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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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3 Das Heideprinzeßchen: The Pedagogical Process


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3 Das Heideprinzeßchen: The Pedagogical Process

At first reading, Das Heideprinzeßchen [The Little Moorland Princess] appears to be a novel which ignores the social backdrop of the founding of the German Reich altogether. As it appeared in serialization in Die Gartenlaube in 1871, numbers 31–52, a reader familiar with Marlitt’s fiction might expect some reference to the Franco-Prussian War or to conflicts between Prussia and other powerful German states. The preceding novel, Reichsgräfin Gisela, forefronts political tensions by juxtaposing two different worlds, the corrupt and manipulative aristocratic setting of the castle with the contrasting spirit of industrial innovation and democratic communal activities in the village of Neuenfeld. This new novel contrasts the more simplistic polarities of countryside and city, simple agrarian traditions versus the myriad interchanges between the classes within an urban setting.1 Das Heideprinzeßchen employs an altogether different strategy, for there are no manipulative aristocrats, no scheming plots by those in a position of power to usurp the fortunes of hard-working citizens, no overtly evil characters at all. Within the framework of this novel, the focus of criticism spotlights personal weaknesses of middle-class figures themselves who succumb to various forms of faulty thinking. As the text has not been the subject of any detailed studies, it will be addressed at length here.

Certainly Marlitt includes the familiar targets of superstition and religious intolerance which create unjust social and family divisions and prevent communal cohesion. However, the particular...

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