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Popular Fiction in the Age of Bismarck

E. Marlitt and her Narrative Strategies


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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1 Liberalism in the Early Works of E. Marlitt


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1 Liberalism in the Early Works of E. Marlitt

Charges of timidity, conservatism, and bourgeois conformity have been leveled at the novels of E. Marlitt, the pseudonym disguising the gender of the author Eugenie John. In Germany in the 1860s, however, male writers dominated literary associations and women writers were scarcely taken seriously. Yet Marlitt’s popular texts are recognized as the impetus for the phenomenal increase in circulation between the 1860s through the 1880s of the trend-setting publication, Die Gartenlaube. In 1861, 100,000 copies of the magazine were printed; by 1867, serialization of Marlitt’s story Die zwölf Apostel and her first novel Goldelse led to print runs of 250,000. Publication of Die zweite Frau increased circulation to 325,000, and with the appearance of Im Hause des Kommerzienrates in 1878, it peaked at 375,000.1

By the founding of the empire, the Gartenlaube had become the journal of the German middle-class family, the most representative organ of its tastes and preoccupations … In its first generation, the Gartenlaube was a dedicated champion of bourgeois Bildung and the virtues of progress and science – an ideal example of the nineteenth-century journalism that brought the public sphere into the bourgeois realm of domesticity, literally, as its title indicates, into the family arbor.2

Publication of Marlitt’s story Die zwölf Apostel in 1865 and serialization of her first novel Goldelse coincided with a one hundred fifty percent increase in circulation. The progressive publisher...

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