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  • German Writing, American Reading: Women and the Import of Fiction, 1866–1917 by Lynne Tatlock
  • Jill Suzanne Smith (bio)
German Writing, American Reading: Women and the Import of Fiction, 1866–1917. By Lynne Tatlock. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2012. xiv + 347 pp. Cloth $57.95.

In her meticulously researched and clearly written study German Writing, American Reading, Lynne Tatlock persuasively documents the popularity of German novels in postbellum America. What is striking about these popular German novels is that they were not what readers today most readily associate with nineteenth-century German literature; they were not dark, fantastical tales spun by the Romantics, nor were they naturalistic depictions of the plight of the industrial proletariat. They were works of domestic fiction written by German women authors who were some of the best-selling writers of their time but who gradually faded into obscurity: E. Marlitt, Luise Mühlbach, W. Heimburg, Wilhelmine von Hillern, and E. Werner. While scholarly analyses of individual writers’ (particularly Marlitt and Mühlbach) work do exist, Tatlock’s book is the first comprehensive study to cover this group of women writers. Within German literary studies, these authors have been ignored in large part due to their gender but also due to the sheer popularity of their works, while in the United States, the political tensions with Germany that arose with the onset of the First World War meant that books by German authors were no longer marketable. At its core, Tatlock’s book is a feminist project of rediscovery that introduces contemporary readers to women writers who shaped the German cultural and literary landscape of the late nineteenth century and to the American women translators who made German literature accessible to a US audience. Part critical biography, part reception history, and part literary exposition, Tatlock’s cross-disciplinary work serves as an important resource to German studies and American studies scholars alike. [End Page e-1]

The author deserves praise for the methodological richness of her book, which draws upon narrative theory, women’s and gender studies, translation studies, and publishing history on both sides of the Atlantic to complement and enhance the myriad archival materials and detailed data collection that constitute Tatlock’s primary research. Indeed, as Tatlock herself admits and her book’s appendices reveal, this is a digital humanities project and hence the product of the collective efforts of the author, her graduate students, and tech-savvy data experts. Without the coherent presentation of data collected from numerous publishing houses, the case that Tatlock makes for the popularity and broad distribution of German women’s writing throughout the United States from 1866 to 1917 would be not nearly as convincing as it is. Perhaps just as important as the collection of data, however, is Tatlock’s own collection of the translated books themselves. Emphasizing the materiality of the books—their ornate covers, the inscriptions inside—Tatlock presents them as historical objects that were once bought, read, and enjoyed.

After she establishes in the first part of her study the impact and reach of German women writers both in their own national context and abroad, Tatlock uses the second and longest section to examine more than thirty novels. She focuses on plot lines and characterization in order to reveal common narrative patterns and themes among a seemingly diverse body of fictional works. Working comparatively, she explores examples of intertextuality in order to reveal how German women writers engaged creatively with other European novels, most notably with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847). Quite a few of the novels Tatlock analyzes are, after all, romances with a somewhat eccentric heroine at their center that take place in dark houses filled with equally dark family secrets, much like Brontë’s work (65). And yet, Tatlock argues, there is also something specifically German about the novels she includes in her studies, something that connects the historical fiction of Luise Mühlbach to the romances of E. Marlitt. They are all works of “domestic fiction” that, in their focus on conjugality, on the individual over the mass, and on the family as the foundational institution of the nation, underscore bourgeois values as the social bedrock...


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