From Goethe to Gide: Feminism, Aesthetics and the French and German Literary Canon, 1770-1936

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From Goethe to Gide brings together twelve essays on canonical male writers (six French and six German) commissioned from leading specialists from Britain and North America.
These essays, aimed at final year undergraduates and postgraduates, focus on Rousseau, Goethe, Schiller, Hoffmann, Stendhal, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Heine, Fontane, Zola, Kafka, and Gide. The collection therefore foregrounds the major authors taught in British university BA courses in French and German. Working with the tools of feminist criticism, the authors demonstrate how feminist readings of these writings can illuminate far more than attitudes towards women.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780859897211
  • Publisher: University of Exeter Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2005
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Orr is Professor of French at the University of Southampton. Her principal publications include: Flaubert’s Madame Bovary: Representations of the Masculine (Berne, 1999); Flaubert: Writing the Masculine (OUP, 2000). Lesley Sharpe is Professor of German at the University of Exeter. Her principal publications include: Friedrich Schiller: Drama, Thought and Politics (Cambridge, 1991); The Cambridge Companion to Goethe (Cambridge, 2002).

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From Goethe to Gide

Feminism, Aesthetics and the French and German Literary Canon 1770â"1936

By Mary Orr, Lesley Sharpe

University of Exeter Press

Copyright © 2005 Mary Orr, Lesley Sharpe
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-85989-722-8


Errant Strivings

Goethe, Faust and the Feminist Reader

Gail K. Hart

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe lived from 1749 to 1832, a long life that began in the Enlightenment under the vestiges of the Holy Roman Empire and extended through several revisions of the European political map and its intellectual climate zones. He not only lived through the era of petty German principalities and the Napoleonic wars, but he was also a participant in government as a state minister in the Duchy of Weimar and experienced some of the phases of war, including the Campaign of 1792, in which he accompanied the Prussian armies and his duke, Carl August, as they marched confidently into France. The political world he inhabited, that of the French Revolution and its European aftermath and of petty absolutism in a dauntingly fragmented Germany, placed certain limitations on even the most prominent individuals, but it also provided a wealth of opportunity for an ambitious and active polymath. Goethe became a Privy Councillor (Geheimrat) and was actively engaged in all facets of the government in Weimar, where he enjoyed considerable celebrity for his literary achievements and learning. Goethe travelled somewhat within the continent, and met with the leading intellectuals of his day, as well as with heads of state, including Napoleon, who was a fan of Die Leiden des jungen Werther (The Sorrows of Young Werther). Though remembered primarily as a poet, he was active in politics, legislation, state bureaucracy, scientific research, publishing, and he also directed the court theatre at Weimar.

The literary world Goethe inherited was heavily determined by various efforts to establish an identifiably German literature, a body of work that was to be representative of the pre-national nationalism that emerged much more strongly in intellectual intercourse than in political affairs. Johann Christoph Gottsched (1700–66) had sought in 1730 in his Versuch einer critischen Dichtkunst vor die Deutschen (Attempt at a Critical Poetics for the Germans) to codify German literature and genre according to neo-classicist standards borrowed from the French. Gottsched, a writer and critic of considerable authority, had numerous French plays translated into German, largely for the sake of modelling tasteful dramatic composition. The debates about French influence and what should constitute a basic German cultural vocabulary continued into and intensified during Goethe's early youth and most of these debates centred on drama. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–81) was most conspicuously opposed to the principles laid down in Gottsched's theory and practice of the stage, and viewed his work as theatre critic at the Hamburg National Theatre as a contribution to the construction of a German nation—though this 'nation' still lacked political and geographical unity. That Gottsched, Lessing, and later Goethe and Schiller, engaged in varying degrees with the practical realm of theatre in their efforts to realize a German literature, indicates their faith in the potential of theatre to unite and motivate—fundamental prerequisites for nation formation. The heirs of Lessing, those who continued to seek 'the German' in reaction to 'the French', included Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg (1737–1823), Johann Georg Hamann (1730-88), and Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803), all of whom explored English models, specifically Shakespeare, as a guide to founding a culturally German literature. These thinkers felt closer to the English literary tradition and they frequently celebrated Shakespeare's lack of adherence to the compulsory figures of neoclassicist aesthetics.

