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Beyond 1984: Provocation and Prognosis in Marieluise Fleisser's Play Purgatory in Ingolstadt RALPH LEY Marieluise Fleisser was probably the most gifted of Bertolt Brecht's female collaborators. Long considered a minor writer of the Weimar Republic worthy of little more than honorable mention in a footnote embellishing the biography of Brecht, Fleisser was able in her last years to move out from under his enormous shadow and become one of the more celebrated Iiterary rediscoveries of the 1970S in Germany. Along with Odon von Horvath, she has been credited with fashioning the politically and socially oriented Volksstuck or folk play which paved the way for the neo-realistic theater of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Franz Xaver Kroetz, and Martin Speer;I she has become a force in feminist literature,2 and she has established herself, arguably, as the finest woman dramatist of the century writing in the German language.3 Yet, apart from a short piece in an extremely obscure and rather inaccessible journal, until 1980 there was not a single article on Fleisser in the English-speaking world, nor have any of her writings been translated. These include five plays, a novel, some thirty short stories, and a handful of literary and autobiographical essays. Nearly everything Fleisser wrote was based on a combination of personal experiences and observations ofher immediate surroundings. She found it very difficult to create out ofthin air. In other words, she was subject to the impulses and urges of an intensely autobiographical writer. For this reason there is no consequent development in the five plays she authored. There is, however, a significant difference in literary approach and quality between her first play and the other four. What accounts for this dichotomy is, in a word, Brecht. Shortly before her death in 1974 she told an interviewer that he had destroyed something in her. To be convinced ofthis, she said, one had simply to compare the earlier Purgatory in Ingolstadt (Fegefeuer in Ingolstadt) with the later Combat Engineers in Ingolstadt (Pioniere in Ingolstadt) .4 Her first play was written in secret,S free of the influence of Brecht's theorizing and of his Fleisser's Purgatory in [ngolstadt 341 overwhelming and often overbearing personality. For Fleisser the writing of Purgatory in [Ilgolstadt was an existential necessity, born ofthe mental anguish produced by the sudden clash of opposite worlds6 One was the confining, rigid, and narrowly moralistic world of a Gretchen, reared in the provinces and educated by sheltering nuns. The other was the wide-open, liberating, and neo-pagan world of the big city of the Roaring Twenties, where Gretchen encountered Mephisto (the prominent novelist and playwright, Lion Feuchtwanger ) who in turn introduced her to the genius of Faust (the works of Brecht; later, after the completion of her play, to the man himself). Brecht was more impressed by Fleisser's talent than by her play. When he succeeded in having it staged, he did everything he could to downgrade the religious atmosphere, which Fleisser herself felt was one of the elements on which the life of the play depended. Brecht much preferred her next drama, Combat Engineers in [ngolstadt, which he had practically commissioned Fleisser to write. When the scandal provoked by Brecht's salacious and anti-militaristic staging of the play in Berlin in 1929 erupted, Fleisser became the most maligned woman in the history of the Weimar Republic.7 The nationalist press as well as her fellow townspeople back in Ingolstadt accused her of betraying and perverting German womanhood by writing the lowest sort of JewishBolshevist gutter trash. Fleisser finally faced up to the fact that if she were to save her writer's soul she would have to make a clean break with Brecht. She was constitutionally opposed to his insistence that an author should sacrifice his or her uniqueness to the collective production of socially significant literature. In cutting herself off from Brecht, Fleisser regained her independence as a writer. But she could not cut herself off from his influence. In this regard she won a great deal but lost even more. After Brecht one finds her autobiographical bent reinforced by a sharper sense of naturalness or naivety. There is also...


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pp. 340-351
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