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  • Love at Last Sight: Dating, Intimacy, and Risk in Turn-of-the-Century Berlin by Tyler Carrington
  • Dinah Lensing-Sharp
Love at Last Sight: Dating, Intimacy, and Risk in Turn-of-the-Century Berlin. By Tyler Carrington. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. Pp. xi + 248. Cloth $35.00. ISBN 978-0190917760.

How might we understand the evolution of romance in the modern city? Love at Last Sight attempts to answer this question by investigating the changing norms around dating, love, and marriage in Berlin at the turn of the twentieth century. The book's central case study is the 1914 killing of thirty-nine-year-old seamstress Frieda Kliem, whom Carrington seeks to position as an archetypal modern Berliner. He discusses the pitfalls of looking for love in the frequent collision of hegemonic Bürgerlichkeit (middle class-ness) with new paths to intimacy emerging in early twentieth-century Berlin. This is not, however, the thrilling world of Berlin's Weimar-era nightlife and decadent sexual subcultures, which would not appear until the early 1920s. Instead, Carrington sets his sights on the earlier transitional years, when traditional notions of social propriety were forced to reckon with a rapidly transformed urban landscape.

The book situates itself at the intersection of literary and social history, at first seeming primarily descriptive, drawing on a variety of archival documents such as newspapers, letters, diaries, scientific and sociological articles, short stories, plays, and novels. Carrington argues that the rapidly modernizing metropolis afforded individuals more agency in finding a match than they'd had even a few decades earlier in the nineteenth century. Furthermore, he declares that an analysis of gay and lesbian Berliners' lives should be integrated with those of their heterosexual counterparts, in the interest of acknowledging the commonalities between these groups. But he only mentions gay and lesbian Berliners in two of the five chapters, and he spends considerably less time describing their experiences than those of the city's heterosexual inhabitants. This makes some sense, considering the fact that gays and lesbians had to seek out intimacy covertly, but it seems a shame to learn so much about the intricate ways that heterosexual Berliners thought about love and dating without a fuller picture of the emerging queer social scene. Carrington briefly mentions Robert Beachy's book Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity (2014) in an endnote, but Love at Last Sight would benefit from a deeper engagement with such scholarship, particularly because Beachy's book examines the fraught (but rapidly evolving) understanding of homosexuality from the mid-nineteenth century [End Page 177] through the end of the Weimar Republic. In a book so concerned with the imbrication of intimacy and risk, an extended discussion of the potential legal and violent ramifications of same-sex intimacy seems warranted.

The early chapters offer explications of the typical routes many Berliners took in their search for intimacy and partnership. The first chapter, "Romantic Fantasies in the Big City," describes popular ideas about finding love as discussed in newspapers and imagined in short-form literary works; the chance encounter, apparently a turn-of-the-century predecessor to the "meet-cute," takes center stage here. Chapter 2, "Urban Avenues to Love," examines typical ways that Berliners actually did meet one another: bicycling, living in the same apartment building, working in the same office, or meeting at evening balls replaced the traditional matches made by parents or other family members. Chapter 3, "Reimagining Marriage," notes changing attitudes toward marriage and long-term commitment in Berlin; while some figured this as a crisis, it also allowed the new archetype of the "modern woman" (81) to emerge as many women sought social and economic independence.

The book is most engaging when it links historical context with the documented reality of its primary subject's life—in Frieda Kliem, Carrington has found a case that effectively showcases Berlin women's "struggle for existence" (12) and the dangers they might encounter in pursuing a stable, middle-class marriage. Chapter 4, "Emerging Technologies of Love," focuses on the rise of matchmaking bureaus and personal ads placed in newspapers, along with the attendant social risks: using practical means to actively seek...


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pp. 177-179
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