"Around 1800": Reassessing the Role of German Women Writers in Literary Production of the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries: Review Essay
- Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature & Culture
- University of Nebraska Press
- Volume 8, 1993
- pp. 159-177
- Additional Information
"Around 1800": Reassessing the Role of German Women Writers in Literary Production of the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries Susan L. Cocalis Review Essay Gallas, Helga, and Magdalene Heuser, eds. Untersuchungen zum Roman von Frauen um 1800. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1990.* Goodman, Katherine R., and Edith Waldstein, eds. In the Shadow of Olympus: German Women Writers around 1800. Albany, NY: State U of New York P, 1991. Hoff, Dagmar von. Dramen des Weiblichen: Deutsche Dramatikerinnen um 1800. Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1989. Maurer, Wolfgang, and Barbara Becker-Cantarino. Frauenfreundschaft—Männerfreundschaft : Literarische Diskurse im 18. Jahrhundert. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1991. Wurst, Karin A., ed. Frauen und Drama im achtzehnten Jahrhundert. Cologne: Böhlau, 1991. In determining women's role in German literary production of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, feminist critics are often confronted with the problem of how they should refer to that time without undue recourse to the usual nomenclature for stylistic periods (e.g., enlightenment, classicism, romanticism), hierarchical genre distinctions (e.g., "Frauenroman"), value judgments based on canonical standards, or designations like the "Age of Goethe," all of which have contributed to the marginalization of women's writing in traditional literary historiography . Thus readers will often search in vain for pronouncements of * Parts of this essay treating the Gallas/Heuser text were adapted from a review originally submitted to Monatshefte for publication in the 1993 volume. Women in German Yearbook 8 (1992) 160"Around 1800" whether a work is "good" and therefore "deserving" of integration into the extant canon or for categories such as "trivial" literature. This refusal to perpetuate canonical norms is particularly apparent in the case of the German women dramatists, since critics like Karin Wurst and Susanne Kord (but not Dagmar von Hoff!) are aware of presenting readers with a tabula rasa and seem to feel a responsibility for letting the works stand or fall on their own merits (Wurst 14-19; Kord 11-12). Another characteristic of the works under review is that they tend to avoid traditional periodization by using such neutral temporal terms as "around/urn 1800," or "im 18. Jahrhundert." Katherine Goodman and Edith Waldstein go one step further in deconstructing the paradigms of a gender-specific "dominant discourse" by referring to entrenched attitudes "with a sense of irony" (2) in electing to call their anthology of critical essays "In the Shadow of Olympus. " Whether they have been successful remains to be discussed below; suffice it for now to say that all of these recent publications contribute to a revision of our understanding of women's role in German literary life "around 1800," and that such a revision necessarily entails the suspension of traditional categories of textual evaluation or systematic literary historiography (e.g., Wurst 16-17; Kord 11-12). The specific contours that such projects assume depend on their individual methodological framework; the collective results, however, radically alter our perception of German literary culture in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I. German Women's Novels "around 1800" Ten years ago, if anyone had tried to locate information on novels written by German women in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, they would have found very little material beyond Christine Touaillon's pioneering work and several studies by Marion Beaujean. For the rest, women's novels were usually lumped together and relegated to the literary no-man's-land of the "Frauenroman." Women's novels were perceived as "Trivialliteratur" or were thought to be by women for women and children and thus not worthy of further criticai notice. The novels themselves were difficult to locate, and the biographical data on the authors that was available in older reference works like Meusel, Schindel, or Touaillon proved to be unreliable at best. In the intervening years, much has been done to rectify this situation, largely through the efforts of Helga Gallas and Magdalene Heuser and the scholars who are represented in their volume on German women's novels "around 1800." Now it is possible to obtain modern editions or reprints of some of these novels with critical introductions and bio/bibliographical references in series such as the "Frühe Frauenliteratur in Deutschland" edited by Anita Runge (Olms); there...