Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > Bestselling Borders: The Mutual Implications of German and Polish Identity in the Late Nineteenth- and Early Twientieth Century Novel
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Available after 6 July, 2019

This dissertation argues that engagement with the borderland in German and Polish novels of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries is grounded in recognition of the productive space engendered by the ambivalence and ambiguity of liminal spaces. This project explores how novels use those in-between spaces to construct new identities amidst social upheaval to buttress paternalistic structures to counter modernity’s corrosion of interpersonal relationships. The dissertation analyzes four novels popular with their contemporary audiences and composed by renowned authors who demonstrated sustained interest in German-Polish literary relations. Chapter I examines the role of Polishness in policing the boundaries of a nascent German bourgeois identity in Gustav Freytag’s Soll und Haben [Debit and Credit] (1855). Chapter II treats Theodor Fontane’s 1878 historical novel, Vor dem Sturm [Before the Storm], where the staging of multiple spheres of German identity formation reveals the paradoxical nature of identity itself. Chapter III explores how Clara Viebig’s Das schlafende Heer [The Sleeping Army] (1904) appropriates the Ostmarkenroman genre to imagine a culturally unified Germany. Chapter IV examines how Bolesław Prus’ Placówka [The Outpost] (1886) illustrates the importance of coming to terms with ambiguity and ambivalence within one Polish village. This project joins a growing scholarly dialogue on the German-Polish borderland as a space in which to reimagine the building blocks of community. The scholarship of Maria Wojtczak, Kristin Kopp, Izabela Surynt, and Hubert Orłowski has been formative in this project’s discussion of the German literary imaginary of the East. Unlike these works, my analysis encompasses both German and Polish novels, advocating for literary border studies which transcend national traditions. This project avoids elevating one literary discourse to speaker and the other to silent receptacle. Ultimately, this dissertation represents an interpretive experiment which hosts a multifaceted symposium on a shared creative space. My analysis of these novels’ engagement with the German-Polish borderland demonstrates that literature provides an alternative philosophy of ambivalence and ambiguity.