There was, however, little room at the foundational inn for Shakespeare's sisters, and almost no acknowledged female participation or consideration of women's issues in these attempts to realize a national identity through a characteristic body of literature. Luise Adelgunde Gottsched (1713–62) wrote and translated dramas that promoted her husband's rules for dramatic literature. Karoline Neuber (1697–1760), like many other professional actresses of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, composed plays and sketches for performance, though she was also dependent on Gottsched for a time. Sophie von La Roche (1730–1807) found success as a novelist, with the assistance of Christoph Martin Wieland (1733–1813), her cousin and admirer, but women remained an appendage to the central movement of recorded literary history. Bourgeois and aristocratic women, and the occasional professional like Neuber or Johanna Sophie Albrecht (1757–1840), wrote letters, novels, short prose, poetry, dramas, translations, adaptations, history and autobiography, but, despite publication and impressive sales figures in some cases, German literary history has traditionally devoted very little space to these women's contributions. Literary judgement, editorial selection, and popular sentiment were largely controlled by the strong essentialist prejudice behind Schiller's well-known remark to Goethe in their correspondence (30 June 1797): 'It really surprises me how our women, in a purely dilettantish way, have been able to acquire a certain skill in writing that is nearly artistic.' The attribution of dilettantism—the near- but not artistic—to 'our women' derives from Goethe's and Schiller's common interest in the phenomenon, which they sought to analyze and describe in a joint project. They concluded: 'The dilettante is always only a half; he treats everything [artistic] as a game; as a way of passing time [...] of satisfying an inclination, of indulging a mood.' The foundations of their study, which was never finished, show considerable overlap between their definitions of dilettantism and feminine stereotypes. Though the great pair praised women writers for testing their limits, the basic assumption was that women were not capable of genuinely artistic writing. Inasmuch as the category of artistic writing was implicitly defined to exclude them, this was indeed true. Since Goethe and Schiller both embodied and generated norms, it is not at all surprising that a women's German literary history, or even a balanced literary history involving both men's and women's writing, is an ongoing interventionist work of recovery.

Goethe's adult life spanned a number of German literary-historical periods, including Sentimentalism, Rococo, Sturm und Drang, Classicism, and Romanticism. He participated in most of these stylistic movements and was, to an astonishing degree for a single individual, instrumental in or entirely responsible for the establishment of new literary styles and genres. Whereas Shakespeare and Dante are, like Goethe, arguably the premier writers of their nations/territories/ languages, neither can be said to have determined the course of English or Italian literature. They 'merely' provided some of the highest examples of these national literatures and these examples were to some extent inimitable. Goethe, on the other hand, worked in the generic trenches and wrote exemplary pieces that in many cases were intended to create formal options and define German genre. His Wilhelm Meister novels established the Bildungsroman; his Novelle—originally titled Die Jagd (The Hunt)—was a bold attempt to determine the course of that developing form; Hermann und Dorothea was the prototype of the modern epic poem; earlier poems such as 'Mit einem gemalten Band' (With a Painted Ribbon) contributed to shaping the category of Erlebnislyrik (poetry of experience); dramas such as Götz von Berlichingen or Iphigenie auf Tauris outlined the stylistic features of the Sturm und Drang and German Classicism respectively. Goethe was thus actively and consciously involved in the founding and formation of modern German literature. He was furthermore instrumental in the formation of our standard understandings of German literary history, many of which were laid out in his autobiography Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth), 1811–33, and many of which persist, despite challenges, to this day. Though Goethe's popularity has waxed and waned in his native land—often in inverse proportion to that of Schiller—he was, is, and will most likely remain the principal German poet.

How do feminist critics read and react to the monolith that is Goethe? How do they read his works, respond to his stature, assess the context for works and stature, and engage with his sheer ubiquity? Before I outline my understanding of 'feminist criticism' and its interactions with Goethe, I want to remark that there is not much critical literature addressing Goethe and his works that can be regarded as even remotely feminist. That is, given the massive proportions of Goethe criticism, the segment that explicitly represents or advances a feminist social or political agenda is rather small. Much of the work done by feminists on German literature in general consists in investigations of the few canonical women writers, and the discovery or rehabilitation of those women whose work was forgotten or dismissed by an almost radically mono-gendered literary historical tradition. Furthermore, because of the thoroughness of the literature on Goethe, very strong and tenacious standard readings and intellectual habits have emerged and challenges to that which we have known so well for so long may seem, both to reviewers and editors, to be simply crass or wrong. Finally, the hierarchical structure and politics of German universities are undoubtedly a factor in the dearth of feminist commentary on Goethe. Those who choose their topics with relative freedom are those who occupy professorships and, as a rule, those who occupy professorships tend to be neither feminists nor women.

There is, however, a restricted body of Goethe criticism that we can view as feminist. Within it, I would distinguish between two tendencies, namely the descriptive and the analytical. Though these are usually intertwined, it helps to regard them individually, as they employ different methods and address different agendas. Descriptive feminist writing on Goethe tends to review a text or texts from a feminist perspective, casting themes, events, and figures in another light and pointing out what are, from this perspective, skewed images of women's roles in social relations—often skewed by a kind of male narcissism that portrays women as helpers, hearth-tenders, self-sacrificing lovers, or disposable narrative/dramatic conveniences. Goethe's status and his normative influence mandate (politically, practically, and personally) some critical feminist commentary on the basic configurations in his works and on the working out of those configurations. Descriptive treatment of fair and progressive representation of feminist issues—though conceivable—is rather rare in the literature on Goethe. A notable exception is Katharina Mommsen's portrayal of Goethe as an 'advocate for women' in her 'Goethe as a Precursor of Women's Emancipation', but Mommsen's conclusions are, I believe, based on highly interested selections from the works, letters, and conversations.

