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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 4 Citizenship under Construction: Progress, Civilization, and Racial Hierarchies in Ottilie Assing’s “Reports from America” 235


Chapter 4 Citizenship under Construction: Progress, Civilization, and Racial Hierarchies in Ottilie Assing’s “Reports from America” I could never understand the optimistic courage with which so many are ready to pronounce verdicts of condemnation upon others. Whoever is courageous enough to be honest with himself and the world has to admit that once we subtract everything we have become through educa- tion, knowledge, and beneficial inf luences almost nothing remains; and no one can guarantee whether under exactly opposite circumstances he would be one iota better than the worst among those whom he is so ready to condemn. —Assing, Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser, 18531 It is an ugly feature in human nature that the lower the stage of devel- opment which either a race or an individual has reached, the more it is oppressed, the more it will yearn to oppress someone more humble in its turn. — Assing, Letter to Frederick Douglass, July 12, 1877 1 Ottilie Assing, Radical Passion: Ottilie Assing’s Reports from America and Letters to Frederick Douglass, ed. & trans. Christoph Lohmann (New York: Peter Lang, 1999) 13. From this point forward, the page numbers given in the body of the text will refer to the Christoph Lohmann translation unless otherwise stated. When avail- able, the original quotations from Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser, listed with year of publication and page number, will be given in the notes. “Niemals konnte ich deßhalb auch den zuversichtlichen Muth begreifen, mit dem so viele bereit sind, das Verdammungsurtheil über...

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