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Enlightened Reactions

Emancipation, Gender, and Race in German Women’s Writing


Traci S. O'Brien

This book investigates a central contradiction in the Enlightenment thinking of emancipatory German women’s writing of the nineteenth century. Ida von Hahn-Hahn, Fanny Lewald, and Ottilie Assing wrote passionate arguments in favor of the emancipation of women, Jews, and blacks, promoting Enlightenment ideals of human worth and social contribution. They protested these groups’ exclusion from social participation on the basis of purportedly natural criteria such as gender or race. However, their rhetoric of emancipation also relied on racializing discourse, demonstrating that these women writers, too, frequently supported social equality at the expense of another excluded group. The author develops her argument by analyzing Hahn-Hahn’s fiction and travel writings set in the Middle East, Lewald’s novels and letters about women and Jews in Germany, and Assing’s «Reports from America» in favor of the abolition of African slavery in the United States. This wide-ranging comparative study offers a unique insight into German women’s contribution to emancipatory struggles around the world.


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Introduction 1


Introduction Ob man nun dazu tendiert, die fortdauernde Ungleichheit zwischen den Geschlechtern im 19. Jahrhundert als notwendigen Bestandteil der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft zu verstehen oder ob man eher meint, diese Ungleichheit als einen Widerspruch zu den Grundprinzipien bürger- licher Gesellschaften zu sehen, der sich zwar lange hielt, aber dennoch als Konsequenz dieser Grundprinzipien allmählich zu weichen hat, [erhält] die geschlechtergeschichtliche Perspektive dadurch zentrale Bedeutung für die Frage nach dem Bürgertum und der Bürgerlichkeit des 19. Jahrhunderts. — Ute Frevert, Bürgerinnen und Bürger This book examines the ways in which three nineteenth-century women – Ida von Hahn-Hahn (1805–1880), Fanny Lewald (1811–1889), and Ottilie Assing (1819–1884) – wrote about and redefined selfhood and autonomy. All three confronted problems of exclusion in their respective societies, and all three wrote emancipatory texts which went against the grain of these societies. There has been a resurgence of interest in Hahn-Hahn’s and Lewald’s work in the last thirty years due to the publication of texts such as Renate Möhrmann’s now classic work, Die andere Frau.1 Ottilie Assing is less well known. However, she is a topic of discussion among Americanists because of her journalistic activity in the US as well as her relationship with Frederick Douglass.2 1 Renate Möhrmann, Die andere Frau. Emanzipationsansätze deutscher Schriftstellerinnen im Vorfeld der Achtundvierziger-Revolution (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1977), as well as Möhrmann, ed., Frauenemanzipation im deutschen Vormärz (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1978). 2 See, for example, Maria Diedrich, Love Across Color...

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