Jenseits von Tugend und Empfindsamkeit: Frauenliteratur um 1800 als forum für sozialpolitische Erörterungen Public Deposited

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  • Beyond virtue and sensibility: women's literature as a forum for social-political discourse around 1800
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  • March 21, 2019
  • Gerig, Maya
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures
  • This dissertation challenges the notion that domestic novels by women deal first and foremost with sentimentality and feminine virtues. I claim, on the contrary, that women writers around 1800 used literature to articulate a variety of political agendas concerned with the shifting position of women in society. Writing at a moment that witnessed the emergence of distinct public and private spheres and a burgeoning legal discourse about such distinctions, women novelists used their fiction to enter directly into the legal debates of their era. The dissertation reads narrative fiction by women alongside contemporary legal debates, considering how this literature intervenes in public discussions on infanticide, domestic violence and divorce. My study concentrates on twenty-two prose works published between 1771 and 1829 and written by the following authors: Julie Berger, Marianne Ehrmann, Caroline Auguste Fischer, Henriette Frölich, Therese Huber, Sophie von La Roche, Dorothea Margarethe Liebeskind, Sophie Mereau, Benedikte Naubert, Dorothea Schlegel, Johanna Schopenhauer, Helen Friederike Unger and Wilhelmine Karoline von Wobeser. The introductory chapter addresses the shifting boundaries between the public and the private realm. As historians have noted, the development of the private-public dichotomy in this era tended to exclude women from public life and confine them to the home. Women novelists, I argue, used their fiction to create an alternative understanding of the public sphere where women's concerns could be expressed and discussed. The remaining chapters offer case studies of how women's literature intervened in contemporary legal debates, focusing on infanticide (chapter 2), domestic violence (chapter 3), and divorce and spinsterhood respectively (chapter 4). My analysis organizes these discussions by subject rather than by author. This makes it possible to explore the wide range of women authors engaged in using literature to articulate socio-political agendas. In this way, I unearth not simply "progressive voices" but a broader model of agency.
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  • Hess, Jonathan
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