Analytical feminist criticism—or that subset of it that addresses Goethe and his works and his world—concerns itself less with the details of description, but rather concentrates on the possible motives behind or reasons for the qualities of the text in question, patterns of thought that underlie various aspects of the text, or the text's relatedness to theoretical or historical models. As noted, few essays are purely descriptive or purely analytical and my categorization necessarily oversimplifies by omitting all those forms of critical writing that are not text-bound or that do not centre on a given text—though there are a few such assessments of Goethe himself and his life, based on sophisticated biographical, social-historical, and psychoanalytical models. These designations furthermore tend to imply a hierarchy that I do not want to invoke, namely the greater weight we assign to analysis over description, theoretical innovation over positivist deduction. There is a particular mode of description that underlies the best of feminist criticism and is perhaps inseparable from all feminist writing and that is the review/description of social relations, of literary texts, of law and established protocols for its enforcement, of so many aspects of gendered living, under feminist assumptions of equality or parity between the sexes or some manner of non-patriarchal model. Analytical contexts include models from Marxism and psychoanalysis to New Historical models, cultural studies, and social history, and examples in Goethe criticism would be such strategies as Hannelore Schlaffer's examination of the situations in which Goethe may have served as a muse to women writers; and W. Daniel Wilson's expansion on the common understandings of archival sources that see in the documentary evidence signs of a 'good' person with generally emancipatory leanings; or Barbara Becker-Cantarino's nuancing of the 'discourse of patriarchy' as the natural order in the Wilhelm Meister novels.

I want to mention three areas of particular interest to feminist critics studying Goethe. The first is the proliferation of impressive and unusual female figures in his work, an oeuvre that includes the wild and athletic Eugenie of Die natürliche Tochter (The Natural Daughter), the steely and determined Klärchen of Egmont, Götz von Berlichingen's politically strong and insidious Adelheid, and the free and independent Iphigenie who, far from being a human sacrifice, dictates to the ruler of Tauris and maintains that she was born as free as any man. These figures are by no means uniform and they are indeed unusual in their social context, suggestive of a creative imagination that was not bound by gender roles. Goethe once remarked to Johann Peter Eckermann, that women

are silver dishes into which we put golden apples. My idea of women is not abstracted from the phenomena of actual life; but has been born with me, or arisen in me, God knows how. The female characters I have drawn have therefore all turned out well; they are all better than could be found in reality.

Whether Goethe's 'golden apples' are indeed better than the silver dishes they rest in cannot be verified, but his female figures are definitely his own and they have occupied critics of all stripes for two centuries.

The second area is that defined by the strong current of male narcisissm in some of the most prominent texts, something that almost runs counter to the creation of strong independent women, inasmuch as many of the women figures exist conspicuously and solely for the sake of the care and education of the hero. Becker-Cantarino makes this tendency unmistakably explicit: 'All of Goethe's fictional heroines defined and derived their existence within the context of bondage and service to a male who himself was an independent and active individual.' This is a very strong and inclusive statement and it poses a challenge to readers and critics, either to resist its sweeping universalism or to accept it and probe the context for the astounding consistency that Becker-Cantarino asserts. It should be noted that the imposing women mentioned above do fit her model, inasmuch as they are indeed bound to or in thrall to independent—if not always active—male figures. Even Iphigenie serves her brother's interests.

This current of 'bondage and service' is expressed in the recurring dyad of the innocent, youthful woman who is somehow associated with nature, and the wiser, mature woman more closely associated with culture, who tend to Goethean protagonists. Stella, for example, features a beautiful and childlike young woman (Stella) and an older, motherly woman (Cäcilie) who both love the male protagonist, Fernando, to the exclusion of most other thought and action. In the earlier version of the play (1776), they unite and enter into a polygamous relationship with Fernando, exclaiming, 'We are yours!' ('Wir sind dein!'; DK 4, 574). Faust experiences a similar pair of women, though consecutively, enjoying the company and devotion of Gretchen in Part I and acquiring Helen of Troy herself in Part II.


Excerpted from From Goethe to Gide by Mary Orr, Lesley Sharpe. Copyright © 2005 Mary Orr, Lesley Sharpe. Excerpted by permission of University of Exeter Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1 Errant strivings : Goethe, Faust and the feminist reader 7
2 Hospitality and sexual difference in Rousseau's Confessions 22
3 Gender and genre : Schiller's drama and aesthetics 34
4 Male foibles, female critique and narrative capriciousness : on the function of gender in conceptions of art and subjectivity in E. T. A. Hoffmann 49
5 Varieties of female agency in Stendhal 65
6 Heine's 'Madchen und Frauen' : women and emancipation in the writings of Heinrich Heine 80
7 Mundus Muliebris : Baudelaire's world to women 97
8 Flaubert's cautionary tales and the art of the absolute 113
9 Manly men and womanly women : aesthetics and gender in Fontane's Effi Briest and Der Stechlin 129
10 Bodies in crisis : Zola, gender, and the dilemmas of history 145
11 Karl Rossmann, or the boy who wouldn't grow up : the flight from manhood in Kafka's Der Verschollene 168
12 Andre Gide and the making of the perfect child 184
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