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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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2 Developing Parameters: Schulmeisters Marie to Blaubart


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2 Developing Parameters: Schulmeisters Marie to Blaubart

Considering E. Marlitt’s immediate and continuing popularity, it seems curious that her first literary effort, the story Schulmeisters Marie [School Master’s Marie], remained unpublished during her lifetime. When she initially submitted the tale along with Die zwölf Apostel for consideration in Die Gartenlaube, publisher Ernst Keil included an enthusiastic request for additional submissions with his formal acceptance of the latter; however, he expressly rejected the former. Schulmeisters Marie first appeared in the posthumous collected edition of 1890, published by Verlag von Ernst Keil’s Nachfolger. Marlitt’s brother, Alfred John, is credited with grouping this tale and the short novel Amtmanns Magd together with Die Zwölf Apostel and Blaubart, the latter two tales having been originally published in 1878 under the same title of Thüringer Erzählungen. As this tale dates to Marlitt’s employment with the Princess Schwarzburg-Sondershausen, it provides the earliest existing documentation of her literary efforts. Comparison of Schulmeisters Marie with her second published work of short fiction, the tale Blaubart, helps clarify the early directions of Marlitt’s experiments, only one of which won the support of the publisher with whom she collaborated so successfully throughout her literary career.

As companion to the Princess Mathilde, Eugenie John gained entrance to various artistic and aristocratic circles, for the princess changed residences several times after divorcing her husband, Prince Günther Friedrich Carl II von Schwarzburg-Sondershausen. In the castle at Hohenlohe-Öhringen, in travels through...

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