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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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Chapter 1Foundations of Inclusion and Exclusion 11


Chapter 1 Foundations of Inclusion and Exclusion Immer wieder mußte es sich die real existierende Gesellschaft gefallen lassen, an den Vorstellungen und Wünschen ihrer Vordenker gemessen zu werden. Hatten deren Ideen einst dazu gedient, die Geltungsmacht des Ancien Régime zu bestreiten und die Heraufkunft einer neuen Ordnung zu rechtfertigen, wurden sie später dazu benutzt, Versäumnisse, Defizite oder Widersprüche einzuklagen und die Emanzipationsinteressen sozialer Außenseiter innerhalb der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft zu legitimieren. — Ute Frevert, Bürgerinnen und Bürger Public discussions in the nineteenth century about individual rights did not occur outside of the social context. During this time period, European society in general, and the German states in particular, were occupied with the transition from absolutist monarchies to civil society. In some historical accounts, this transition to civil society relied on two seemingly contradic- tory notions: the rise in importance of the idea of a universal individual and the increasing stratification of gender roles.1 The social context for these changes had been created in part by Enlightenment ideals which paved the way for civil society and the political and legal individual – as well as the exclusion of all but Christian, white, propertied males from consideration as individuals. Though they preceded the generation into 1 For their Introduction to issues of gender during this time of transition, as well as a general overview of relevant scholarship, see Ulrike Gleixner and Marion W. Gray, eds., Gender in Transition: Discourse and Practice in German-Speaking Europe, 1750...

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