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Popular Fiction in the Age of Bismarck

E. Marlitt and her Narrative Strategies

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Terry May

E. Marlitt was a bestselling author of the late nineteenth century whose romance novels dominated the German literary market between 1865 and 1888. Her novels appeared in thirty languages, with as many as five different English translations circulating simultaneously in the United States alone. While her name is virtually absent from histories of German literature, recent scholarly studies of individual novels suggest the need to reassess her contributions.
This study is the first in English to examine E. Marlitt’s complete fiction. It situates her prose against the backdrop of women’s discourse and nineteenth-century historical developments in the German Empire. It synthesizes findings of both American and German scholarship to show how her social constructs advanced a liberal political agenda while resisting the conventional view of «natural» gender roles. The book provides a context for recognizing Marlitt’s clever use of the conventionality and acceptability of the romance genre to reposition the image of middle-class women. Her emphasis on personal autonomy, educational opportunities and new fields of professional engagement for women advanced altered images of family, class and national identity. Ultimately, this study of a popular author illuminates domestic, middle-class issues that underwent significant transformations equal to the Empire’s public developments under Bismarck’s politics.
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Acknowledgements

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I am indebted to Dr. Peter Uwe Hohendahl for expanding my academic orientation to include the study of popular literature and for introducing me to E. Marlitt in his remarkable DAAD seminar “The Canon and Beyond” held at Cornell University (1991).

To my former colleagues at the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, I am grateful for the stimulating impetus to begin this study: Dr. Heidrun Schorcht for arranging an excursion to Marlitt’s hometown Arnstadt where we purchased several novels; Dr. Birgit Schulze for taking me to the Thüringisches Staatsarchiv Rudolstadt; and Axel Burchhardt for the gift of my first original editions of Marlitt.

I was most fortunate to enjoy the support of St John Fisher College for a sabbatical leave to conduct research at the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin, the Thüringisches Staatsarachiv Rudolstadt, and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. I particularly wish to thank my friends and fellow faculty whose collegiality has sustained me through the years; their willingness to read and provide feedback on individual chapters has enhanced the manuscript considerably: Professors Margot Backus, Lee Chase, Kathleen Costello, Lisa Jadwin, M. J. Juppa, Judiana Lawrence, Wesley Renfro, Cara Welsh, and finally to Melissa Jadlos for exceptional research support as director of the Lavery Library.

I am grateful to Jennifer Speake, my copy editor, whose keen eye and impeccable sense of diction has enhanced the consistency and clarity of my manuscript, and to Dr. Laurel Plapp, Commissioning Editor, for her encouragement, grace,...

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