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Domesticating the Public

Women’s Discourse on Gender Roles in Nineteenth-Century Germany


Daniela Richter

The domestic sphere, the ideological as well as physical context of female life during the nineteenth century, featured prominently in German women’s writing of the period. Women writers, such as Fanny Lewald, Ida von Hahn-Hahn and E. Marlitt, who had begun to dominate Germany’s book market, addressed domestic life and female gender roles through a variety of genres. At the same time, activists such as Helene Lange and Henriette Schrader-Breymann let their vision of female gender roles shape the kindergartens and girls’ secondary schools they founded.
This book discusses issues of female gender role formation and examines the ways in which women’s writing and activism contributed to the process. As a result, a rich tapestry of female social discourse is uncovered, exhibiting women’s strong commitment to shaping their destinies within a largely misogynistic political and legal national framework.


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Chapter 3“Im siebten Himmel?”: Reforming Marriage 81


Chapter 3 “Im siebten Himmel?”: Reforming Marriage Marriage as a topos is dif ficult to trace in women’s nineteenth-century fic- tion. It is less prevalent than the popular romance plot, which depicts an adolescent girl seeking a suitable spouse, but leaves out the description of any actual marital relationship. Portrayals of married life in fiction surface only at clearly demarcated periods throughout the course of the century. One such period was the period around 1848, when married life was central in works by such writers as Louise Otto-Peters, Louise Mühlbach, Louise Aston, Fanny Lewald, and Ida von Hahn-Hahn, only to be muted after the failed revolution of 1848 until the turn of the century, at which point new depictions surfaced in the writings of Hedwig Dohm, Franziska zu Reventlow, and Gabriele Reuter. This literary development is paralleled by changes in marriage law. In order to quickly illustrate these developments I refer to historian Ute Gerhard. In her research she provides a clear overview over the complex legal landscape of the nineteenth-century German states and the unified German empire after 1871. Dif ferent law codes applied in dif ferent German states, some of them valid until 1900, when the first Bürgerliche Gesetzbuch (Civil Law Code) was drafted, such as the Napoleonic Code Civil, the medieval Saxon Law, the Common Law or Roman Law, and the more progressive Allgemeine Preussische Landrecht of 1794 (Common Prussian Law). The Prussian law code indeed provided unprecedented provisions for single mothers to claim financial...

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