viennese Jewry" (p. 1); and "The [End Page 201] perceived Judaization and feminization of Viennese culture gave rise to hostility toward women and Jews" (p. 3). In the opening chapter she uses a broad sample of published and unpublished memoirs to reconstruct the childhood and youth of Jewish girls in Vienna. A majority of these girls came from highly secularized families and had consciousness of being Jewish forced on them by teachers and fellow students.

Rather than continuing with an examination of the later stages of these girls' lives, Rose turns to Jewish women who remained closely tied to their religion and worked through a wide variety of charitable organizations. Having found little evidence for such activities in the autobiographies, she notes, "The plethora of Jewish women's charitable organizations is a reminder that female memoir writers do not represent Viennese Jewish women as a whole" (p. 56). The less fortunate Jews who received charity from their own community, who also wrote no memoirs, receive very little attention. Rose ends this chapter instead with an examination of attitudes about women expressed by a number of Vienna's rabbis, some well before the fin de siècle.

Turning to university enrollment and political involvement, Rose points out that Austria in the early twentieth century saw an even higher percentage of Jews among women students, especially in medicine, than did Germany. Most such students were not natives of the capital, of course; and Rose admits that "Judaism did not play a significant role in the lives of most of these women" (p. 92). Noting that Vienna saw no equivalent of the Jewish Women's League founded in Germany in 1904, she suggests that Jews were not prominent among the leaders of Austrian feminism. The chapter again ends with a brief examination of what (mostly) Jewish men had to say about Jewish women and feminism.

The final three chapters, devoted to women in the Zionist movement, in medicine and psychoanalysis, and in literature and the arts, continue this pattern of discussing both what women did and what others said about them. Rose highlights the similar criticisms of contemporary Jewish women by antisemites and by Zionists. Zionist Berthold Feiwel, for example, did not deny antisemitic attacks on women who were "vain and superficial, dressy, arrogant, urgent, extravagant" (p. 135). For Martin Buber, "the 'degenerate' Jewish women of his day compared unfavorably to . . . ghetto women" (p. 136). Novelist Ida Punitzer Barber also criticized women who "came to temple with expensive gowns, gems, and pearls, yet . . . were not necessarily happy in spite of their wealth" (p. 184). Even playwright Arthur Schnitzler made a similar contrast between "the snobbish assimilated Jewess and the traditional Jewish housewife and mother" (p. 205). Rose does not discuss the accuracy of these [End Page 202] observations: the rich Jews who attracted such criticism receive no more attention from her than the poor Jews who got charity.

Perhaps the strongest section of the book is Rose's discussion of stereotypes of Jewish sexuality, including the blatantly contradictory view of Jewish men as both "effeminate" and "sexually aggressive" (p. 143). She notes how Sigmund Freud downplayed the Jewishness of two of his most famous women patients, "Anna O." and "Dora", and goes on to investigate how early psychoanalysts confronted some of the sexual stereotypes about Jews. She concludes this section with an examination of the "Jewish self-hatred" of those...


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