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Constructions of Melancholy in Contemporary German and Austrian Literature

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Anna O'Driscoll

Melancholy has become a central theme of German literature since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The rapidly changing sociopolitical circumstances of the post-1989 period and the continued burden of the Nazi past have directly contributed to this upsurge in melancholy themes. This book traces the complex discourse of melancholy in contemporary literature in the work of Monika Maron, Christoph Hein, Arno Geiger and Alois Hotschnig. Focusing on key concepts of melancholy – time, transience, historical dislocation and posthistoire – the author’s readings reveal the close connection between the body and melancholy from ageing to our gendered relationships with history. This study also emphasizes the relevance of melancholy for current theoretical issues in German Studies, including Heimat discourse, genealogy and transgenerational memory, and postmemory.

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Chapter 3 Christoph Hein’s Frau Paula Trousseau: Art as Refuge in the GDR

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Introduction Christoph Hein’s novel Frau Paula Trousseau is of key significance within the context of the melancholy tradition as, unlike the other narratives I have examined, it portrays the conditions of life both under the GDR regime and in the post-Wende years up until the new millennium. The novel relates the protagonist’s life story, opening with Paula’s death by suicide in the year 2000 and then turning to a first-person account, which depicts her life from the age of nineteen, with intermittent chapters providing a retrospective view of her childhood. Her childhood is dominated by a father’s unrelenting tyranny and a mother’s despair. Her mother attempts to commit suicide a number of times, as does Paula herself, the episode that brings her closest to death taking place in her mid- to late teens and being triggered by a painful rejection. By this time she has already escaped the family home and is training to be a nurse. In order to also be financially independent of her parents she marries Hans Trousseau, a successful archi- tect living in Leipzig. However, she puts the marriage in jeopardy from the start by insisting on attending entrance exams at the Kunsthochschule in Berlin on the day on which the wedding is supposed to take place. Hans eventually agrees to postpone the wedding but does everything in his power to prevent her from taking her place at the art college, including replacing her contraceptive pills with placebos. Although she becomes pregnant, Paula cannot be deterred...

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